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Gay actor-writer Ben Rimalower has 'Patti Issues' with Broadway star LuPone and his closeted father

BY STEVE ROTHAUS
srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Gay actor-playwright Ben Rimalower on Friday channels his inner LuPone in Patti Issues, an Off-Broadway show about his obsession with the Evita star, and Rimalower's real-life relationship with his closeted gay father.

"My obsession with Patti LuPone had a lot to do with the way I survived," Rimalower says of his childhood in Long Island, New York.

Friday night, Rimalower performs his 55-minute play at Edison Farrow's The Cabaret South Beach.

Rimalower, 37, says that has a youngster, "I was very mesmerized by the Evita commercials that were on TV, seemingly constantly."

"When I was 13 years old, becoming obsessed with Broadway musicals, Evita was familiar to me. I felt like was connecting with something myself in a meaningful way. It’s taken me all these years to understand that."

patti issuesRimalower says "there’s a ferociousness about Patti LuPone in general, and particularly in Patti LuPone in Evita. in my childhood, that was empowering to me."

His childhood was rough.

"My father had such histrionics, that it took something like Patti to hold my attention," Rimalower said. "There are a lot of reasons why he was mentally disturbed. He could not fit into the image of being a gay man. He was a doctor who came from a nice Jewish family in New Jersey."

Rimalower's parents split when he was 9 and his dad came out of the closet.

"My father had a terrible drug problem. He felt his life was falling apart. There were suicide attempts and tantrums that happened in front of my sister and me. Sometimes at us. It was very scary. He tried to kill himself in front of us. it was deeply traumatizing and it took me decades to get over that."

That's about when young Rimalower discovered LuPone.

"When i got around to buying that album at the time, it was different. It’s like sports fans: This is my team, this is my girl. I was so invested with Patti LuPone. i would lie in bed at night listening to Evita and sing. I was channeling that."

Soon, Rimalower "experienced [LuPone's] triumphs and tragedies as my own," such as when Andrew Lloyd Weber fired her from the London cast of Sunset Boulevard, before the show transferred to Broadway.

The first time he met his idol was "as a fan at the stage door getting her autograph."

Soon, he got a backstage job with the company of Sweeney Todd, working with LuPone.

"Patti loved me," he says. "I was a 24-year-old gay boy who was obsessed with her."

Rimalower has written and directed several shows. Two years ago, he conceived Patti Issues.

"With Patti, i worked through what was upsetting to me about my father," he says. "I had to figure out a way to weave these two stories together."

Rimalower starred in Patti Issues for about a year, and since then has toured in the show.

A-list producer-director Richard Jay-Alexander, who on Saturday directed Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth at Carnegie Hall, is presenting Patti Issues in South Beach.

"I just loved it," Jay-Alexander says of the show, which he first saw during its run in New York. "I was mesmerized. It’s so brilliantly devised. I understand the obsession. ... I said I wanted to bring it to Florida."

IF YOU GO

Ben Rimalower performs Patti Issues 8 p.m. Friday at The Cabaret South Beach, 233 12th St., Miami Beach. Tickets $20 each, plus two-drink minimum. Click here for tickets.

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