How Shirley MacLaine Saved Chita Rivera’s Performance in the Sweet Charity Film

Seth Rudetsky   How Shirley MacLaine Saved Chita Rivera’s Performance in the Sweet Charity Film This week in the life of Seth Rudestky, Seth takes us inside his concert with Chita Rivera, and reveals behind-the-scenes stories from her time on Bob Fosse’s set of Sweet Charity.
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Seth Rudetsky and Chita Rivera Jenny Anderson/Getty Images

Hello from flight number five out of five flights in five days! It was for fun stuff so it’s “all good.” Speaking of flights, my friend (he said I could not use his name!) was recently on a flight to London and his husband lost his phone in the middle of the flight. Where could it have gone? The places he had been were:
a. His seat

They asked for help and while they stood in the aisle, the flight attendant felt all around the seat, removed the cushion and finally found it buried inside. Phew! My friend’s husband then started to put away his tray table, push his seat upright etc and while he was doing so, the newly found phone dropped in the opening for the tray table. Seriously! Of course, they were too mortified to call the flight attendant, but the tray table wouldn’t go back in because of the phone and now the plane was in it’s final descent. So, back came the flight attendant and this time, he had a tool kit with him. Yes, the side of the chair had to be disassembled to get to the phone while they again stood in the aisle. It definitely wasn’t mortifiying/hilarious for all involved.

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Seth Rudetsky and Christine Pedi Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Back to my many plane flights: First I flew to Cleveland, my old college stomping grounds. (Well, not really.) In the ’80s, I would fly into Cleveland and then immediately get a lift to Oberlin. So Cleveland was less “stomping grounds” and more “driving past” grounds. Anyhoo, my SiriusXM co-host Christine Pedi and I were invited by the wonderful Mindi Axner and her team to perform at the annual gala for the National Council of Jewish Women. Wow! They are a great organization. Their focus is supporting women, children and families and they consist mostly of volunteers. One of the things they do that I love is called “Done in a Day” volunteering where you can do something amazing but not have a long time commitment. Christine and I were there for a gala supporting their foster care program. Coincidentally, we were invited to perform without them knowing that Christine and I are both involved with helping foster kids!

Christine volunteers with Covenant House (a wonderful place that provides housing for homeless youth) by doing the Broadway Sleep Out. That’s when a bunch of Broadway folks collect money in donations and then sleep on the sidewalk to gain an inkling of insight into what it’s like to be homeless. Christine told everyone at the gala that a big “get” to the youth coming to Covenant House is socks! If you have a chance, drop off a bunch of new socks at a local Covenant House and you will make a huge difference. And I’m involved with the annual benefit James and I do called Voices For The Voiceless, which benefits “You Gotta Believe,” the agency that focuses specifically on older foster kids. Once a child is around age ten, they are sadly not desirable to parents wanting to adopt and they often age out of the system with no trusted adult to help them. Fifty percent of these kids wind up homeless or in prison. (Get thee to YouGottaBelieve.org to find out more).

Anyhoo, we had a great time in Cleveland and I recommend you hook up in some way with the National Council of Jewish Women AND that you see Christine Pedi’s Comden and Green salute this Wednesday at 54 Below (tickets here)! Here is Christine doing a bizarre/hilarious thing: the Vincent Price rap from “Thriller” as various ladies…including an amazing version of Angela Lansbury. Watch!

So, Thursday was Cleveland. I flew back to NYC Friday morning. On Friday afternoon, I got back in a cab and headed to JFK for my flight to San Francisco (for a Saturday show with Chita Rivera at the Nourse, then a Sunday matinee show with her at the Smith Center in Vegas). I don’t know if ya know, but there is crazy traffic on the way to JFK because of construction near LaGuardia. What’s normally a 45-minute drive took me 90 minutes! As the traffic jam lingered, I began to think I was going to miss my flight. Well, there was a flight scheduled to leave one hour later and I’m now a Delta Silver member meaning if I switch my flight, I only have to pay $75. Yay! It was less than 60 minutes until my flight and I was a long way away so I called my special Silver Member number to change my flight. I was told by a recorded voice that I would only have to be on hold for ONE TO TWO HOURS! I hung the hell up. I guess I could have waited until I got an operator (after my flight took off) and then time traveled back to before my flight and switched it. Anyway, I still had a slight hope I’d make it. I got to the airport at 4:40 for a 4:55 flight. I ran to security, showed my ticket and was told “You’ll make it. I quickly moved through the security scanner….beep beep beep. Did I forget I have a metal hip? Nope. It was a random security search. I knew I had to do it. But I still exclaimed “AH! My plane is in seven minutes!” The TSA guy was very nice and assured me “You’ll make it.” Well, I felt reassured. Two people who actually worked at the airport told me I’d make it. Guess what? I didn’t make it.

I then went to the Delta help desk to get the next flight for my $75 change fee. Well, my silver status meant nothing because it cost more than $300! That’s because I didn’t change it before the flight. What’s the perk of being able to change your flight for a small fee if you literally can’t get in touch with anyone to change your flight!!?

Anyhoo, I flew to San Fran to do a show with triple threat Chita Rivera. At one point, we were talking about the Sweet Charity film and the amazing “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.” Chita remembered that director Bob Fosse told her that she and her co-star, Paula Kelly, should do their dancing perfectly every take because he’s going to always go with the one where leading lady Shirley MacLaine looked best. Chita totally understood and at one point they were doing the part where they run up the left side of the roof and, when they come back down, they do a leap a la second. Chita had to wind up the furthest stage left so she didn’t have far to run before she exploded into the leap. Still, it felt to so good to really run before the leap that she overshot it and messed up the formation. Fosse yelled, “That’s a take” and Chita said she had to completely suppress the urge to yell “SH*T!!!” She was so annoyed that she didn’t do it perfectly but knew she couldn’t say anything. Shirley MacLaine sensed something was wrong and asked Chita what was up. Chita quietly told her she didn’t like how she had danced in that last take. Cut to: Shirley yelled ‘Bob! Can we please do another take!” and Chita got to do it right! Yay Shirley! Watch the whole thing here and the leap is at 5:28. And, please note for the Fosse enthusiasts out there, that yes the dancers are precise, but they are still individualistic. I keep seeing recreated Fosse where everyone looks like an identical robot. It drives me crazy!

Speaking of the film, Chita also talked about a fellow dancer who, like all the dancers in “Big Spender” was told to stare straight out and not blink. Well, she blinked. Next day, she was gone. Ouch! Watch how amazingly this sequence was filmed. And check out Chita’s amazing body positioning during “do you wanna have fun?” in the clip here. Looking at it put my lower back into spasm.

Chita and I add new songs every time we do the show and this time we duetted on “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Very Far From The Tree” from The Rink. (Watch Chita and Liza sing it here.)

Seth Rudetsky and Chita Rivera
Seth Rudetsky and Chita Rivera Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

I not only got to live my childhood fantasy of being Liza Minnelli, but I got to sing with Chita. It reminds me of flint: If you scrape at it repeatedly, it will eventually spark and start a fire. I guess if you obsessively listen to Chita over-and-over again in Chicago starting when you’re nine years old, you will eventually get to sing with her onstage!

Chita and I will be performing this summer in Cotuit on Cape Cod and she’s going to be a the Carlyle for two weeks starting May 9. (Tickets here!)

Speaking of NYC performances, I saw the amazing Easter Bonnet competition last week. I’m so obsessed with the two guys from Oh, Hello. They were raging about Hello, Dolly! “They stole fifty percent of our title!”

Mother’s Day is coming and on that night, I’m going to be on Broadway with Patti LuPone! We’re doing a show called Deconstructing Patti where I’m going to make her tell every single hilarious story from her years of auditioning, doing Broadway and TV/film and I’m going to make her sing (almost) every song from every Broadway show she’s ever done—Anything Goes, Gypsy, Evita, Baker’s Wife, Les Miz etc! (Tickets here!)

Here’s a smattering of the kind of stuff I do with her followed by a brilliant performance of hers. Enjoy!

And finally, don’t forget the next Concert For America is Wednesday, May 24 in L.A. at Royce Hall. Look at the all the amazing people performing! Tix at ConcertsForAmerica.com. Peace out!

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