Patti Issues PLAYLIST: The 12 Patti LuPone Videos That Inspired Ben Rimalower's Solo Show

By Ben Rimalower
24 Aug 2013

I explained my concept of this deconstruction show to Patti, "like Seth Rudetsky, but all bravas, no headaches!" Patti asked to see a draft. I was planning to have a set list and just wing the rest, but her request was reasonable and it certainly wouldn't hurt me to have a rough draft as a blueprint, so I sat down to fill in some connective tissue between videos, like concert patter.

In the past when I had tried to write my epics (Milking Harvey, Pretty Boy, The Wizard of Ahhs!) laziness and insecurity would overtake me and sabotage me every time I sat down at the computer. Writing about Patti LuPone, my happy place, was different. Also, I had recently begun blogging for a friend's website, and the first-person narrative, personal essay format felt comfortable and natural. As I attempted to offer some context for these Patti LuPone videos, what was coming out of me was less about Patti and more about me. I hoped that this personalization would make "my Patti show" (as I was calling it at that point) more compelling, but I began to realize that even if the show I was writing turned out to be a total disaster, it would be worth it for the creative experience I was having. A week into the process, I had over 15,000 words — the equivalent of ten blog posts! I was finally a writer!

I knew my show needed a final moment to close the arc of my journey with Patti LuPone. After everything I'd gone through worshipping Patti from afar, then getting close to her, then getting that phone call from her lawyer, and then subsequently producing her album, "Patti LuPone at Les Mouches" (restored from archival tapes of her legendary 1980 performances), one moment kept coming to my mind. In 2008, after not seeing my father for ten years, and basically being estranged from him for 20 years, I happened to run into him, by sheer coincidence, sitting directly behind me at Gypsy on Broadway starring Patti LuPone. In retrospect, the way I felt interacting with my father that night, knowing that I was going backstage to see Patti after the show, seemed like the resolution to what I felt I was exploring in my writing about Patti. I just had to figure out how make sense of it. I had an hour of material about Patti LuPone and a moment with my father.

For three years I worked intermittently on (what I was then calling) Patti Lu-Fucking-Pone, through various readings and presentations. In 2012, I was finally on track to see the project through to fruition. I ultimately decided not to use any videos in my show. What I wrote was so personal that the videos seemed like a distraction. Long after the theatre (the intimate cabaret room at the Duplex) was booked and the press release went out, mere days before Patti issues opened, I realized that in my excitement about being a writer, I had overlooked the fact that I was supposed to be a performer too. All though rehearsals, I read my script to my brilliant director, Aaron Mark, as a writer sharing my material. I suddenly had a rude awakening to the reality of the situation I had concocted for myself. Immediately, I felt tremendous sympathy for actors. I couldn't stop my hands from shaking through the entire first month of performances. Of course, it didn't help that Patti LuPone was in the audience for the second show!

My performance anxiety climaxed at the fifth show, when Alan Cumming was in the audience. From the stage of the Duplex, the lights make it hard to see anyone in the house, except a little bit when the front door opens, and about twenty minutes into the fifth performance of Patti Issues, the door opened and I recognized Alan Cumming's haircut walking out of my show. I was devastated. Then I noticed two extremely attractive Broadway dancers in the front row — obvious Patti fans — who were lapping up my every word, terrifically appreciative audience members. I thought to myself, "Girl. You did not write this show for Alan Cumming." Furthermore, I realized it was the first performance where no one I mention in the story was in the house. Besides Patti LuPone, my parents had seen the show, my sister, Lonny Price. I looked at those two gorgeous guys in the front row and I told them my story. And my hands stopped shaking. I was finally a performer! (It turned out Alan Cumming stayed in his seat the whole time — that had been a waiter with the same haircut opening the door. Alan loved my show and wound up becoming a good friend, even doing a FunnyOrDie video with me to promote the show.)

Now with Robin De Jesus is Ben Rimalower in Patti Issues, I'm back to just being the writer. Thinking back on this whole experience. I want to share the Patti LuPone videos that were my original inspiration.