How Ali Stroker’s Tony Win for Oklahoma! Will Change Theatre Forever

Seth Rudetsky   How Ali Stroker’s Tony Win for Oklahoma! Will Change Theatre Forever
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth gives his take on the 2019 Tony Awards and the most important moments, plus stories from Jessie Mueller and more.
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Ali Stroker CBS

Happy post-Tony Awards! I felt so inspired watching the show Sunday night. When I worked on the Tony Awards in 1998 and 2000 with Rosie O’Donnell as the host, I remember Rosie begging the nominees not to read a list of thank-you’s and to speak from the heart. Well, that happened last night. There were so many heartfelt, moving moments that made me love Broadway!

Two that I feel are going to have impacts for a long time are the following:
Santino thanking his theatre teacher. He told us that his teacher emphatically told him “You are an actor.” This gave Santino the courage to pursue his career. Here is why this had such an impact on me: what about the kids who weren’t as lucky as Santino? We are in an arts crisis. This country is cutting arts education more and more. There are fewer theatre teachers now than ever before. How many kids don’t/didn’t have a teacher to tell them “You are an actor” and therefore don’t/didn’t have the courage to pursue the arts? How many possible Tony winners aren’t actors because they didn’t have encouragement? How many future actors are we not going to have because they didn’t have a qualified adult telling them they can do it? It is so imperative that we keep arts education alive and healthy.

The International Thespian Society (of which I was the president my junior year in high school!) has something called Jumpstart Theatre, where they will fund three years of a musical theatre program in a deserving middle school. It’s incredible and a great way to bring theatre to young kids who may not know how much they’ll love it. Even if they don’t pursue it as a career, theatre can be life changing. Get thee to SchoolTheatre.org.

Second of all, I feel the constant joking about theatre being for gay people has directly impacted funding. Why fund something that seems it’s only for a small segment of society? Theatre is for everyone. The myth that only gay people enjoy it drives me up the wall. The myth is that sports are for everyone and theatre is for gay people…and this destructive joke has been propagated by our own theatre people! I’m sure I’ve done it in the past. It has contributed to the destruction of the arts in our schools. Ed Sullivan was certainly not gay (if anything, he was horrifically conservative), but he highlighted Broadway every week on his TV show because musical theatre is an American art form. The arts are for everyone. Anyone that diminishes its appeal helps marginalize it and give reason for schools to stop funding it.

The second thing that happened last night that will have an impact forever is Ali Stroker winning a Tony Award. I thought she was such a bright spot in Spring Awakening and I was thrilled when she got cast as Ado Annie in Oklahoma!. The fact that a woman who needs a wheelchair for mobility has a comic leading role on Broadway—and won a Tony Award for it—has changed the future. I know people with disabilities who want to pursue theatre and have felt there is no place for them. And now Ali has shown that not only is there a place, but there is a place at the top of the food chain. I can’t wait to see what Broadway looks like in ten years! I had Ali on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM radio show, a few years ago when she was starring with Krista Rodriguez in Spring Awakening. They wrote a great parody about playing roles much younger than they actually are. Watch! Favorite lyric:

“Bachelor dandies,
drinkers of Brandy,
what don’t I know of those?”

I had Megan Hilty and Jessie Mueller on Seth Speaks to talk about their new film where they play real-life friends, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Jessie is still a relative newcomer to filming, but she told me everyone was extremely nice and she wasn’t intimidated.

I then thought of Katie Finneran’s first foray into film and how that was not fun at first. She had a brief role in the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film You've Got Mail. She was the lesbian Irish nanny and had very few lines. In one scene she only had one line, but she before she was supposed to say it, she had to walk down a hill in Riverside Park, hit her mark and then say her line. If you don't know, in film, you have to hit your mark exactly where it is because that's where the camera is set up to shoot you. Well, Katie did her first take by running down the hill, hitting her mark and saying her line. Unfortunately, the way she hit her mark was to quickly look down when she got to the bottom of the hill and then speak. She did take after take, and Nora Ephron had to keep cutting and saying, "Katie! You can't look down before you say your line…it looks bizarre!" Luckily, Tom Hanks was incredibly kind to her throughout the shoot and asked the crew to get her a sandbag. Not to drop on her head, Phantom of the Opera-style, but to place right in front of the mark. That way, she'd be able to feel where she was supposed to stand and not have to keep acting out the opening lyrics of Les Miz ("Look down, look down").

Speaking of Loretta Lynn, I had The Prom lyricist and co-book writer Chad Beguelin on Seth Speaks, as well, and asked how to pronounce his last name. He told me he simply tells people it’s what you do when you want a favor from Loretta Lynn…you “beg Lynn.” I told him his references were more suited to people over 40 and later that night he wrote me that he’s going to change his explanation. Now, when people ask how to pronounce Beguelin, he’ll say “It’s what you do when you want a part in Hamilton. You have to ‘beg Lin.’” Yay! I helped bring him into 2019!

And finally, James and I did another fundraiser for You Gotta Believe on June 2, the only only organization in NYC that helps older foster youth find families. Find out more at YouGottaBelieve.org.

I had my British friend Emma Kingston open the show. Wow. Her voice is incredible. Listen to her high belt “A New Argentina” from when she starred as Evita in the international tour.

Seth 6.11.19

Then I had the fabulous Anika Larsen, who was perfectly cast for this benefit because she grew up with nine brothers and sisters, some biological and some adopted. Tony Yazbeck also sang beautifully and then brought the house down with his crazy tap dancing. Rosie Perez spoke about the horror of being dumped by her mother in an abusive orphanage for years and how the love of her aunt saved her, and author/lecturer Regina Louise also spoke. Regina wrote a book and has a recent Lifetime film called I Am Somebody’s Child about being a young girl in Texas abandoned by her parents. She lived in a group home and became close to a woman who worked there. Thrillingly, the woman decided to adopt her but, devastatingly, the court wouldn’t allow it because Regina is black and the woman was white. They ruled that a black girl should be raised in a black family and put Regina in a psychiatric facility. They drugged her up and wouldn’t allow her any contact with the one parental figure that actually loved her. The film is brilliantly made, devastating throughout, but…spoiler alert…the ending is beautiful. She finally reconnected with that woman and was adopted by her…even though Regina was in her 40s! And the adoption happened in the same courtroom that had denied it more than 25 years before. You must see it! Check it out here.

Regina had told Mary Keane (one of the heads of You Gotta Believe) that for years she wanted to reconnect with the woman who tried to adopt her… just to sing her the Natalie Merchant song about giving thanks. Well, we surprised Regina with that specific song, amazingly sung by Lindsay Lavin, and Regina filmed it and posted it on her Instagram. Look!

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The moment I heard the song “Thank you” by @nataliemerchant I knew that it was one of two songs I’d sing to Jeanne, once I found her. So, in a pre-event call with Mary T. Keane Executive Dir. of @yougottabelievenyc I mentioned as much. “All I wanted was to say ‘thank you’ to Jeanne for loving me... I never expected to be adopted.” Fast forward to Sunday’s event in stunning Greenwich Connecticut. I’m sitting amongst the guest and this darling woman began singing this song to me—I later learned as a request from Mary. As an “accidental advocate” for children in foster care, I’ve talked before 10’s of thousands of people and can count the times I’ve been acknowledged in a publicly honoring way on two fingers. I understand that the work I do FEELS—many times as if the effort creates invisible changes. Nevertheless, I have felt Spiritually-driven to continue doing it—up to this point. What I do next is still incubating. I’ve never REALLY concerned myself with the importance of receiving “thanks” for the years, month’s, hours I’ve travelled and spoken out for the disremembered and unaccounted for—until the moment I received this brilliant song as a gift from my new sister-friend, Mary T Keane����... #thankyou songstress @lindslav for your voice, @sethrudetsky for playing piano. Thank you for seeing me. Always.

A post shared by Regina Louise (@therealreginalouise) on

And finally, tickets for my new series in Boston are on sale! Come see The Seth Rudetsky Series at the beautiful Emerson Colonial Theatre with Jessie Mueller, Cheyenne Jackson, and Kelli O’Hara!

Seth 6.11.19

Peace out!

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