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Patti LuPone: Failure is the ‘most valuable lesson’

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Patti LuPone shares tales from her career in a Curran Show & Tell event. (Courtesy Axel Dupeux)

Patti LuPone has learned a few things in her 45 years in theater. The two-time Tony-winning actress for 1979’s “Evita” and 2008’s “Gypsy” is prepared to share some of them at the Curran in The City on Wednesday.

In conversation with producer and Curran theater owner Carole Shorenstein Hays (her friend who first brought her to San Francisco to play Jolly in David Mamet’s play “The Old Neighborhood” in 1997), LuPone will delve into her acting process, discuss career highlights and lows and impart wisdom to budding actors during the talk, part of the Curran’s Show & Tell Series.

Through the years, she’s come to realize that failure is the mother of success.

“Success teaches you nothing except to try and repeat it,” she says. “Failure, on the other hand, is the most valuable lesson. With failure, you have to investigate why you failed, so you’ve learned something.”

LuPone is also excited to chat about roles she considers the benchmarks of her long, successful career: Mrs. Lovett in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” Mercedes in Peter Sellars’ stage version of Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” and Rosalind in the lated Romanian director Liviu Ciulei’s modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

But she’s not afraid to address the difficult moments, either. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” was so challenging to sing, LuPone says, it made her question her own vocal ability. Yet that was easy compared to losing the lead role of Norma Desmond in Lloyd-Webber’s musical adaptation of “Sunset Boulevard” in 1994 after the show received unfavorable reviews.

To make matters worse, LuPone, who regards the firing as an unfair case of “shooting the messenger,” was replaced by Glenn Close, who went on to win a Tony Award for her performance.

Another low point for LuPone, a graduate of the Juilliard School’s inaugural drama division, was being ridiculed by the New York press for taking on classical theater roles after becoming known for musicals.

Nothing makes the actress — famous for stopping a 2009 performance of “Gypsy” mid-song to chastise an audience member for taking photos, and for confiscating the phone of a repeat texter in the middle of a 2015 performance of the comedy “Shows for Days” — rethink her future in the theater more than poor audience etiquette.

“Be aware of your neighbors,” she says. “We’re such an isolated society now, used to staring at glowing rectangles, but when you come to the theater, you’re not alone. There are like-minded people in the theater, and they deserve your respect as you deserve theirs.”

Patti LuPone
Where: Curran, 445 Geary St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. June 13
Tickets: $39 to $105
Contact: (415) 358-1220, www.sfcurran.com

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