Before you begin this story, I suggest you turn off your camera, discard your water bottle and silence your cellphone. Patti LuPone has a zero-tolerance policy for distractions at the theater. The two-time Tony winner — for her turns as Eva Peron in “Evita” and Mama Rose in “Gypsy” — will be at the Music Center at Strathmore for the first weekend in October performing love songs by everyone from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Joni Mitchell and Cyndi Lauper. The native New Yorker also will work again with longtime collaborator David Mamet on his upcoming play “The Anarchist,” which opens on Broadway in November.
She would like your undivided attention, please.
You’re gearing up for a show that’s all about love.
It’s called “Matters of the Heart,” and it deals with several aspects of love. Mother’s love, love loss, desperate love, deluded love.
Is it liberating to do a concert like this and sing any songs you want?
Absolutely. Basically, you’re getting to sing stuff that you might never do in a show. . . . You’re never the boss unless you’re doing your own show.
Is it more nerve-racking knowing that you’re responsible for all the decisions that make the show?
I don’t know if nerve-racking is the right word, because everything is nerve-racking, even if I’m not responsible for the content. Even if I’m just the messenger. Audiences make up their minds on how they want to receive information, and all we can do is put it out there.
Do you still get nervous before you go onstage?
I still get nervous. I do something before every show and I’m very superstitious backstage, and if I forget to do something, I think about it onstage. And the other part is just trying to focus, to make sure I’m not going out there scattered.
I imagine it’s much harder to focus now than it was when you first started out, given the amount of available distractions nowadays.
It’s a sad state of affairs onstage. It’s not even just phones going off. It’s water bottles! I’ve had more experiences now with people squeezing the last drop out of a water bottle at a very intimate moment. That’s unbelievably distracting! In [“Sweeney Todd”], right before Tobias cuts Sweeney’s throat — probably the highest tension moment in the show — somebody threw ice back into a plastic cup. The entire audience bristled.
You’ve wanted to be in the theater since you were 4 years old, right?
Yes. I fell in love with the audience tap dancing downstage right. . . . I said in my head, “I can’t get in trouble up here. I can do whatever I want, and the audience will still smile at me.”
What performers did you admire when you were growing up?
Edith Piaf and Bette Davis are my two idols. To this day.
How about the up-and-comers? Any young actors out there who have something special?
There’s a lot of very good actors and actresses out there, [but] there’s less training and more crash and burns. It’s a much more intense public eye, and I don’t mean from an audience standpoint. I mean the media. Look at poor Lindsay Lohan! And Amanda Bynes! They’re both train wrecks. But why are they train wrecks? Were they not schooled in what it is to be in the public eye? Or is the public eye just too invasive? And Kate Middleton! [Four-letter-word-filled rant defending the duchess of Cambridge and deriding the paparazzi.]
Sounds like you keep up on your tabloid reading, what with being so in the loop on Amanda, Lindsay and the gang.
Every time I travel, [I buy] People, Us [Weekly], Star. . . . I don’t know why I buy all of them; they all say the same thing.
In your travels, do you get recognized a lot?
People will recognize me occasionally from TV. Only the diehards recognize me from stage. People will just say that I look like someone. They’ll ask, “Do you fly this airline regularly?” You get the funniest questions. “I know you. How do I know you? I know I know you!”
Do you identify more strongly as an actress or a singer?
I’ve always been an actress first. It depends on what I’m doing. This week I’m a singer. When I do the Mamet play, I’ll be an actor. I don’t categorize myself. But I act in the songs; I don’t just sing them.
In “The Anarchist,” you play a prisoner. You’ve portrayed plenty of dicey characters. Do you have to like a character in order to play them?
I’ve never gone onstage going, “I just don’t like this character.” . . . You have to like your character, even if they’re a heinous individual. You have to present them in a human way.
What are some of the strangest or funniest memories you have from your time onstage?
In “Anything Goes,” in the final scene, silk rose petals are released from a net from above the stage. . . . At the top of the Second Act, I was singing “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” wearing this diaphanous dress held together by bugle beads, with my cleavage exposed. I caught sight of something above my head, so I looked up. And I watched a rose petal floating down from the ceiling, and it went right in between my cleavage. Couldn’t have happened if you planned it.
Your days of auditioning are behind you now, but what used to be your audition song?
I think it was “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”
Does that mean you’ve been watching “Glee” or any of the other singing-and-dancing shows on TV?
At any point in your career, did you think about changing course and pursuing something else?
Not one moment. Four years old, and I never looked back.
Oct. 5 - 6 at Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. www.strathmore.org. 301-581-5100.