Inside Broadway’s Protest at The White House

Seth Rudetsky   Inside Broadway’s Protest at The White House
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth recounts his day as part of Rosie O’Donnell’s protest in Washington, D.C.—plus stories from Andrea Martin and Liz Callaway in Provincetown.
Seth Rudetsky column 8.13.18

Here I am in gorgeous Provincetown on the porch of the Anchor Inn. I only have one more week here where I’ll be playing for Stephanie J. Block and Emily Skinner and then I’m not back until next year. Sad face.

Stephanie and Emily are both in an upcoming Broadway musical and before I discuss who they play in the show, I will re-tell my favorite Andrea Martin story:

Andrea always looks super youthful and 20 years ago, even more so. She was walking around a museum and noticed a woman noticing her. Andrea went into full “OMG…can’t a celebrity get a moment to be by themselves? Why must I have so many fans always harassing me?” Finally, the woman timidly approached her. “Here we go…” thought Andrea…waiting for an SCTV or Big Fat Greek Wedding reference. The woman looked at her and said, “Excuse me. Are you Cher’s mother?” Wonderful.

You may have been wondering what Andrea has to do with Stephanie and Emily, but Stephanie is playing Cher in the upcoming Broadway musical The Cher Show and Emily is playing “Andrea’s role”—a.k.a. Cher’s mother!

Speaking of fans, I had one approach me last week in Provincetown and yell a very confident and friendly “Hi, Scott!” Well, at least he recognized me…-ish. And then this weekend, Andrea came to visit me and James in Provincetown. A bunch of rabid fans approached her. But I’m not quite sure if they were fans of her because they were shouting “Rita! Rita!” Yes, they all thought she was Rita Rudner. James actually caught that moment on Commercial Street.

Seth Rudetsky column 8.13.18

We decided to do a side-by-side comparison of Rita and Andrea; one with Rita in Vegas and one with Andrea holding her Tony Award. Then, just to be stupid, we sent the photo to Tina Fey to see if she could tell the difference. Tina wrote back, “I get it. This is a trick question. They are obviously both Andrea.” Hilarious!

Seth Rudetsky column 8.13.18
(Left) Rita Rudner, (Right) Andrea Martin

I did a show with Liz Callaway over the weekend at the Art House in Provincetown and it was fantastic. Not only was it sold out, but she sang up a storm! Stuff from Baby, Cats, Miss Saigon and, one of my faves, the song she sang in Brownstone, an Off-Broadway musical she did. She told us that the reviews didn’t encourage the composing team and—probably because of that—they wound up leaving the business. That kind of stuff gets me so irritated. I’m not saying reviewers should lie, but why not equally point out great stuff about shows instead of only criticizing? This song is so wonderful… I wish the guys who wrote it were encouraged by reviewers to keep creating new stuff. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTvsveRIqJw

Liz-Callaway 1.jpg
Liz Callaway Martha Swope

Liz told the story of when she was asked to audition for Cats. She had seen the show and didn’t really take to it so she was pretty blasé when her agent called her for a Grizabella audition. He then told her the salary that Grizabella made and you’ve never heard anyone agree to an audition faster. She wound up playing the role for years and loving it! Grizabella has a lot of time offstage and Liz used it all wisely. I asked her for examples of what she did and the most fun one was prepping food for a dinner party! She said it went fantastically…she had a great knife and was cutting up her ingredients non-stop in her dressing room. Her only mistake was mincing the onions. The smell wound up all over her hands/costume/etc. When she made her entrance for “Mem’ry” the other cats didn’t have to “act” disgusted by her, which is what they’re directed to do. It was easy since she was a walking Vidalia onion.

But enough about the weekend. Last Monday was a thrilling day; Rosie O’Donnell (who I know because we did Grease together on Broadway and then she hired me to be a comedy writer on her TV show…and write opening numbers for two of the Tony Awards she hosted) texted James and told him she wanted to rent a bus and bring a bunch of Broadway people to Washington, D.C.

Ever since Trump went to Russia, there’s been a daily protest across the street from The White House in Lafayette Park. I had been thinking about what to do politically for a while; my parents protested and marched to form a teachers union and did things like anti-Vietnam and anti-Poverty marches throughout the ’60s. I’ve been feeling that people aren’t taking to the streets anymore because they’re able to trade sassy quips on social media instead. I think actual live demonstrations are way more effective. Anyway, when James told me what Rosie wanted to do, I sprang into action.

Rosie suggested we sing “Do You Hear The People Sing” from Les Miz and I thought we should also do a song about pushing through hurdles so I picked “Climb Every Mountain.” I also felt we wanted to represent American values (like equal rights) so I decided to open with “America The Beautiful.” But I wanted a positive and sassy uptempo song as well, so James suggested “Brand New Day” from The Wiz, which he had sung in his Texan high school (all white) choir. I soon started sending out tons and tons of emails. Everyone wanted to do it but a lot of people couldn’t switch around their schedules (I gave only a week’s notice).

Regardless, we quickly got 60 people from the theatre community, which maxed out the bus capacity and I sent out sheet music plus audio tapes of me plunking out the harmonies. Lori E. Seid, who often works with Rosie, arranged the bus rental and started working logistics with Alexis Kauffman, who is based in D.C. After all of us chatting, we decided we would need a certain kind of permit to plug in instruments, so I had to think of what acoustic instruments we could use as a band. I called my pal Anne Nathan, who just starred in Disaster! with me and who also played the Mom in Once, since she plays the accordion. She agreed right away to come as my accordion band and I told her I wanted a big sound and therefore more accordion. She emailed back:

"More Accordion": Said no one EVER.

Hilarious!

She got me Katrina Yaukey, Pearl Rhein, and Mary Spencer Knapp (which was great because Anne wound up not being able to come because of a huge conflict) and then I asked my friends Marc Schmeid and Jack Morer, who played bass and guitar at my last Concert For America, to join and I emailed Kerry Meads for percussion. Kerry is a drummer who went to Oberlin with me where we played all the musicals together and spent many seasons in summer stock. And he volunteered for years at St. Clare’s hospital where we would do Hearts and Voices shows—performances for hospitalized prisoners with AIDS. I knew he could carry a small drum set with him and sound amazing, so I asked if he’d come on the bus with us. He, too, said yes right away.

We all gathered on Eleventh Avenue and 45th Street on Monday afternoon to board the bus. The whole vibe felt like we were going to musical theatre summer camp. Once we left, I stood in the bus aisle and started rehearsing. All I can say is…ouch! I don’t quite think people practiced along with the audio tapes I sent. Note Rosie in this actual rehearsal footage not quite knowing the lyrics/melody/song.

Then we got to a rest stop and decided it would help to rehearse with everyone standing together in their sections, like show choir. Suddenly, we sounded great!

We got back on the bus and realized we had to practice the songs with the musicians to see what it sounded like all together. I didn’t tell the accordion players what to play, they made it up themselves and were amazing! Check out their funkadelic-ness on “Brand New Day!”

Finally, after about five hours we arrived in D.C. We went to a hotel so Rosie could do some media interviews and the rest of us took over the lobby to practice all of our songs. It was so fun…everyone who was in the lobby applauded after each one!

Seth Rudetsky column 8.13.18
James Wesley, Seth Rudetsky, Juli Wesley

Then we went to The White House. Wowza. It went better than I ever thought it could. I mean, I really had no idea how we would be set up…all spread out? In one area? Where would the musicians be? Could they be heard? By the audience? By the singers? Would we hear each other? I kept thinking I was going to have to tell the musicians to cut out and have us just sing a cappella because no one would be able to hear each other. I mean, this was outside on a lawn. It wasn’t a theatre with body mics, monitors, sound designers, etc. And what about hecklers? Would they be yelling at us the whole time? Drowning everything out?

Well, turns out, everyone heard each other and the balance was amazing! No hecklers bothered us at all.

Seth Rudetsky column 8.13.18

And we had amazing special guests who happen to be there….like Jim Obergefell! He was part of the lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court to validate his marriage to John Arthur. They were only married for a few months because John was in the final struggles of ALS, but Jim wanted to make sure he was listed as the surviving spouse on John’s death certificate. Here’s his story.

Alexis saw him in the crowd at The White House and convinced him to come up and speak (amazingly). It was such a great moment for Juli to see. For her to see who made it possible for me and James to be married. Kristin Mink was also there and spoke amazingly. She was the mom who approached Scott Pruitt (then head of the EPA) and told he should resign because her son wanted a clean environment. Soon, Scott Pruitt was out of office! Here’s her story.

There were mentions of the horrific-ness of children being separated from the parents at the border and, like a movie, we all suddenly saw a small boy on the lawn. He was sobbing hysterically. He was with his dad at the protest and they got momentarily separated. They were both quickly reunited but it was so clear; if a two-minute separation can invoke such deep sadness in a child, imagine what it’s like to be separated indefinitely.
Here’s the entire rally with all the speakers and songs:

We wound up getting amazing media features and the New York Times ran a photo of me turning around and trying to get the crowd to sing along. See it here on NYTIMES.com.

I was completely trying to look like Bugs Bunny in “What’s Opera, Doc?” and when I posted the article, so many people noticed my Bugs-ness.

Seth Rudetsky column 8.13.18

Brava Warner Brothers! My sister Nancy, of course, thought I was doing a full Idina Menzel end of Act 1 pose. You decide:

Idina Menzel in <i>Wicked</i>
Idina Menzel in Wicked Joan Marcus

In conclusion, it was an amazing day and Broadway’s still got it! Peace out!

Andrea Martin and Liz Callaway have been special guest performers on Playbill's Broadway on the High Seas cruises. Cabins are now on sale for Playbill’s Broadway on the Rhône River 2 cruise April 7–14, 2019, featuring Melissa Errico, Rebecca Luker, Marc Kudisch, and Seth Rudetsky, and Broadway in Bordeaux With Michael Feinstein September 1–9, 2019, with other celebrity guests to be announced! Call Playbill Travel for tickets at 866-455-6789 or visit PlaybillTravel.com.

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