Onstage & Backstage: The Text That Got Marissa Jaret Winokur Back to Broadway

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: The Text That Got Marissa Jaret Winokur Back to Broadway Disaster! continues to fundraise for BC/EFA with epic post-show performances, and Seth interviews one of his childhood idols, Toni Tennille.
Jack Plotnick and Seth Rudetsky with the <i>Hairspray </i>cast
Jack Plotnick, Rachel York and Seth Rudetsky with the Hairspray cast and songwriter Marc Shaiman

Let me start by saying that next Monday and Tuesday is the Easter Bonnet Competition! Broadway and national tours fundraise for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for six weeks, and then next week there’s an enormous variety show on Broadway! It’s amazing. Soooo many Broadway shows perform comedy sketches/productions numbers/dances and tons of stars participate. It’s open to the public but most people don’t know about it. However, if you’re reading this, you do! Get tix at BroadwayCares.org. Here’s one of my absolute favorites performances: This was during the last revival of Fiddler on the Roof, and it features that cast teamed up with Avenue Q to perform Avenue Jew. Note: Spot a young Lea Michele as one of the daughters!

Speaking of fundraising, we’ve been doing special concerts after the bows of Disaster! to raise money for BC/EFA. People bid for a chance to be onstage during one of the special songs that we have guest stars perform! There are a few things that happened last week I didn’t mention in my column. First, we had Laura Osnes join Max Crumm to sing “Summer Nights.” During the bidding, a guy in the audience raised his hand. He told us he was a TV producer from The Jimmy Kimmel Show and told us he saw his idol in the audience…Norman Lear! He said he would bid $1,000 for Norman to come onstage during the song! Well, the audience went crazy, and Norman started making his way to the stage. There’s only one staircase onto the stage from the audience, and Norman was on the other side so he had to start making his way across the front row. Halfway through he looked up at me and said, “I’ll give another $1,000 if I don’t have to get on this f-ing stage!” Hilarious! Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and he decided to forego the stairs and hoist himself onstage. Let me remind you, he is in his mid 90s!!!! He still got it! PS, he loved the Disasater! After the show he told me it was “f-ing brilliant!”

Another night we had Andrea McArdle come onstage to sing “Tomorrow” from Annie. We always have a few bidders, and one of them was an older gentleman. He had one of the winning bids and when he came onstage, I realized it was Thomas Meehan! He just happened to be in the audience that day and, if you don’t know, he wrote the book to Annie! It was such perfect timing! He was standing near Andrea, and after she sang it through the first time, instead of going back to the bridge, I started doing the dialogue with her, with me as the policeman who questions her dog. She played the entire scene with Thomas Meehan as Sandy, and when she called him to prove to the officer that Sandy was indeed her doggie, Thomas obediently went to her. It was so fantastic! Watch!

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James Wesley, Seth Rudetsky and Toni Tennille

This week I got to interview one of my childhood idols, Toni Tennille from “Captain and Tennille”! She just came out with a fantastic autobiography that I read in two days. So good! In the book, you sadly find out that her marriage to the “Captain” was never good. But you also read about all the amazing music they did together. They started performing together in clubs where she would sing and they would both play keyboards. This is before synthesizers could split sounds, so she’d have one hand on one keyboard and one on the other. It was very Shirley Jones in “The Partridge Family.” Anybody? I asked Toni about her first big hit, and she said while they were making their debut album, they needed one more song. The record company called them in and played them an album Neil Sedaka had made in England. As soon as Toni heard one of the songs, she knew they should record it. It was “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and I commented that she and Neil sang it in the same key! She told me that she considers herself a tenor, and I think it’s more because Neil Sedaka is an alto. His voice is crazily high! Regardless, the song is amazing, and she revealed that after all the verses, she and the back-up singers (her sisters!) were singing a vamp and Toni decided to give a shout-out to Neil and sing “Sedaka is Back.” She thought they would cut it out but when they played it back, they loved how it paid homage to Neil so they kept it. This is her singing it live and playing her signature two keyboards!

Here’s one of my other favorites from the 70’s…a remake of “Shop Around”…but from a woman’s perspective. So good!

And finally, “Lonely Night (Angel Face),” another Neil Sedaka song. I was obsessed with this in the 70s, and I found this great video of the song. It’s from “American Bandstand” and while watching it, I kept waiting for Toni to make an appearance. Turns out, that show would just play a record and film people randomly dancing. I kept watching this video, waiting for the main part of the TV show, but that’s literally it. It’s like a karaoke back-up track without the main vocal. Obsessed!

I told Toni that Disaster! features one of her big hits… “Muskrat Love.” She laughed and said she heard that song playing on the radio driving to one of their gigs in the 70s. They thought it was bizarre/sweet and performed it one night at their club. Soon it became such an overly requested song that they had to limit it to only twice per night. To this day, she said people either love it or H-A-T-E it. Both she and the captain had their own hit TV show in the 70s called “The Captain And Tennille” show, and in this clip she totally reminds me of myself; if someone does something that irritates me, I always jokingly threaten to “Playbill.com” them…meaning I’ll write about it in my column. Well, she performed at the White House and could not believe that Henry Kissinger sat four feet away from her and glared throughout the entire performance of “Muskrat Love.” Instead of “Playbill.com”-ing him, she “Captain And Tennille Show”’d him! Watch her call him out!

This week’s performances after Disaster! were so fun! One of the stars of the show is Baylee Littrell, the 13-year-old son of Brian Littrell from The Backstreet Boys. They both put together a great (and hilarious) musical medley and raised a few thousand bucks. Watch here!

Also, Kerry Butler is one of the stars of Disaster! and played Penny in Hairspray. Matthew Morrisson told me he could sing something with her but was only available on Wednesday. I wanted to do “Without Love” and figured I’d have to get a Tracy Turnblad from NYC. I wrote a text to Marissa Jaret Winokur just to tell her I wished she was in NYC so she could sing it. She immediately texted back that she was buying a plane ticket and would see me onstage! Amazing! Then I needed a Seaweed in NYC, so my friend Amy Toporek recommended someone she did the show with: Donnell Foreman. I got his number and texted to ask if he’d sing “Without Love” at the Nederlander after Disaster! with Matt, Marissa, Kerry and Marc Shaiman playing the piano. He wrote back, “Is this a joke?” It was so great to get that because it took me out of the panic of trying to book these BC/EFA concerts and reminded me how cool it was to reunite that cast onstage. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of something, you take it for granted. But getting that text made me think, “OMG! I have three original cast members from Hairspray singing and the composer playing. On a Broadway stage! This is so cool!”

Anyhoo, Donnell was wonderful and the song went over so well! Plus, Marissa came to the stage in a winter coat which I then asked her to take off. When she did, she revealed her original costume underneath! So great! Watch here…

And come this week to Disaster! for the show and more after-show concerts. Bring your checkbook! Peace out!

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