Patti LuPone shows off her brass pipes -- The Tony winner displays her hidden talent for the tuba in ''Sweeney Todd''

By Ari Karpel
October 28, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

Any musical-theater fan worth his Sondheim knows Patti LuPone has brass pipes. But plays brass pipes? At last, after decades of belting Andrew Lloyd Webber (Evita) and Cole Porter (Anything Goes), the Tony winner displays her long-hidden talent for…the tuba. Director John Doyle’s inside-out reimagining of Sondheim’s twisted masterpiece Sweeney Todd (opening Nov. 3 at Broadway’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre) turns the actors into the orchestra. As salty Mrs. Lovett, purveyor of suspect meat pies, LuPone isn’t just tooting her own horn — she’s also sounding the triangle, cymbals, and orchestra bells. ”We are inmates in an insane asylum acting out Sweeney Todd for the other inmates,” she explains. ”The head nurse taught us to play.” Turns out LuPone already had a handle on it. To be in the marching band, she needed something more portable than her piano. ”I was a clown in high school,” she recalls. ”I said, What’s the most ridiculous instrument I could pick up? The tuba.” She does admit to being a tad rusty. ”The bells are the hardest. Well, the tuba too, but if you hit a clam who’s gonna know?” Since Mrs. Lovett is so off-key, it might seem purposeful, right? ”Ha! Write that!”

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