The Night We Kissed Patti LuPone: Part III

Our friends Vicki McMorrough and Linda Harding with Patti, 10:23 p.m., April 5, 2018, Tallahassee, Florida

Patti’s show that night at Florida State University’s impressive Ruby Diamond Concert Hall in Florida’s capital city was stunningly beautiful.

We fell in love with her all over again.

“Her voice really is an instrument,” our friend Vicki said at intermission. “The way she uses it is amazing.”

Use it she did that night, singing songs inspired by travel. In the program titled “Far Away Places,” she covered a diverse range of composers: Kurt Weill, Edith Piaf, Willie Nelson, the Bee Gees, Stephen Sondheim and more.

Patti is of Ted’s and my generation, nearing 70 the year of this concert, but I’d never heard her voice more vibrant, more supple. Though she closed the evening with “September Song,” that elegy about growing older—Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few—and during her concert patter spoke of having a hip replacement, there appeared to be no stopping the grande dame of America’s musical theater.

Patti also performed “Far Away Places” at Manhattan’s 54 Below. Recording available on Amazon.

After the show, the four of us floated out of the concert hall, spellbound by Patti’s finely honed talent and the evening we’d spent in her company. We agreed it had been well worth the drive from Georgia.

Now for dinner!

We were starving. Because we’d arrived in Tallahassee with barely enough time to check in to our Airbnb and get to the campus for the 7:30 curtain, we had skipped dinner, so we looked for a place to have a late supper after the show. In a college town like Tallahassee, it was not an easy task. One oyster bar near campus looked promising, but it was mobbed, so we kept searching.

We suspected the Four Points Sheraton, the round high-rise hotel that dominated the downtown skyline, had a restaurant, but we were hoping for something a little funkier, a little more “local.” After driving to a few other choices that were closed, even though their websites said they were open, we were done with wandering, ready to eat. Around 10 p.m., we parked in the Sheraton’s lot.

The place where it happened

Once inside the lobby, we were told the restaurant was still open. As we walked through the adjoining bar, we weren’t surprised to recognize musicians from Patti’s band seated there, ordering drinks. (The hotel seemed a logical lodging choice for visitors to the nearby campus.) We breezed past them, stealing a few glances as the hostess led us to the dining room, which was partitioned from the bar by a partial wall with an open doorway between the two brightly lit spaces.

Though seeing Patti’s band gave us hope that Patti might be in the hotel, too, it made more sense to us that she would be staying somewhere else, that perhaps she had friends in Tallahassee who would host her for the night … safely away from the public eye.

That local contact, we reasoned, was probably why Patti had come to Tallahassee in the first place. Why else would she have chosen Florida State instead of a larger venue for her concert? (We never did find out why she played there. We were just glad she did.)

Ted musters his courage

Ted and Linda went to the restroom off the lobby once we were seated at our table and ordered drinks—beers for the girls, scotch for Ted, white wine for me. It meant walking back through the bar, past Patti’s band.

“Maybe she’ll show,” I said to Vicki once Ted and Linda had left us, though my hope was half-hearted. Over the years, I had learned that eager anticipation of meeting Patti always led down a dead-end street—even when your brother-in-law and sister-in-law are best buds with her.

“Wouldn’t that be something?” Vicki sipped some beer. “But no, after that performance she’s probably snug in bed. Or having room service. If she’s even in the hotel.”

Ted and I before the show

Linda returned to our table alone. Her grin told us something was up. “She’s here. In the bar.”

My pulse quickened. Vicki and I put our menus down.

“Ted’s talking to her.” Linda went on sotto voce. “On the way to the lobby, we were so excited to see her we just kept walking, trying to play it cool.” She laughed. “Ted must have worked up his courage in that restroom, because when I came out … there he was … with Patti and the band.”

I felt a rush of affection for Ted as I thought of him in front of the restroom mirror, choosing the exact words to say to Patti. He worried about these things sometimes, although he didn’t need to. He was great on his feet, an accomplished speaker, always ready with a funny line or a comment that put everyone at ease. Whatever he was saying to Patti, he’d be fine.

But wait a minute …

Is this all that will happen? I wondered. Ted gets to talk to Patti and then tell us about it afterward? Surely he’ll come get us so we can meet her, too. Surely there’ll be more to making contact with Patti after all this time, won’t there?

I braced myself for whatever might happen … or not.

Then we waited. And waited. Still no Ted.

I looked at my watch. Quarter past 10.

“What is he doing?” I said. “Having a drink with her, while we—?”

Vicki sat bolt upright in her chair.

“Here he comes.” Her voice was tinged with terror, as if a tsunami were heading for us. “With Patti fucking LuPone.”

“Come on, Vicki.” I thought maybe she was kidding, though her tone said otherwise.

So did the way she kept her eyes glued to the doorway. That was the moment terror flashed through me, too.

“Oh my God, is this real life?” she whispered. “She’s coming. Here she is. She’s here.”

“Tits up, ladies!”

My heart racing, I watched the impossible happen: A smiling, bright-eyed Patti LuPone was walking toward us with Ted at her side. As Vicki describes it, we plotzed. Aghast, I managed to rise to my feet.

“This is my husband, Mike,” Ted said. “And our friends Vicki and Linda.”

Patti held her arms out to me. I hugged her and planted a light kiss in her hair. She smelled nice, a clean, powdery scent, and looked fresh and lovely in comfortable shorts and a War Paint T-shirt from the Broadway show she had recently starred in.

She warmly greeted Vicki and Linda, too. Then she pointed to Ted. “I love this guy’s brother. Love him!”

I learned later that “George Brothers” were the magic words that made Patti light up when Ted went to her table at the bar. He told her how much he had enjoyed her show that evening. At first, she gave the typical star’s response, thanked him graciously, but with the expected reserve. Then he said, “I’m George Brothers’ brother.”

Jackpot! Patti sprang to her feet, put her arms around Ted, gave him a big bear hug. “I love your brother!” she said. Police Chief on South Carolina’s Edisto Island, George and his officers kept careful tabs on Patti’s beach house there when she and her husband were away.

Vicki took this photo of herself and posted it on Facebook with the lines: “I call it, ‘Holy crap, Patti LuPone is standing there talking to my friends. I shouldn’t be sitting. I should stand up. Is this really happening?'”

That opened the door to more conversation. He told Patti we had driven from Georgia to see her show, told her his husband and two good friends were in the dining room and would love to meet her.

“Of course,” she said. “George has told me about you and your husband, that you like my work.”

“We’ve loved you forever,” Ted said. Together, they walked through the bar to our table in the restaurant.

Excitement often blurs memory. I can’t recount specifically what was said during our conversation with Patti. I know Vicki, God bless her, kept her cool and took a good photo of us with Patti. I returned the favor and snapped a few of her and Linda with Patti, too.

Before I pressed the shutter button on my smartphone, Patti said in her inimitable voice, “Tits up, ladies!” Vicki and Linda promptly did as they were told. I love these photos. Vicki is a card.

“When Patti LuPone says ‘tits up,’ you put your fucking tits up,” says Vicki. “That’s what you do.”
A true beauty shot

I also remember telling Patti of our upcoming trip to New York, scheduled for the following month (after two weeks in New Zealand; these were definitely pre-Covid days). She asked what we were seeing. We ticked off our choices: the revival of Boys in the Band, and Hello Dolly! with Bernadette Peters. Then we told her Ted and I had made differing selections for another evening on Broadway: He had tickets for The Band’s Visit, I for Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalf in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.

“Oh, The Band’s Visit is terrific,” Patti said. She wasn’t as enthusiastic about the Albee show. Did she just throw shade on my choice? I wondered, feeling momentarily slighted. Then I reminded myself: We’re talking theater with the queen of Broadway. Man, oh man! How lucky can you get?

Vicki took this photo, which captures the excitement of the evening. Posting it on Facebook, she wrote, “Oh, no. I just tried to subtly take a picture of Patti talking to Mike and Ted and the flash went off. Sorry, Patti.” She was remembering the well-publicized 2009 incident when Patti stopped a Broadway performance of Gypsy to yell at someone taking photos from the audience.

She must have stayed with us for a good 10 minutes. She was everything we’d hoped she’d be: gracious, warm, funny, opinionated. And for those few minutes, she made us feel as if we were all good friends who’d simply met up in a bar one Thursday night. It was an amazing experience.

Finally, she said she should get back to her table. She hugged and kissed each of us on the cheek. Then she headed toward the boys in the band with four parting words. She pointed at Ted, a big smile on her face. “I love your brother!” she said.

‘Wow. Just wow.’

Vicki, Linda, Ted and I took our seats around the table. We’d been told the kitchen would be closing soon, so we knew we should order something, but food seemed superfluous after hugging and kissing Patti LuPone.

“Did that really happen?” Vicki asked.

“I think so,” I said.

“Wow.” She shook her head. “Just wow. We have to call George and thank him.”

“Tomorrow.” Ted was clearly pleased the meeting had gone so well. “But now, some food.”

I looked at my menu, one thought pulsing through my brain: It happened. It. Finally. Freaking. Happened. After all this time.

I remembered the photo I’d so excitedly taken of Patti’s house on Edisto when we first learned it was hers. That was September of 2011, when the possibility of meeting her dawned on us. Nearly seven years ago.

The descriptions of turkey wraps and Reubens went blurry on the laminated sheet of paper before me. I blinked back the tears, slipped my hand under the table, squeezed Ted’s hand.

“Thank you,” I said.

He held my fingers tight. I’d never seen him look so proud.

Life after Edisto

A lot has changed since that balmy spring evening in Tallahassee in 2018. Patti and Matt sold the house on Edisto. Performing in London in the new, gender-bending version of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, a show that later moved to Broadway, Patti found she and her husband were spending less and less time at their beachfront getaway.

After earning awards for distinguished service in law enforcement—from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Association—George retired from the Edisto police force. Directing the response to two hurricanes that hit the island while he was chief, he was ready for a change of scenery. He and Jackie are now quite content well inland in their new home in the North Carolina mountains.

Sunset on Edisto Beach

As for Ted and me, Edisto no longer holds the allure it once did. With George and Jackie and Matt and Patti gone, it’s time to explore other beaches in our retirement years. But … I miss it.

Life is a learning experience

There’s a lesson for me in our story about Patti. During all those vacations on Edisto, I knew deep down that making contact with her was unlikely; it was having the dream that mattered. And isn’t that the funny thing about dreams? We need them, whether they come true or not, even lighthearted ones like meeting Patti LuPone. They keep us going. Our Patti dream gave a spark, a certain razzle-dazzle to the decades-long routine of our Edisto vacations, as bright as the orange sunset reflected in the glass of Patti’s sleek modern home facing the sea.

And then when the dream did come true … well, I love the way it morphed as it made its way to reality. Sure, real life can dash one’s dreams, but in our “waiting for Patti” story, real life made my dream possible, shaped it in a way that was better than my original version, in which I alone basked in the spotlight, performing the duet with Patti at Whaley’s beach bar while Ted, George and Jackie looked on.

No, in the real-life version, we all play major roles in the story, as well as our friends Vicki and Linda. We forged an enduring bond with them that night in Tallahassee. That’s better than my original dream ever was.

As I look back on it, I understand that it might not have taken a village for us to make contact with Patti, but it did take a family. My family. I am forever grateful for that.

Grateful, too, for my wonderful brother-in-law and sister-in-law George and Jackie. Since the day I met them during Ted’s and my early years together in the late 1970s, they have welcomed me with open arms into their lives. Like meeting Patti LuPone, knowing them has enriched my time on this earth.

Tony Awards night!

Today, we’ve marked our calendar for the 2022 Tony Awards on June 12. We’ve been reading about how Patti stops the show every night with her rendition of Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch” in the Broadway production of Company (which, incidentally, she invited George and Jackie to see before Covid shuttered Broadway theaters in 2020). Critics say she’s a shoo-in for her third Tony Award.

We have no doubt. And yes, I’ll be wearing my War Paint T-shirt while we watch.

Vicki’s photo of Ted and me with Patti. When I posted the photo on Facebook in 2018, I wrote, “Life is complete. Meeting Patti LuPone after her concert.”

My all-time favorite from my Patti Playlist: “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round/My Best to You”

Other links of interest:

Patti tells why she’ll never perform for DT:

Patti wows the 60th Annual Grammy Awards:

Patti calls out unmasked audience member:

Patti snatches cell phone from audience member:

Patti brings the Tony Awards audience to its feet in Gypsy, 2008

Patti’s son creates podcast of great short stories read by America’s finest actors:

If you missed the first two installments of my blog series, THE NIGHT WE KISSED PATTI LUPONE, please access them here. Thank you for reading!

Part I, posted May 31, 2022:

Part II, posted June 4, 2022:

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: