Talkin' Broadway


Ben Rimalower's Patti Issues
by Michael Portantiere


Patti LuPone and Ben Rimalower
Photo by Jenny Anderson for Broadway.com
Maybe it's not quite the same thing as having been in the audience for the first performance of My Fair Lady at the Mark Hellinger Theater or A Streetcar Named Desire at the Barrymore, but I'm happy to say that I was present at the Duplex several months ago when Ben Rimalower first unveiled Patti Issues, a biographical monologue in which he charts his coming of age in a troubled family and his growing obsession with a certain Ms. LuPone. Excellent word of mouth, not to mention Rimalower's own tireless efforts to promote the show, has caused it to be extended again and again at the Duplex, and he has begun to take it on the road. I recently chatted with Ben about a creation that has really struck a chord with audiences.

Michael Portantiere:  Things are going well with the show?

Ben Rimalower:  Yes, things are going well. [He spits through his teeth, like an old Jewish woman, to ward off bad luck.]

MP:    And you have a mini-tour of California coming up.

BR:  A rainbow tour!

MP:  I'm honored to have been present for the first performance. Was that the hardest one?

BR:  Absolutely—although certainly the second one, when Patti was there, was also nerve wracking. But at least I knew that I could get through the show. I had never really performed before, so I didn't know what it was going to be like to be on stage talking for an hour.

MP:  She reacted well?

BR:  Yes, she did. I was nervous for her to see me in anything, let alone a show about her. But I thought she'd react well, because Scott and Marc [Wittman and Shaiman, respectively, who've worked with LuPone for years] came to the opening, and if they had thought Patti wouldn't like it, they would have said something to me.

MP:  Did she have any specific comments about the show?

BR:  She said she was very moved, and she wanted to know if I've spoken to my father at all. She also told me that I do her "pretty well."

MP:    One of my favorite moments is your story about the first time you met her. You were hired to assist Lonny Price, who was directing the New York Philharmonic production of Sweeney Todd. There you were at Avery Fisher Hall, standing with a group of very officious higher-ups in the NY Phil as Patti came in. She greeted all those dyed-in-the-wool professionals, then she came to you—and she could tell within two or three seconds that you were a fanboy.

BR:  Yes, she sized me up instantaneously.

MP:  If anything, Patti seems busier now than ever. I guess that's a gift for you, in the same way that my friend Steven Brinberg always has fodder for his Barbra Streisand show.

BR:  True, but I for one will be very excited to see Steven after Barbra is done, because then he'll be our only fix. He's actually a pretty decent substitute for Barbra; I don't know if people feel quite that way about me and Patti. [He laughs.]

MP:  There's a very significant Patti LuPone fact that I tend to forget, probably because I don't believe much was made of it: Some years ago, she had a successful battle with breast cancer. As I recall, you don't mention that in your show.

BR:  No, I don't, but I certainly remember it. It's funny: I saw Patti's Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda at 54 Below, and afterwards I was talking to her about how I had seen the show so many times before at Carnegie Hall, in San Francisco, and other places. I said, "I've loved this show since I first saw it in 1999," and she said, "2000." I said, "No, Patti, it was November 19, 1999. I remember it like it was yesterday, and I still have the postcard on my refrigerator." She said, "No, doll, it was 2000. I remember because I had ..." and she didn't say "breast cancer," but she grabbed one of her tits. Of course, I was right about the date. She got it right in her book, but I guess she just drew a blank. Patti says, "I'm not my biggest fan," and it's true. So many of us know so much more information about these women than they know themselves.

MP:  That reminds me of my interview with Bea Arthur. We were talking about Fiddler on the Roof, which apparently was not a very happy experience for her, because her role of Yente wasn't as big as she had expected it to be. The CD of the original cast recording had come out some time before the interview, and it included a couple of tracks that were never on the LP. One of them was that scene-change song called "The Rumor," with Bea leading the number. So I said to her, "Well, at least they finally put 'The Rumor' on the cast album," and she said [I adopt a deep, female baritone voice], "I don't know what you're talking about."

BR:  Ha! That's funny. If anyone else had said, "I don't know what you're talking about," it would have meant, "Shut up!" But Bea Arthur had such a withering tone, that's the way she always sounded.

MP:  Who are some of the notables who've come to see your show?

BR:  So many people. That's the great thing about running so long; I'm grateful to the Duplex for letting me keep extending. If I had done the show in a larger theater, it would have closed months ago. But having a long run in a small theater has been great, because if people couldn't come in September, maybe they were able to come in February. Alan Cumming really enjoyed the show, and Alison Fraser is a big fan.

MP:  Have you ever thought what it might be like to do the show for one of Patti's nemeses? Andrew Lloyd Webber, or someone like that?

BR:  Yeah! I also wonder what it would be like to do it for Bernadette Peters, because I use her as a running gag in the show, as sort of a rival of Patti's. I was a little worried about that—but then I figured that someone like Bernadette is probably very secure in her talent and, at the end of the day, she really couldn't give a shit what I say about her. I do get a lot of shit from Bernadette fans who come to the show, and it makes me really mad. If someone is a true Bernadette lover the way I'm a Patti lover, and if they want to go to the mat with me, I will gladly take them on. But it pisses me off when these people come who think they're Bernadette fans because maybe they watched the video of Into the Woods a few times when they were a kid. I'm like, "Shut the hell up!" I have more Bernadette recordings than they do, I know everything about Bernadette, I'm obsessed with Bernadette. The only thing is that I'm obsessed with Patti that much more. So I will not take any grief from somebody who claims to be a Bernadette fan when, in actuality, I'm more a fan of hers than they'll ever be.

MP:  In closing, is there anything you'd like to say to your own fans?

BR:  I hope people keep coming. I was nervous when we opened, but I've gotten much more relaxed, and there's more interplay with the audience now. I'm actually sad on nights when I don't have a show. I'm having so much fun doing it.


Ben Rimalower's Patti Issues has upcoming dates in four California cities: Berkeley Tuesday 3/26 at 8pm at CRH (BareStage), UC Berkeley; San Francisco Wednesday 3/27 at 7:30pm at The Marsh; San Diego Thursday 3/28 at 8pm at Martinis Above Fourth; and Los Angeles Friday/Saturday 3/29-30 at 9pm at Casita Del Campo. He also continues through 4/24 at The Duplex, 61 Christopher St., Wednesdays at 9:30 PM. For details or to purchase tickets, visit www. PattiIssues.com.


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