The Night We Kissed Patti LuPone: Part I

Patti and us, April 5, 2018, Tallahassee, Florida. Photo courtesy of Vicki McMorrough and Linda Harding.

What’s your favorite story with your spouse or significant other? Ted and I have had several in our 45 years together. I recount a few in my forthcoming memoir, THE WAY FROM ME TO US. But there is one that I didn’t include. I simply couldn’t find a place for it.

It’s a story that requires a little time in the telling, best if done at a dinner table over a glass of wine or two. It’s just too involved to meet the 35-word elevator test. Besides, I enjoy the embellishments, the side trips the story takes before it gets to the punch line.

That’s why I’ve chosen to publish it in three installments on my blog over the next few weeks. Here’s Part I.

Our story begins with Evita.

We’ve been fans of Patti LuPone since our late 20s, when we heard the original Broadway cast recording of Evita in 1979. In addition to Patti’s vocal gymnastics and spitfire style, there was something elusively gay that drew us to the musical and her performance of the title role—which made her a Broadway star. (See a video clip here.)

Maybe it was Eva Peron’s independence and unapologetic bed hopping portrayed in the show that struck a chord with young men who came out in the anything-goes, post-Stonewall days of the late 1970s. Whatever the reason, Ted and I felt that Patti was in our camp, our ally. We nearly wore the record out on our Realistic turntable from Radio Shack.

Patti and Mandy Patinkin in Evita, 1979. Image from the New York Public Library’s digital collection.

(I should mention that we also loved the disco version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita score. Believe it or not, there was a time in our lives when we were party boys.)

We have an island in common.

We followed Patti’s career enthusiastically over the decades, from her disastrous 1993 experience premiering Sunset Boulevard in London to her courageous comeback in the years that followed.

On our 28th anniversary in 2005, we saw her in a one-woman concert at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. We were wowed by her voice and range, her ability to command that cavernous space. The lady had presence. That night, she earned an even more prominent place in our personal pantheon of theater greats.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we heard that Patti and her husband, Matt, were building a beachfront house on South Carolina’s Edisto Island, a comfortably shabby barrier island north of Hilton Head. Edisto had been Ted’s family’s favorite vacation spot since they moved from Illinois to South Carolina in the 1960s.

Might we have a chance at actually meeting Patti?

Since Ted’s and my early days together, we visited Edisto nearly every year. We loved it, loved its secluded beaches, its seemingly endless green marshlands stretching miles to the horizon, its funky flip-flops-and-faded-T-shirts vibe. When most of our friends headed to Florida for their vacations, Edisto was OUR PLACE. And Patti was OUR STAR. Like fresh shrimp and cocktail sauce with plenty of horseradish, it was a perfect pairing.

Why Edisto for Patti? We figured she wanted a remote vacation home where she could let her hair down, a place where she was less likely to be recognized than at tonier vacation spots. When one Edisto local walking her dog on the beach stopped to point out the “monstrosity of a house” being built a few doors down from her place, she said its owner was Barbra Streisand, a comment that gave legs to our theory that Patti was going to get the anonymity she craved on an island where the main topic of conversation was the Clemson Tigers, not the latest Hal Prince production on Broadway.

With our great-nephews Jacob and Noah in rugged surf on Edisto Beach, 2015

On her website, Patti told of other reasons for choosing Edisto. To escape the winter in Connecticut, where she and Matt have a rambling farmhouse, the two of them explored several islands along the North Carolina and South Carolina coast in 2001. They fell in love with the Charleston area. It was the shrimp and grits at a restaurant called The Old Post Office that made Edisto the favorite of all the islands they visited. “I died and went to heaven,” she wrote.

Edisto would be the site of their southern home. “I love the South,” wrote the native New York girl, surprising us a little. “So much history and so much natural beauty.” Yet another thing we felt we had in common with Patti.

The house she built was a sleek steel-and-glass structure that the Edisto locals, partial to more traditional designs, didn’t like. But we were captivated by it.

“Driving by Patti’s” was often the first thing we’d do when we arrived on the island. We’d thrill to see the house’s security gates occasionally open and the shiny yellow VW Beetle convertible in the driveway, a sign that Patti or her husband and son were on the premises. We’d spend the rest of our week on the island yearning for a Patti sighting.

I dreamed a dream.

I even took to swimming by her place in hopes of seeing her on one of the house’s spacious decks facing the water, or on its flat rooftop overlook, even though the structure was situated near the point where the Edisto River empties into the Atlantic Ocean, one of the most rip-tide dangerous spots on the island.

“Be careful,” Ted said after one of my long swims to Patti’s house.

“I’m a strong swimmer,” I’d reply. “I can handle it.”

“It’s not that. I don’t want you to get arrested for stalking her.”

“It’s not stalking if you’re in the water.”

It sounded like a perfect defense at the time.

Despite my fervor, years went by without a Patti sighting, though I never gave up hope over the first decade and a half of the new millennium, adding more and more details to my favorite Edisto fantasy:

We’d be having dinner and drinks during Trivia Night at Whaley’s, our favorite Edisto hangout, when who should appear but Patti. She’d be persuaded to sing a few numbers later in the evening, whereupon I’d join her for the rousing duet from Call Me Madam, “You’re Just in Love.” Ted would capture it all on video. My 15 minutes of fame with Patti would be all over Facebook the next day, the envy of all our friends (at least the ones who knew or cared who Patti LuPone was).

Sadly, it never happened.

But something just as good did happen.

In one of life’s curious coincidences, thanks to Ted’s brother, George, a South Carolina career police officer who didn’t know the difference between Patti LuPone and Patti LaBelle when he accepted the job as Edisto’s police chief in 2015, Ted and I finally got to meet her.

It happened one beautiful night in April 2018, nearly 40 years after our love affair with Patti began. It wasn’t on Edisto, but a spot a little farther south. Tallahassee, Florida, to be exact. And oh, what a meeting it was.

Read the details in Part II, coming next week.

A favorite from my Patti Playlist: When the World Was Young/I Never Do Anything Twice.

4 thoughts on “The Night We Kissed Patti LuPone: Part I

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