She was there at the 60th annual Grammy Awards to pay tribute to Musical Theatre composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, but instead, Patti LuPone brought the house down with her performance of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, from Lloyd Webber’s Evita. Madonna who?
The diva originated the title role when Lloyd Webber’s musical debuted on Broadway 39 years ago. Evita, with lyrics by Tim Rice, is about the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón. The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual tragic death.
In began as a rock opera concept album released in 1976. Its success led to productions in London’s West End in 1978 with Elaine Page in the lead, and on Broadway a year later, where it became the first British musical to receive the Tony Award for Best Musical.
In 1996, Evita came to the big screen. Alan Parker directed the film, with Madonna in the title role.
It was a big surprise and a big deal that the Grammys were able to get LuPone for the Lloyd Webber tribute. Earlier this week the actor and the composer dramatically ended a feud that had lasted more than two decades.
Webber is also the composer of the stage version of the classic gay favorite film Sunset Boulevard, which starred LuPone in the original 1993 production in London. But, Lloyd Webber replaced her with Glenn Close for the Broadway production. There’s no drama like Musical Theatre drama, and LuPone sued Lloyd Webber for a million dollars.
In 1994, Faye Dunaway was hired to replace Close for the American premiere of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Tickets went on sale for Dunaway’s engagement but shortly after rehearsals started the producers announced that Dunaway was unable to sing the role to their standards and the production would shut down. Dunaway claimed that when advance sales slumped, Lloyd Webber decided to save money by sending the Los Angles cast to Broadway, where it is due to open in November.
Dunaway filed a lawsuit claiming her reputation had been damaged by the producer’s claims. Dunaway’s lawsuit was settled and the producers paid her a settlement but no other terms of the agreement have ever been disclosed.
These lawsuits contributed to Sunset Boulevard setting the record for the most money lost by a theatrical production. The musical was so expensive to produce that it lost $20 million even though it sold more than a million tickets on Broadway, making the show a “flop-hit,” running more than two years.
The original Broadway production of Evita opened at the Broadway Theatre on in September 1979 and closed in June 1983, after 1,567 performances. LuPone said of Evita:
“Evita was the worst experience of my life. I was screaming my way through a part that could only have been written by a man who hates women. And I had no support from the producers, who wanted a star performance onstage but treated me as an unknown backstage. It was like Beirut, and I fought like a banshee.”
There were many dramatic numbers at the Grammy Awards on Sunday, but, for me, it was LuPone’s night. Her 1980 Grammy performance is only available on YouTube in the grainiest, shaky versions, but here is another one from 1980, Watch it, and don’t you cry, Argentina.