Patti LuPone: Lady's Night


By Mickey Rapkin

It is 8 p.m. on a Monday night in June, and I am driving a rental car behind Patti LuPone. We are on our way to a karaoke bar in South Carolina -- an idea fueled, no doubt, by the endless parade of red wine spritzers we enjoyed over dinner at a fish shack near her house on Edisto Island.

'Come on!' the two-time Tony winner had said, eyes wide as I paid the check. 'Where's your car?'

I probably shouldn't be driving, I think, but if one knows anything about Patti LuPone it's that she doesn't like the word no. And so I get behind the wheel and follow her to Whaley's, a local, nautical themed, a gas station'turned'watering hole with decorative fish hanging on the walls. Monday is karaoke night.

As we enter the joint, an elementary school girl serenades the red-state, blue-collar crowd with a cutesy 'Poison Ivy.' I secretly wish LuPone would look over at that tyke with the microphone and shout, 'Sing out, Louise!' Instead, she sidles up to the wooden bar and, in basically that tone of voice demands, 'Two red wine spritzers,' turning to me and adding: 'Isn't this a trip?'

The drinks arrive quickly in these parts, and as LuPone takes a swig, she tells me a story about her first days here five years ago, when she and her husband (a former cameraman) bought the oceanfront lot. There'd been a house on the property once before, she explains, and so the contractor went digging for a water line.

Unfortunately, one member of his team accidentally punctured the town water main, disrupting service all over the island.

'The story going around that night,' LuPone says, smiling, 'is that the movie star blew up the town.' She laughs, a girlish giggle that belies her 61 years. 'The movie star. Obviously, they haven't been following my career.'

That career -- from Long Island cheerleader to Juilliard coed, from the toast of Broadway in Evita to the publicly ousted would-be star of Sunset Boulevard -- is chronicled in her new book Patti LuPone: A Memoir, in stores in September. It's a juicy, breezy retrospective of her career, complete with anecdotes ranging from the ridiculous (Vanessa Redgrave invited her to tea during the original London run of Les Mis'rables and made her split the check) to the supernatural (she was visited by the ghost of Eva Per'n three times) to the obscene (Topol grabbed her breast at a rehearsal for The Baker's Wife). The book is also a love letter to New York City.

'In 1979,' LuPone tells me, 'Evita was the preferred Halloween costume. I ran into Ed Vita on 14th Street, on his way to the Christopher Street parade. He had the white dress on and the microphone and the blonde wig -- with one piece of hair askew.'

'I didn't realize you had a gay fan base so early on,' I say.

'My best friend in elementary school was gay.'