Even if you’ve never heard Patti LuPone sing, you undoubtedly saw her ads for the award-winning revival of Gypsy: dressed in fiery red, arms a-flight, in mid-belt, Lupone has gone down as the quintessential Mama Rose. In person, she is every bit as lovely, friendly, and warm as her stage presence.
An extremely in-demand artist, LuPone took time in the middle of her busy holiday schedule to return to her alma mater to emcee the 2009 Juilliard Members’ Holiday Celebration, which took place on December 14. The annual event offers an exclusive invitation to all of Julliard’s membership groups to see performances from each division, enjoy drinks and light fare, and celebrate the holidays with their Juilliard friends. This year’s opportunity to meet, and hear, LuPone left Paul Hall filled to capacity.
Before the show began, Lupone was all too happy to meet students and performers. She is slight and short, which only adds to the wonderment of the powerful voice that has earned her a worldwide fan base. In his introduction, Juilliard President Joseph Polisi joked that “one of the reasons we don’t have a program tonight is we couldn’t possibly make one large enough to list all her accomplishments.”
LuPone has won two Tony Awards for best performance by a leading actress in a musical, multiple Drama Desk Awards, an Olivier Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, and many more nominations. She performed the role of Fantine in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Les Miserables and the role of Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard, and has appeared in dozens of critically acclaimed musicals. In 2008, she earned her second Tony for Gypsy. She is a graduate of Julliard’s very first drama class (Group 1), and although her voice has made her name, her dramatic accomplishments are equally formidable. She has appeared on film, television, and stages all over the world, and will soon add author to her list of credits—she is set to publish a memoir this fall.
The Drama Division opened the evening with a rousing rendition of the “Jealousy Duet” from the recent production of The Threepenny Opera. Bethany Heinrich performed the sweet and loyal Polly Peachum, Shayna Small sang the saucy Lucy Brown, and Nate Miller donned his best smug smile as Macheath, a.k.a. Mack the Knife. Chris Littlefield accompanied the scene on piano.
Lupone then introduced the Nonamé String Quartet, a student ensemble featuring Arianna Warsaw-Fan and Ritchie Zah on violin, Hari Bernstein on viola, and Meta Weiss on cello. The group tackled the fourth movement of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 12.
David Kyle Norsworthy and Jenna Pollack, first-year dance students, performed the new work Red Delicious, featuring music from James Horner’s A Beautiful Mind soundtrack. The dancers wore light and neutral browns and grappled with a brilliant red apple, at times vying for the first bite, at times holding it between them, and, finally, trying, unsuccessfully, to leave it behind. In the last minute or so the music stopped, and the audience could hear the sounds of the dancer’s feet, and, finally, Pollack’s triumphant first crunch.
The Department of Vocal Arts presented two short pieces. Soprano Lei Xu performed alongside mezzo-soprano Naomi O’Connell in “Bramo aver mille vite” from Handel’s Ariodante. The piece showcased the excellence of both artists as well as the technical challenges the Juilliard faculty presents to its gifted singers. Following the duet, Lei Xu sang the brief but no less challenging “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Alan Hamilton served as accompanist.
Jazz set the official festive mood with “O Christmas Tree,” from their recent holiday album. Mat Jodrell performed on trumpet; Patrick Cornelious, alto saxophone; Tom Guarna, guitar; Kris Bowers, piano; Phil Kuehn, bass; and Aaron Kimmell, drums.
A small reception followed in the June Noble Larkin Lobby, where guests were able to catch up with their fellow members. “I look forward to this every year,” said one Ovation Society member. “And as long as I’ve been coming here, I never cease to be amazed at what these kids can do, and how lucky I am to watch.”