Onstage and Backstage: Behind-the-Scenes at Broadway for Hillary’s Star-Studded Fundraiser

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage and Backstage: Behind-the-Scenes at Broadway for Hillary’s Star-Studded Fundraiser This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth talks about music directing the event with performances by Billy Crystal, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Erivo and more.
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Adam Schultz/Hillary for America

Hil-la-ry! Lemme tell ya about the big Broadway For Hillary show that happened last Monday, October 17. While I was on the Playbill cruise in Italy, I got a message from Richie Jackson who’s married to Jordan Roth (who runs the Jujamcyn Theaters). Richie asked me if I’d music direct a big fundraiser for Hillary and I said “Si” (I was in Italy). P.S. Richie’s a big time TV producer now (Nurse Jackie), but when we first met we were at Usdan, a summer arts day camp, and we were majoring in musical theatre. That was the year he starred as the Bird in The Robber Bridegroom, and I was one of 25 children finding our inner angst performing Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living in Paris. I remember my joyful (?) solo in “Old Folks.”
“The old folks never die…
they just put down their heads and go to sleep one day.
They hold each other’s hand…
like children in the dark…
but one will get lost anyway.” Fun! (Still devastated).

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Bernadette Peters Adam Schultz/Hillary for America

Anyhoo, Michael Mayer was slotted as director and thus began a lot of emails between us and the Harvey Weinstein office—who was producing. I got to write some fun vocal arrangements and got together great back-up singers for the opening and closing number, plus a children’s choir who sang backup for Bernadette Peter’s “Children Will Listen.” On the day of the event, I took the red-eye from Vegas, which gave me a delicious three hours of sleep. I was so nervous I was gonna crash during the actual performance, but the fear of doing the show in front of mega-stars while livestreaming across the globe kept me in a panic-induced wakeful state.

First came the fabulous opening number, performed by Billy Crystal and ensemble and co-written by Billy and Marc Shaiman (and Sondheim!) to the tune of “Comedy Tonight.” For your reading pleasure. Try singing it…like I used to do reading the song parodies in MAD magazine.

HILLARY TONIGHT!” Sung to the tune of “Comedy Tonight”

SOMETHING DRAMATIC AND DEMOCRATIC SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE IT’S HILLARY TONIGHT!
SOMEONE APPEALING
NO ONE APPALLING
SOMEONE FOR EVERYONE
IT’S HILLARY TONIGHT!
NOTHING WITH TRUMP
NOTHING WITH PENCE
THEY WOULD MAKE
JOSEPH STALIN FEEL TENSE
JUST CLINTON LEADING
JUST TRUMP RECEDING
WE HAVE TO BANISH THE ALT-RIGHT
FOR OUR KIDS TOMORROW
HILLARY TONIGHT!
NO ONE PATHETIC
OR ANTI-SEMITIC
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
IT’S HILLARY TONIGHT!
NO RACIST BAITING
NO MUSLIM HATING
PANTSUITS FOR EVERYONE!
IT’S HILLARY TONIGHT!
NO BORDER WALLS
NO RUSSIAN HACKS
EVERYONE HERE
HAS PAID FEDERAL TAX
NO BLOWHARD BLABBING
NO WOMAN GRABBING
I’M SENSING VICTORY’S IN SIGHT
GIVE IT UP FOR BROADWAY
AND HILLARY TONIGHT!

Ensemble
SOMEONE REALISTIC

Billy
NOT MISOGYNISTIC

Billy & Ensemble
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
IT’S HILLARY TONIGHT!

Ensemble
NO PAYMENT STIFFING

Billy
WHY IS TRUMP SNIFFING??

Billy & Ensemble
STRONGER TOGETHER CAUSE
IT’S HILLARY TONIGHT!

Ensemble
BRING ON THE STARS
ALL AT THEIR PEAK

Billy
THEN FOR A NAP
TIM KAINE'S GONNA SPEAK!

Ensemble
ALTO AND TENOR

Billy
NO CAITLYN JENNER
NO ORANGE FACE TO GIVE A FRIGHT!

Ensemble
LIBERALS AND BERNIES!

Billy
LOTSA GAY ATTORNEYS!

Ensemble
NO CIRCUS ACTS AND BARKERS

Billy (as SJP & Matthew step out and back)
JUST BRODERICKS AND PARKERS

Ensemble
PERENNIALS!

Billy
MILLENNIALS!

Ensemble
HUNGARIANS!

Billy
LIBERTARIANS!
COURAGE!

Ensemble
LOVE!

Billy
STRENGTH!

Ensemble
FERVOR!

Billy
NOT ONE GODDAMN EMAIL SERVER!

Billy & Ensemble
NO SHIRTLESS THREAT ON PUTIN’S HORSE,
AND A HAPPY ENDING, OF COURSE!

Billy
NO ONE NEGATING!
NO ONE DEBATING!
LET’S RAISE BIG BUCKS SO WE CAN FIGHT
FOR A GOOD TOMORROW

Ensemble
HILLARY, HILLARY, HILLARY, HILLARY

Billy
HILLARY!

Billy & Ensemble
TONIGHT!!!

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Sarah Jessica Parker and Andrea McArdle Adam Schultz/Hillary for America

There were so many fantastic moments, but off the top of my head, highlights included Sarah Jessica Parker singing “Tomorrow” with Andrea McArdle. I remember Sarah telling me about when she first began doing Annie on Broadway. She was cast as one of the orphans as well as the Annie understudy and on her first night as an orphan, they told her she was actually going on for Annie! It was during the big snowstorm of 1978 and Andrea McArdle was taking a train up from Philly, where she’s from. The Amtrak was super-late because of the blizzard so they told Sarah she had to go on. Sarah, of course, wanted more time before she had to perform the title role (!!!!) and thankfully, they decided to hold the curtain way past 8 PM until the Amtrak arrived and Sarah was spared. The giddiness Sarah feels when Andrea sings is so wonderful. She’s still that 12-year-old girl obsessed with that original Bway kid belter.

During rehearsal, she kept looking over her head and back to me at the piano with a crazy smile on her face. Speaking of Andrea, here’s Andrea, Lilla Crawford and me doing a super fun “Obsessed” that ends with both of them singing ‘Tomorrow” and sounding amazing!

Lin-Manuel Miranda called me on Sunday when I was in Vegas and told me he was gonna rewrite “The World Was Wide Enough” for the benefit to be about Hillary’s accomplishments. I thought I’d get a list of lyrics from him and figure out how they fit in the song. Turns out, when my plane landed Monday early AM I checked my email and found that he had sent me the new lyrics…plus a fully produced demo on the song! I was so crazily impressed/inspired. He just keeps creating. After listening, all I wanted to do was write a book and/or a Broadway musical ASAP.

P.S. So far I’ve done neither, but I’m sure Lin is doing punch-ups on the Act II finale of whatever new show he’s written over the last week. Lin and Renée Elise Goldsberry couldn’t be at tech and, during the actual benefit, Lin had to come late because it was the same night as the debut of the Hamilton documentary he was screening. During intermission, I met with Renée backstage, and then Lin ran in to the dressing room where we were. We all talked through what the introduction was gonna be and tried it a cappella. Lin had just written it so he didn’t have it memorized and was relying on the teleprompter. But since he couldn’t come to the tech, he’d be reading the teleprompter for the first time during the actual performance. And there were a lot of lyrics. Thankfully, it turned out amazing and when I spoke to Renée after the fundraiser, she told me that just from that two-minute performance, so many people were affected. She keeps getting emails from young people who weren’t planning on voting (!) but now are gonna vote. Yes to the arts changing lives! Watch this and VOTE!

Hillary was campaigning last Monday, so she was there via video message, but there were other Clintons there: specifically Chelsea and Bill! It was so fantastic. The band was onstage, so I was like ten feet in back of Bill the entire time he spoke. Here’s a picture of me listening/staring creepily.


Seth (in the background) staring at President Clinton
Seth (in the background) staring at President Clinton

And here is Bill with Cynthia Erivo:

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Bill Clinton and Cynthia Erivo Barbara Kinney/Hillary for America

The first near-mishap of the event happened early in the week leading up to it. I heard from various sources involved with the show that the Cynthia Erivo was going to sing the Judy Garland version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It’s fabulous! Watch:

I sent the sheet music and video to the amazing Cameron Moncur, who was doing our orchestrations, and spoke to Cynthia on Tuesday to figure out if she did it in Judy’s key. Well, it was correct that she was singing “Battle Hymn” but she only knew the Whitney Houston version! Stop the orchestration ASAP! Luckily, ADD-style, I hadn’t yet started doing the vocal arrangement. I listened to the Whitney version and LOVED it, but there is no ending. It just fades out. I came out with a second half to the song that went into an old-school gospel feel and a big sassafrass ending, sent it to Cynthia, and she loved it. I’m going to see if I can find our version somewhere online so I can deconstruct it. She sounded amazing!

Anyway, the point is, the crisis was diverted. THEN: I got word that Anne Hathaway was planning on singing the “Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy” Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand duet, and I was told to get a sassy singer to do Judy’s part. I texted Kelli O’Hara, who was very excited but didn’t really know the song. She said she’d get right on learning the Judy part. Here’s the original duet:

Well, cut to the day of the show and it’s now almost the end of rehearsal. The last song to be sound checked was the duet. I meet Anne Hathaway for the first time and she and Kelli come to the piano. I play the introduction and I hear
Anne and Kelli: “Forget your troubles, come on get happy…”

Yes. Both ladies learned the Judy Garland part!

O-M to the G! This was an actual instance of the overused term “miscommunication.” I had gotten the missive that Anne wanted to do “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” but not the correct info on what song she was going to sing in the duet! Kelli immediately volunteered to learn it even though she really didn’t know it. Anne was helping her learn it by singing each phrase to her. Anne would sing Barbra’s part and Kelli would echo her. Finally, Anne realized that she knew the Barbra part perfectly, and she volunteered to sing it. And it wound up being one of the biggest highlights of the whole night!

SEE PHOTOS FROM BROADWAY FOR HILLARY:

P.S. I know some people are asking where the H does this money go. Basically TV/internet ads to promote what the Democratic party stands for (gun control, marriage equality, care for the environment, women’s rights etc) and to pay for canvassers across the country who are making phone calls and literally knocking on people’s doors.

I had the amazing lyricist Carole Bayer Sager on Seth Speaks, my SiirusXM show. She just had her autobiography published called They’re Playing My Song, and it’s great. Boy, she’s written so many incredible songs! “Come In From the Rain,” “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” “That’s What Friends Are For,” “Midnight Blue,” and so many more!

Seth Rudetsky and Carole Bayer Sager
Seth Rudetsky and Carole Bayer Sager

She told me that she was a teacher back in the ’60s as well as working as a lyricist. She said she remembers hearing demo tapes of a certain composer who’d always sing her own songs before they were given to the pop singers of the ’60s to record. Carole was always so impressed with that composer’s voice and thought she should record her own songs instead of giving them to others. That composer was…Carole King! Brava! Carole (Bayer Sager’s) first hit was “Groovy Kind of Love,” and when the song became big she got a check for $34,000. She loved the cash but told us that she was struck by the inequity of it. She was a schoolteacher making $5200 a year and teaching was really hard. Yet, she wrote the song in a very short amount of time and made six times that amount! She decided to write more songs, but it took a decade until she was successful again—and that was a decade later with Melissa Manchester. She wrote lots of Melissa’s biggest hits including the one Roger Bart sang in Disaster!.. “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” which bizarrely is actually called “We Don’t Cry Out Loud.” Who knew? I found this clip of Melissa singing it and sounding great, and, since the song mentions a clown and a tightrope, Melissa is supported (upstaged?) by a bevy of clowns as well as someone struggling on a tightrope. And, holy cow, it’s relentless.

Carole also described meeting Marvin Hamlisch for the first time. She was dressed in jeans and a casual top, and he was in three-piece suit. But, Melissa said, a three-piece suit was his version of jeans and a casual top. They had been placed together by a record executive to see if they could write as a team. Marvin told her that even if it didn’t work out that day, they could meet later on because he was on his way to Europe to score a James Bond movie. She immediately told him she always wanted to write a song for James Bond film and, in the spur of the moment, told him she would call it “Nobody Does It Better.” He perked up and played a melody to that lyric and that’s how they started writing that mega hit! She immediately thought that the perfect voice to do it would be Carly Simon because she has that earthy sexiness and the result was this:

Marvin and Carole soon became a couple, and as Carole told me about her first meeting I immediately said “That’s the first scene in They’re Playing Our Song! If you don’t know, Neil Simon was Marvin Hamlisch’s neighbor, and while he and Marvin were working on musicalizing The Gingerbread Lady, Marvin would tell Neil what it was like being a composer living with a lyricist. Marvin told me that one day a script appeared on his doorstep. As he read it, he realized it was The Gingerbread Lady musical. Instead, Neil took some of Marvin’s private stories and scripted them out! First, Marvin was like, “How dare he!”…then he was like, “Wait…this is good!” And it was. It ran for a long time on Broadway, and a few years ago Sutton Foster and I got to do a one-night concert version for the Actors Fund. Here’s a li’l video of rehearsal:

In other news, I’m doing Deconstructing Broadway this Saturday in Los Angeles at Largo. Get your tickets HERE.

In honor of Lillias White (from the original How to Succeed...) doing Ma Rainey’s Black Botton in Los Angeles—where I’m heading—and Matthew Broderick singing at the Hillary benefit, here’s a deconstruction:

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