Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My Dinner with Patti LuPone

My love affair with Patti LuPone started inauspiciously, when at the age of 8, I saw this woman on tv, singing some song that for weeks, I would swear was called ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Ike and Tina.’ I don’t remember much, except that she was LOUD and had a nifty way of singing. It was one of those moments I filed in the back of my head and would remember anytime I heard the song on the radio, or at someone’s house.

Flash forward to June of 1991. I had just graduated from High School. As a graduation present to myself, I went to Los Angeles for Gay Pride and stayed with my friends Ron and Jim. Coming from the same hometown, Ron knew that my Gay Education was lacking. He promptly began screening films (All About Eve, Auntie Mame, Dark Victory), giving me books to read (Surprising Myself, How Long Has This Been Going On), and educating me on Theatre. One of the cds he played for me was ‘Patti LuPone Live.’ By that time, I had heard ‘Evita’ a couple of times and was vaguely familiar with Patti. However, from the moment I heard the opening bars of ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’ I was hooked. Ron began to tell me all about Ms. LuPone and her storied career. The rest of my time in LA was punctuated by the music of Patti. As soon as I got home I went out and bought ‘Patti LuPone Live: Highlights.’ It took about 5 minutes to realize that simply would not do, returned it, and got the 2 disc version.
Patti stayed with me, and I with her through every high and low of my life: She was there when I went through my first relationship and break up. I was there when that bastard Andrew Lloyd Webber replaced her in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ As much as I love Madonna, I can’t listen to her rendition of ‘Argentina.’ She just doesn’t have Touch of Star Quality.
As the years went on, I yearned to see one of her shows live, but we were like ships passing in the night. I was in NYC 2 weeks before she opened ‘Master Class,’ visited San Francisco right after she performed ‘Sweeney Todd’ there. I began to think that I would have to settle for the odd tv Guest Appearance. In the meantime, I got myself a wonderful relationship. Tom loved me, and didn’t mind that I bought an Argentine flag while we were on vacation in Mexico. (Why an Argentine flag? Well, how else am I going to demand to be buried like Eva Peron?)
A couple of months ago, I got an email alert from Ticketmaster. Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin would be in concert in San Antonio on April 5, 2009. I pulled up the tickets, and there it was: Front Row Center. I took a deep breath, and told myself that if that ticket was still there when I got home from work, then Maria Calllas wanted me to see Patti. Sure enough, there is was. I ran to Tom, my arguments at the ready, and made my case for going to San Antonio on my own. To my great surprise and joy, Tom wanted to go as well, and suggested we make a long weekend out of it. Within 30 minutes, we had our tickets, flight and hotel booked. For 42 days, I counted down by playing every Patti LuPone cast recording and album over and over again (and just for good measure, my Ipod playlist entitled: Shut UP! Patti LuPone). Did I mention how understanding Tom is?

Finally, it’s time to go to San Antonio. The flight is horrible, overbooked and delayed, but I don’t care. I plug in my Ipod and crack open ‘Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever’ by Joel Derfner. Obviously, with a title like that, I assumed it was an unauthorized biography on me. To my chagrin, it was actually about Joel Derfner.
The Watermark Hotel is situated in downtown San Antonio, a scant 2 blocks from the Majestic Theatre, where we would be seeing the show. That was one of the criteria for picking the hotel (the other being it’s highly rated spa). We checked in, and grabbed a late dinner with Pedro, an old acquaintance from Odessa.
Saturday morning we get up and meet up with Gianna and Natasha, our two favorite lesbians in the whole world. They have driven over from Austin just to see us. Naturally, we dragged them all over San Antonio looking for the perfect pair of jeans. For Tom, this is easy, as he finds a pair 5 minutes into looking through the sale rack at the Lucky store. The fact that I can’t find any starts to become a sore point as I begin to throw jeans around at The Buckle, The Gap, and A&F. Finally, as the girls wait in the car, I find what I want at Hollister. Tom and I get a laugh out of the looks we get from customers because we shared a dressing room. The four of us pile back into Gianna’s sweet new ride and dine on the Riverwalk. Dinner is good, conversation is better, but the people watching becomes unbearable as we watch mothers and fathers dragging very unhappy children up and down the river. Gianna mentions that she will be seeing some guy called Bruce Springsteen on the same night we see Patti. Apparently he’s very popular with the college crowd. I hope he gets a record deal.

Sunday: Concert Day. Tom and I spend the day lounging around. Pedro comes back to the hotel for lunch on the rooftop café. At 2, we amble down to the spa for our massages. Tom gets a therapist named Hubert and I get Paul. Paul is adequate, but just barely. He makes small talk during the massage, which I hate. He asks what we are doing in town, so I mention the concert. After he is done and I feel like I was just manhandled by a trainee, Tom walks into the lounge with Hubert. Tom smiles the smile of one in bliss. Hubert looks at me.

‘Paul tells me you are in town for the Patti LuPone show.’

‘Yes, I am so excited.’

‘Did he tell you she was just in the salon getting he nails done?’

At this point, any muscles that had been relaxed, stiffen up as I try to decide if it’s appropriate for a man in a bathrobe to burst into the ladies spa. Hubert solves that dilemma by informing me she has already left. I weep silently and curse Paul.

Around 5pm, Tom and I meet my friend Roman, who has also driven from Austin to see the show. Roman has seen many LuPone shows and has pictures of him backstage with Patti. We have a lively dinner conversation and Roman tells me to turn my phone on as soon as the show is over, in case he can get me backstage to see Patti. Tom and I make our way to the hotel, shower, change and have a cocktail at the bar before walking to the theatre.

Taking our seats, I am so close to the stage, I can touch it. Promptly at 7pm, the lights dim. Onto the stage walks Mandy Patinkin…and Patti LuPone. They immediately launch into ‘Another Hundred People’ from Company. The show is an incredible showcase of two legendary talents. Mandy Patinkin is his usual frenetic self, seamlessly going from his lower register to that tight, controlled and emotive falsetto he is known for. Patti…what can I say? Where Mandy played out to the rafters, Patti played to everyone: from the front row all the way to the back of the theatre. Most reviewers talk about her voice, so I won’t go into that, except to say it was as magnificent in person as it is on record. What was so enchanting was her use of body and facial expression. She could make you laugh with a look, make you cry with a gesture. Anyone who calls Patti a singer is doing her an incredible disservice. She is an actress of the highest caliber, and oh yeah, her voice is pretty good.
Near the end of Act I, the stage empties and goes dark. The piano begins to play a familiar tune. A single spot open up on Patti, alone on stage…’It Won’t Be Easy, You’ll Think It’s Strange…’ I have heard ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ millions of times, so I was not expecting the tears to well up in my eyes. But they did. (They also welled up in Tom’s but he’ll deny it).
Act II opened with another signature Patti song. Alone again, Patti delivered her Tony Winning Mama Rose singing ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses.’ Yes, I cried again.
Patti and Mandy are known for their interpretation of the works of Stephen Sondheim, so it was a pleasant surprise that most of Act II was represented by the works of Rogers and Hammerstein, specifically Carousel. Not one of my favorite shows, but Patti and Mandy made it fresh and new.

Too soon, the show was over. I flipped open my phone and waited. As I walked around the theatre, I notice they are selling cds. My keen eye spots the hard to find Patti solo cd ‘Matters of the Heart.’ I scoop it up as the phone rings. Roman informs me that they are not going to allow me backstage. I expected this, so I wasn’t too disappointed. He did however get a program autographed for me. I met him at the front of the theatre and thanked him profusely. This was more than I ever expected and was such a generous thing for Roman to do. We parted ways with promises to meet up when ‘Wicked’ rolled into town later in the Summer.

Tom and I walk back to the hotel in a daze. That was a theatrical moment that I would never forget. It’s now around 10:30pm and we both realize that we are starving! We look over the room service menu, and decide we don’t like any of it. After 20 minutes of indecision, we decide to hit the hotel bar and hope the bartender can recommend a good place to eat. In the lobby, Tom stops to talk to the concierge. She tells us the hotel restaurant is open for another half hour and they make a great burger. That pretty much makes our decision for us. We walk down to the restaurant and stand at the reservation desk. As we wait for someone to seat us, I hear a familiar voice. Sitting at the bar, eating a salad is Patti LuPone. I bite my lip before I can shriek, and turn to Tom.

(Aside: as you read this next exchange, please picture Elle Woods trying to get Brooke Wyndham’s alibi in Legally Blonde)

Me: that’s patti lupone

Tom: What?

Me: that’s Patti LuPone

Tom: Huh?

Me (through clenched teeth, and hissing hysterically): THAT’S PATTI LUPONE!!

Tom: Oh hey, It sure is. Is that Mandy Patinkin with her?

It’s amazing how stressed your body gets when you can’t decide if you want to faint or hit your boyfriend on the head with a frying pan.
The waiter comes up to us at that point to take us to our table. Tom looks and me and says:
‘Pull yourself together, hang out here a couple of minutes and see if you can’t at least say hello. I’ll wait for you at the table.’
I loiter at the bar until Patti and Mandy get up to go to their table. I lightly call out, ‘Ms. LuPone?’
She turns to me and says ‘Yes?’
I don’t know if any of you have ever met someone you admire, but I got very light headed, wanted to throw up, and cry. Your brain gets all foggy and you aren’t really sure what you are saying. I extended my hand and she held it, and held my gaze as I mumbled something about how great the show was and how much I loved it. She replied that it was such a treat to perform for people who really enjoyed it. She then walked off to her table.
I turned to follow the waiter to our table, even giddier that I was before. And then it got better. We were seated at the table right next to Patti, Mandy and their entourage. I laser locked my eyes on Tom, knowing that if I did not concentrate, I would stare like a freaky stalker all night.
As great as that encounter was, I was disappointed that I didn’t have a pen or the concert program with me. That’s when my boyfriend, the greatest man alive said:

‘I’ll go to the room and get your program and the camera. We’ll just sit here until they are done with dinner.’

Over the next two hours, we picked at our food like sorority girls on a diet. The upside is that I heard a lot of conversation about the tour. They were to leave the next day for a week long break before heading to Detroit. The best part was when the conversation turned to The Muppet Show. Apparently Mandy Patinkin had never heard the song ‘Mahna Mahna.’ Patti asked the waiter to turn the music off so that she and the table could sing to Mandy. You have not lived until you have heard Patti LuPone and her entourage sing ‘Mahna Mahna.’ As they finished one bottle of wine, Tom tipped our waiter to bring us the empty bottle.
Finally, about 1am, I see Patti and Company get up to leave. I get up and walk over to them. Immediately, I apologize for bothering her again. I can feel a little bit of tears as I explain that this wonderful man standing next to me flew me all the way out here to see the show, and how much I loved it, how great their chemistry was, and what a treat this was. Patti and Mandy are incredibly gracious. They both sign my program, and Patti signs my cd. As we get grouped up for the picture, Patti looks at Tom and tells him that he needs to get in the picture too, for being so nice to me. Her assistant takes the camera, and snaps a picture. I thank them so much as they exit the restaurant. The entire encounter takes less than 2 minutes, but was something I will never forget.
Tom and I review the picture on the way to the elevator and it turned out perfect.

It’s sometimes very deflating to meet people you admire so much. They cannot possible live up to the mental picture you have of them. I am happy to say that Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin are the exception to that rule. I was in the right place at the right time, and it made all the difference.