On Broadway, Seth Rudetsky is on a first-name basis with practically everyone. In conversation, the names emerge without effort or attitude — Audra, Chita, Lillias. (That’s McDonald, Rivera and White, respectively.) And why shouldn’t they? In the past two years — between gigs as a Broadway pit pianist and conductor, writing for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and appearing in his own one-man stage show, Rhapsody in Seth, which has just been extended at the Ars Nova Theater through Aug. — Rudetsky has become the Barbara Walters of the Great White Way with his weekly live cabaret show, "Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox."
“It’s like ‘Inside the Actors Studio: Musical Theatre Department,’” Rudetsky says of the "Chatterbox" format, which celebrates the talent of a contemporary musical-theatre luminary by having him (usually her) sit down onstage with him and be interviewed, every Thursday at 6 PM at Restaurant Row’s Don’t Tell Mama. Since most are performers, Rudetsky also makes them sing. After all, Broadway crooners have been key to Rudetsky’s salvation since the 1970’s, when he was a kid growing up in Hewett, Long Island. “Although I was lauded for my talents on the piano,” Rudetsky says, “I was reviled by all the other kids. Growing up, my only hope was that I knew I had to live long enough to get out of there and surround myself with really high belters— like Betty.” (Buckley, that is.)
Dishy, enlightening and often wackily entertaining, Rudetsky’s "Broadway Chatterbox" is also an act from the heart, as all of the proceeds go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. “Seth has been very generous in sharing his talent and enthusiasm,” says BC/EFA Executive Director Tom Viola. Despite a modest ten dollar cover charge, Viola estimates that since the show’s 1999 debut, “the series has probably brought in over $10,000, which is absolutely fantastic.” Plus, there’s the saucy fun Rudetsky brings to the proceedings, “because in terms of Seth’s take on show biz,” Viola adds, “there is probably no one better or scarier.”
Pridefully, that is Rudetsky’s subversive style. Always in the spirit of silliness, Rudetsky admits, “there’s a video segment in 'Chatterbox' where I make my guest show a clip of the most mortifying moment of their career.” Favorites include Chicago director Walter Bobbie looking back at his acting days “on a soap opera, playing a hot dog vendor.” And, Buckley again, as a contestant in the Miss America Pageant. “Lip-synching to a song,” he recalls, “and when Betty closed her mouth, the note just kept going. And going!”
After nearly 200 personalities clocking in at the "Chatterbox" — with many, such as Buckley, making repeat visits — Rudetsky still has a wish list.“I’ve never been able to get Patti.” (You know, LuPone.) “And Bernadette,” he thrills, “I am dying to get Bernadette.” (Like Cher, a first name is sufficient when referring to Peters.) But they may have to wait, as Rudetsky is determined to make summer in N.Y. even hotter this year by ushering in Broadway’s newest star. “Oh, Sutton,” Rudetsky joyfully proclaims, regarding the 2002 Tony Award-winning young star of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Sutton Foster.