BY NAVEEN KUMAR
Though Broadway diva Patti LuPone plays no small part in this critically embraced solo show that bears her name, Patti Issues, written and performed by Ben Rimalower, has broader-than-show-queen appeal.
Delivered as a single monologue by Rimalower in the intimate cabaret theatre upstairs at the Duplex, Patti Issues is more than a fanatic’s ode to his legendary idol. At its core this coming-of-age story is about Rimalower’s troubled relationship with his gay father, who abandoned his family for a series of flames that burned up quickly, consuming his dad in the process.
Like so many, Rimalower turned to the arts—and musical theatre in particular—as a source of solace from the emotional growing pains of an unconventional adolescence. His kinship with LuPone began as a teenage obsession over her performance as Eva Perón in the original Broadway cast recording of Evita. A boy and his headphones.
Unlike many, Rimalower met his idol. Not only that, but his gig as an assistant director to Lonny Price on the 2000 NY Philharmonic concert performance Sweeney Todd entailed a private line-running session with Ms. LuPone—during which she sang the entire vocal part of Mrs. Lovett into his euphoric, beaming face.
He thereafter developed a personal and professional relationship with the leading lady that hasn’t always been wine and roses. As Rimalower recounts in his sixty minute show, it’s through a unique connection to his idol that he learns a thing or two about life, family, and coming out on top. Like a diva, of course.
I spoke to Ben about his experience performing the show, his plans for the future, and of course Patti LuPone.
Naveen Kumar: You’re very emotionally honest in Patti Issues about your experiences growing up. Is there anything that you hope people might take away from seeing the show—I hate to say a "lesson"—but any sort of insight you hope people might gain from hearing about your own experience?
Ben Rimalower: I hope that they connect to it personally in a way that they feel that they've shared my journey, and it transported them emotionally. As far as a message, I know what the show is about for me, in terms of what I’m trying to learn from it myself.
Patti was for me, and still is in a lot of ways, this sort of superhero [in whom] I found inspiration and empowerment. I vicariously triumphed through her and vicariously shared her rivalries—even the rivalries I imagined she would have, those were mine too. Then I got to know her, and had to interact with her on this different level—as an actual human being.
I think maybe the universal aspect [of the show] is something we have to experience growing up — to see our parents as real people, and not as these gods who are infallible that are always going to take care of us. My father certainly let me down at that. In a very different way, I could see this from my relationship with Patti, because after all she was not my fairy godmother, she was a person.
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