How Come From Away’s Jenn Colella Hopped on a Plane for an Audition and Wound Up Making Her Broadway Debut

Seth Rudetsky   How Come From Away’s Jenn Colella Hopped on a Plane for an Audition and Wound Up Making Her Broadway Debut
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares backstage stories from Playbill Travel’s cruise to Greece starring Colella, Rachel Bay Jones, Terrence Mann, and more.
Jenn Colella and Kendra Kassebaum
Jenn Colella Roberto Araujo

I’m high above Europe and flying home to the USA! In exactly one week, I’ll be doing the first concert in my Seth Rudetsky Series shows at Emerson’s Colonial Theater in Boston on Monday, July 8. Jessie Mueller is my first guest star and I definitely want her to sing from Carousel, Waitress, and Beautiful. But I’m also gonna ask her to do something from the new TV movie in which she co-stars as Loretta Lynn opposite Megan Hilty’s Patsy Cline, and something from when her high school musical Once Upon A Mattress—and who knows what the hell else I’ll make her sing. Come see us!

I had a wonderful week sailing around Greece on the Playbill cruise. Each night, a different big name Broadway star performs a full solo cabaret show and the first show was Rachel Bay Jones. She has such vulnerability onstage and can sing up a storm!

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Rachel Bay Jones Playbill Travel

She talked about being cast as Evita at a regional theatre and how they were going to bring in a Spanish-speaking star and do the entire show in Spanish for the last two weeks of the show. When she found out, Rachel told the director that she wanted to do the show in Spanish! She then told him that she didn’t speak Spanish. Nonetheless, she first learned the show in English and then got the new Spanish lyrics. She learned the show phonetically and also had someone write out a literal translation of the show’s new Spanish lyrics so she knew exactly what she was saying. The man who adapted the lyrics into Spanish definitely made Evita more sympathetic, so in the original English version she played Evita as more hard and conniving but would rehearse the Spanish language version during the day and play her with much different motivations.

Finally, the all-Spanish language opening night came. A few hours before the show, Rachel went into a panic and decided she could not go on. The director calmed her down and they decided that the solution was to place the Spanish lyrics all over the stage. There were lyrics taped to the walls, to pieces of furniture, to the Casa Rosada…she had them written on supposed prayer cards for the death scene…everywhere! Thus followed opening night which Rachel said basically consisted of her constantly searching for lyrics onstage. On the second night, she told the director she just had to go for it and got rid of all the taped-up lyrics. And she did it! She then sang “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” in English and Spanish and was amazing!

READ: Rachel Bay Jones’ Wild Night as Eva Peron in Evita en Español

Liz Callaway did her show, featuring her usual hilariousness and her sweet, soaring voice. One night on the boat, we were talking about understudying and I asked her if she was ever a standby for a role. Well, she was supposed to stand-by for Bernadette Peters in Song and Dance; she played Emma, a designer from London who moves to NYC. Richard Maltby Jr. (who co-wrote and directed Baby starring Liz) was directing and wanted Liz to do it. She went out-of-town when the show was being workshopped and she was all set for Broadway, all she had to do was sing once for Cameron Mackintosh. Well, Liz sang and Cameron told Richard that Liz did not come across as British so Liz got ixnayed and Maureen Moore got the gig. The “meant to be” part is: Bernadette wound up only missing one performance, a Saturday in October of 1986. And that Saturday just happened to be the day of Liz’s wedding!! Phew!

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Charlotte d’Amboise on the crater of Santorini Playbill Travel

Charlotte d’Amboise did her act that featured incredible full-out dance numbers, including the entire Cassie dance from A Chorus Line! She also told a classic “Do what you have to do to get a job” story. A little after Chicago opened, she got an audition for one of the lead roles. However, she knew she was a Roxie, and they wanted her to audition for Velma. She told her agent to get her a Roxie audition instead but was told that they would only to see her for Velma. What to do? Well, she got her mitts on the Roxie audition material and learned it. Then she showed up at the audition, gave the Roxie music to the pianist and started performing the number. Suddenly, she was cut off and told that she was supposed to singing the Velma material. Charlotte then acted completely miffed. “Velma? That’s strange. I only got the Roxie material sent to me. I guess there a mix up! But regardless, that’s all I prepared.” Since someone had obviously made a mistake (!) they let her audition for Roxie and I guess Charlotte knew what role was right for her…because she’s still playing it on Broadway 20 years later!

Terrence Mann (who happens to be married to Charlotte) did a show not only featuring songs from his original roles in Les Misérables, Scarlet Pimpernel, and Beauty and the Beast but he also accompanied himself (!) on various Leon Russell and Elton John songs.

Terry got to Broadway completely by chance: Back in the ’70s, he had done an outdoor musical directed by Joe Layton in his home state of North Carolina. One day in the early ’80s, he was visiting his girlfriend who lived in NYC. Terry was looking at Backstage magazine and saw that there were auditions for a new musical directed by his old pal, Joe Layton. Terry decided to go to the open call and when he was walking in, he happened to run into Joe! Terry told him that he wanted to audition and Joe asked Terry if he could walk a tightrope and do circus tricks. Turns out, Terry had learned all the stuff in acting school so he said yes, and the next thing he knew, he was on Broadway in Barnum covering the title role! All because he happened to be visiting that weekend!

The final show on the cruise was Jenn Colella, who is taking a a little time off from starring in Come From Away to play the title role in Peter Pan at the Pittsburgh CLO starting in a week. Her voice is so fantastic! But, she was initially working as a stand-up in L.A., not a beltress.

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Charlotte d’Amboise, Seth Rudetsky, Terrence Mann, and Liz Callaway during Chatterbox Playbill Travel

While Jenn was out there in the early 2000s, she auditioned for the Broadway-bound Urban Cowboy…and didn’t get it. Months and months later, her agent called and told her that the original director had passed away and the new powers-that-be wanted to see her again. She was told to fly to NYC to sing and read and, if she got cast, she’d begin rehearsals the next day. Of course, if she didn’t get it, she’d fly home right away. Jenn joked that it was a very odd trip to pack for! Well, she got to the audition, saw that she was only one auditioning, got the offer that day and indeed began rehearsals the very next day!

The show opened on a Thursday and didn’t get great reviews, so the cast was told it was going to close that Saturday. Jenn told us that she didn’t know shows could do that! The crazy part is: The cast did the show that final Saturday night, Lonny Price (the director) came onstage and thanked every single person by name in the cast and the crew (which was amazing) and then, out-of-the-blue, the producer came onstage and surprised everyone by saying they were going to stay open!!!! Jenn said that when the cast heard the news, they let out a collective giant cheer. She later found out that it was such a loud noise that the cast of Gypsy, which was playing next door, heard it in their theatre!

Besides the Jessie Mueller show I have in Boston this coming Monday, I also have fun Provincetown shows in July and August! This weekend I’ll be with Gavin Creel, and then Beth Leavel joins me the weekend of August 18. On Labor Day Weekend I’ll be with Audra McDonald in P-town, Cotuit, and Nantucket! Come see all of my Cape Cod shows! More info here!

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite stories from the week that Liz’s husband, Dan Foster, told us one night after the show. We were talking about understudies and he relayed us this tale from across the pond. It sounds apocryphal, but he says is true. So, the Agatha Christie show The Mousetrap has been playing in London for decades and there was a woman who understudied the maid but never went on. For 20 years. She would just sit backstage in the green room and knit. Well, lo and behold, finally, the stage manager approached her one night and told her the big news: She was going on! For the first time in 20 years! As soon as she heard, the understudy put down her knitting so she could get ready and told the stage manager she just had to get something from her car. She walked downstairs, left the theatre to make a quick trip to her car…and never came back. EVER. Hi-larious! And we’re obsessed with the calmness.

“Big news… you’re on!”

“Oh, OK… let me just get something from my car. I’ll be right back.”

Nothing.

Brava and peace out!

Cabins are now on sale for Broadway in the Great Northwest, Playbill Travel’s first domestic cruise that will bring passengers on a journey through the Pacific Northwest from April 26–May 4, 2020, and for Broadway on the Mediterranean (August 31–September 7, 2020), featuring Audra McDonald, Will Swenson, Gavin Creel, Lindsay Mendez, and more to be announced. Playbill Travel is currently accepting waitlist travelers for its sold-out Broadway in Bordeaux With Michael Feinstein (September 1–9, 2019). Call Playbill Travel for tickets at 866-455-6789 or visit PlaybillTravel.com.


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