The State of the Theatre: Nathan Lane and Patti LuPone with A24
“We’re just gonna sit around for an hour and bitch.” I sink into my chair and feel a giddy, ravenous feeling come over me. Nathan Lane and Patti LuPone have come together to address the current state of American theatre on A24’s podcast. With an opening like that, it’s Christmas in Whoville for me.
Since 2018, independent entertainment company A24 has produced a conversational podcast between two influential artists within their cinematic universe. The podcast is incredibly important to me and full of beautiful nuggets I roll around in my mind. Where else can I hear John Early telling Toni Colette he fell in love with her when he watched Clockwatchers at the age of 10? Or Nathan Fielder accusing Alex Demie of only liking Jesus because he was hot? Gold!
You can understand how tickled my ivories were when I heard LuPone and Lane would be the latest guests on the pod. Both newly appointed members of the A24 universe, LuPone starred in Ari Aster’s tense odyssey Beau Is Afraid earlier this year and Lane can be seen now in the delicious, debaucherous Dicks: The Musical. In their wonderful conversation, they organically weave between their upbringing as actors, industry tall tales, and recent projects. Somewhere in between LuPone recapping opening night of the Met’s Dead Man Walking and Lane joking how Elaine Stritch could never get a comp to Mamma Mia!, the two legends begin to lament. “Art is the soul of a nation,” says LuPone. If that’s true, they think we are in deep trouble.
LuPone has frequently shared her negative opinion about the current state of American theatre. After winning the Tony for Company in 2022, she famously gave up her equity card and doesn’t know if she will ever return to 8-shows a week. On the pod, she and Lane discuss their training and the influence of great theatrical masters like Stanislavski, Hagen, or Adler on the artform of acting. LuPone brings up The Group Theatre, a naturalistic theatre collective formed in 1931 as a reaction to the gaiety on Broadway. “Don’t you find we are sort of in the same situation now?” asks LuPone, frustrated with Broadway becoming a Disneyland-Vegas-like circus show. “I wonder if we have enough gumption or if there are creators out there reacting to…Broadway now to create a new theatre.”
Lane is unsure. “I don’t know if we are raising a generation that would be interested in that.” Both agree that the current generation of actors (especially those discovered on TikTok) don’t want to put in the work anymore. They also agree that audiences have less of an attention span and producing a show on Broadway is expensive as ever. Without naming the musical, Lane wonders why so much money has gone into adapting a 1980s movie onstage when audiences could watch the film at home. “Which is better,” affirms LuPone.
Of course, none of these opinions are new. I know people who might roll their eyes at an older generation comparing Broadway then to Broadway now. But, I think these words coming from THE living legends Patti LuPone and Nathan Lane hold great weight. “Whoever dumbed down America, has done a brilliant job.” says LuPone. Lane agrees, confessing his disappointment in the across-the-board negative critical reception of Pictures From Home, a play he starred in during the 2022 season. While critics didn’t care, Lane says the emotional response from many audience members couldn’t have been fake.
In the midst of all of these concerns, both have immense hope. Lane lights up when discussing his experience working on Dicks: The Musical. Created by queer comedians (and my own personal icons) Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp, The Parent Trap parody musical started as a Upright Citizens Brigade show in the basement of a Gristedes – famously where Titanique also started – and is now can be seen in movie theaters all over the world. As a quick aside, if you have not seen this movie, which also stars Megan Thee Stallion, Bowen Yang, and Megan Mullally, get thee to a nunnery aka cinema now.
As Lane describes the absurdist film, you can hear how excited LuPone is that a movie like this can still be made. While I agree that Broadway (and the entertainment industry as a whole) is at a crossroads, it is a relief to know that Lane and LuPone aren’t ready to give up yet. I found the moment where Lane shouts out other queer comedians like Julio Torres or Yang on the pod, especially touching. I do see younger, queer voices being the future of live performance and it’s thrilling to hear how supportive both stars are.
But, back to the bitching. After Lane brings up Mamma Mia! and ABBA performing as holograms, Lupone exclaims “I hate ABBA… ‘Dancing Queen?’ Give me a break. I’m like a Swiftie but for [rock and roll] bands.” There are so many hilarious gems like this between the heavier topics, which make the pod a must-listen. Lane replies “After we are gone, there will be holograms of you and me doing Anything Goes.” They both crack up and make plans to see each other in the Hamptons soon. I can only hope they will return to the stage (not as holograms) soon.