Four young student actors, selected from the YoungArts national performing-arts program and invited to attend a special onstage workshop with Patti LuPone, arrive on the stage of the Belasco Theatre on Broadway.
The actors, awed by their surroundings but brimming with energy and excitement, limber up their voices on the venerable stage before meeting LuPone, who greets each actor warmly before getting down to the business of working with each singer and critiquing his or her performance. Later, the group will relax together during lunch at Joe Allen’s, a famous theater-district restaurant frequented by actors and decorated with Broadway posters.
Over the course of the day, LuPone assesses the performances of the following students:
* Kyra – Assertive and polished, Kyra sings an impassioned rendition of “Change” from A New Brain. But LuPone stops her mid-number, warning Kyra to avoid “riffing” and stick to the melody. “Never re-write a composer,” LuPone says, adding that “Our only job is to tell the story.” Encouraged to “capture” the audience, Kyra’s second take, delivered on her knees, brings LuPone to tears.
* Reid – Performing “The Deli” from The New Yorker, Reid’s “manipulative” phrasing of the song’s opening line has LuPone stopping him to explain that he’s “posing,” and she orders him to throw out what he practiced so that he can better focus in on what’s most important: to tell the story of a young man who can’t wait to get to work so that he can see a girl. “The point is to get to her,” LuPone says. “Show specificity – it’s a story!”
* Maggie – Admitting that LuPone “seemed like a steamroller” in her critiques, a nervous Maggie is told to scrap her first number, “I Miss the Mountains” from Next to Normal, because “it’s outside [her] range at this point in her life.” Instead, Maggie performs “Without You” from My Fair Lady, hitting her stride after LuPone tells her “you need to get madder” – which she does, getting in her mentor’s face. LuPone loves it.
* Ryan – Explaining that working with LuPone is a “beautiful but scary thing,” Ryan starts singing “I Can’t Sit Still” from Footloose, but is immediately ordered to sing the song in a much higher key, challenging Ryan to get “out of my comfort zone.” The result is an invigorating rendition that Ryan admits is “so much better than I’ve done it before.” “There was joy in your face,” gushes LuPone, adding that she loves his voice.
Performances over, LuPone shares some parting words with her students, urging them to “be brave” and to “not be afraid of failure ... success limits you.” Above all, “Be fearless ... it’s about acceptance, what your limitations are and what your limitlessness is,” she explains. “You all have gifts – gifts to be grateful for, and gifts to be given away.”
Produced and Directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon.