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Entertainment & Arts

How Patti LuPone rescues her quarantined fans on Twitter

The one and only Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone.
(Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)

Some of us have been spending quite a bit of time lately in Patti LuPone’s basement.

Broadway’s fiercest diva has been graciously inviting us into her home via Twitter to alleviate the tedium of quarantine. Her videos are like U.S.O. care packages for show queens suffering from musical comedy withdrawals.

It all started with “The Rosie O’Donnell Show’s” benefit for the Actors Fund on March 22. La LuPone performed from her home and, as I commented on Twitter, it was a moment of sheer a cappella bliss.

Sensing a pent-up need in her fans, LuPone threw out a lifeline. She started up the jukebox and provided a tour of her finished basement.

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Naturally, she has a massage table. But who would have imagined that her cellar of curiosities would include a slot machine, Nipper the RCA dog and a pinball machine? She pointed out the piano she bought for $11,000 when she got “Evita” and the desk she picked up with David Mamet when she was doing his play “The Woods.”

Of course there were records, photos and souvenirs from her Broadway life. But this wasn’t canned public relations. This was Patti at home, dressed in sweatshirt, stretch culottes and slippers. Patti jitterbugging to a Les Paul and Mary Ford record. Mama Patti to the rescue!

Alan Nakagawa is asking the public for haiku about life in the era of coronavirus. He’s making a sound collage for the Orange County Museum of Art.

How would she ever slake the thirst she incited in her cult following? Some have accused me of not being a member of this tribe after I reviewed her memoir with a gimlet eye. Au contraire, mes amis. Her Tony-winning turn in “Gypsy” isn’t just the best Broadway performance I’ve seen — it’s the most consummate Broadway experience I’ve ever had. The pleasure was so intense I thought my dreaming mind must have hallucinated it.

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Never underestimate LuPone’s power to top herself. The next day, she took us on another basement tour, this time at manic speed.

She danced, she cursed, she attacked her pinball machine while doing a James Cagney impression. She pointed out her collection of cassettes but didn’t ask, à la Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Does anyone still play a cassette?” Out of breath, she showed off one of her most cherished possessions, a second-prize trophy from Second Stage for most time spent in the gutter. “Who won first?” she quipped.

This wasn’t a tour — it was an expressionistic performance work of cabin fever. Dr. LuPone, practicing a form of telepsychiatry, was offering a profound public service in simultaneously manifesting and dissipating our shelter-in-place anxieties.

A day later she was back in the basement answering questions. First, she paid homage to Terrence McNally, one of the theater’s most prominent casualties from COVID-19. Then she opened her photo albums and, giving us a taste of her singular diction, explained “that they were filled with everything from my lineage to the digital age.” She strolled through her cassette collection, which included Ethel Merman, “Anything Goes,” “Blood Brothers” (“I wanted to be in ‘Blood Brothers’!”) and a bunch of shows starting with the letter C, including her most recent, “Company.” When she got to Rick Danko, she told a story about asking him to go home with her. He refused, and with that revelation, she ended the video.

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Ah, but the fun didn’t end there. A couple day later she tweeted a photo of her exercise regime, which brought Gay Twitter off the ledge.

And then just when you think it couldn’t get more divine, she broke out the Norma Desmond drag, delivering a snippet of her “Sunset Boulevard” before turning it over to her jukebox.

There was only one expert to contact about these tweets: Ben Rimalower, self-described “Patti LuPone savant” and creator of the cabaret show “Patti Issues.”

Have you been to her basement before?

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Yes, back when it was the basement “theater museum” in the Neiman Marcus catalog log cabin she later sold, when she moved the collection into the barn on her adjoining property, where it lives now.

What surprised you most about what she has down there?

Her scrapbooks are meticulously maintained by a professional archivist. She has everything — from her “Evita” score to a congratulatory telegram from Bette Midler to a fan letter I sent her in college. I longed to spend hours and months down there.

What has it meant to to you to spend some time during these pandemic days with Broadway’s grandest diva and your personal hero?

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It’s a godsend. I live for Patti on a normal day, but the joy she fills me with is especially vital right now. I’m also obsessed with the kid on Twitter (@TylerMacJones) who lip-synced to her first two videos last week. Genius!

For anyone needing more — hi! — the one and only Randy Rainbow was darling enough to remind us of the time he lip-synced a legend’s autobiography. Folks, we just might make it through this after all.


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