Can We Talk About…? Patti LuPone’s Hauntingly Bad Laundromat Musical Pilot

Suds and duds abound in the diva's long-lost 1980s "soap operetta," in which she plays an angry, sock-stealing ghost.

Can We Talk About…? is a weekly series putting the “log” back in Log Cabin RuPublican.

Some things are just too perfect for this world. Disco. The McRib. Whitney Houston. Add to that list the 1984 pilot for Hip Pocket Musicals, what would have been a half-hour show featuring the same cast performing different mini-musicals. It was sort of like a repertory company for the coked-up ’80s. An anthology series with show tunes—an American West Side Horror Story, if you will.

Sure, that sounds like a great… well, it sounds like an idea. Good or bad, that depends on how you feel about musicals. And I love ’em.

What’s better than absurdly talented people breaking out into tightly choreographed song and dance numbers? I can see why David Misch, Bill Burnett, and Peggy Black thought it would be a good idea to bring a bit of Broadway into the average American home—after all, remember when flash mobs were a thing? Folks eat this schtick up.

Misch, a writer-producer, and the songwriting duo of Burnett and Black pitched Hip Pocket Musicals to PBS, who was like, This gay shit is made possible by viewers like you, and gave them some dollars to shoot a pilot. All the dollars.

Patti LuPone was apparently just hanging around—killing time between trying to beat Andrew Lloyd Webber to death with her Tony from Evita and dreaming a dream as the original Fantine in Les Misérables—so she joined the cast for “Love Cycle: A Soap Operetta,” the pilot for the ill-fated Hip Pocket Musicals. In it, LuPone plays a lovesick ghost haunting a laundromat in search of…

“For some reason, I’m haunting this laundromat, and I’m stealing everybody’s socks,” a bemused LuPone recently told The New Yorker’s Michael Schulman between cackles. “Yeah, this is a real piece of art.”

It sure was, Patsy girl. She had a devil of a time making this dog-and-Tony show, though, reportedly complaining to the writer, “I just don’t understand the character. I have no idea why this woman says or does anything in the script.”

The actress’ famous temper aside, LuPone does recall having to shout, “One director, please!” because, as she put it, “everybody had an opinion.” And by the looks of it, they all made it into the final production.

Hip Pocket Musicals was enough of a draw to get a big name like LuPone as well as a few other Broadway babies of note who probably won’t ring a bell (come through, Lonny Price and Walter Bobbie!). But there were also some future stars in the running—or at least running-adjacent:

According to Misch, Kyra Sedgwick read for the ghost. Also, he recalled, the casting director, Donna Isaacson, had heard of “two really cool women who were singing in the East Village—one was named Madonna and the other was named Cyndi Lauper”—but she was unable to track them down.

Luckily, Misch and Co. were left asking, “Who’s that girl?” as we all know how LuPone feels about Madonna in musicals.

The story, as much as you can call what’s happening on screen a “story,” was based on the real-life love triangle between Misch, Burnett, and Black. At the time of the soap operetta’s creation, they were living together above a laundromat in Greenwich Village, where Burnett and Black had gone through the wash, while Black and Misch were in the midst of some static cling.

Though they remained friends through it all, and no one stole socks and sang about it in a fit of anger and despair, “Love Cycle” provided an outlet for some of their tumble-dried romantic angst.

“I guess it was our projection of what we were proud we didn’t do,” Misch told Schulman, “because that is the traditional way someone would react—with howls of fury and throwing-of-laundry vengeance.”

The result is a gorgeous, horribly dated mess of a musical about the caprices of love filled with enough laundry puns to make the Snuggle Bear throw a side-eye of contempt. But between the laughable special effects, the epic hair stories, and the questionable ethnic accents there are some pretty decent songs. A personal fave, “Things Change,” is a duet between LuPone’s ghostly Rachel and Debra (Tony-winner Priscilla Lopez), the woman she thought had replaced her in her former beau Steve’s life.

Is there anything better than two Broadway divas belting in each other’s faces? I’ll stop you right there—no.

Which gets me back to my original point: The magic of musicals. Even with sub-par material, in the hands of the wildly talented “Love Cycle” becomes something worthwhile, even transfixing. And LuPone, as she’s proven time and time again, never does anything half-assedly.

Even as a spurned laundromat ghost with an off-brand Pat Benatar haircut, she’s giving it her whole goddamn ass.

It’s called being a star. So do yourself a favor and take a gander at what that looks like in “Love Cycle: A Soap Operetta” below.

 

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat