Onstage and Backstage: What School of Rock Role Did Alex Brightman First Read For?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage and Backstage: What School of Rock Role Did Alex Brightman First Read For? This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth has trouble with his calendar, Tony nominee Alex Brightman stops by SethSpeaks, and Disaster!'s Jennifer Simard performs at Stars in the Alley (Watch!).
Alex Brightman and Seth Rudetsky
Adam Riegler

First, I saw a great play and a great documentary this week! Get thee to A Persistent Memory at Theatre Row. Such an interesting story … I love a show that’s moving and also teaches you something without being preachy. Not only is there great acting throughout this piece, but I learned about how amazing elephants are! And how amazing that right after I saw it, the U.S. banned all sale of ivory!

And speaking of moving and learning something, last week I was asked to introduce a fabulous documentary called The State Of Marriage about Vermont becoming the first state to allow civil unions. Wow! The work these pioneers did is incredible. The story has such suspense, and the evening ended with me and James in tears. Watch the trailer here, and you can buy it on iTunes or Amazon. So entertaining!

OK…get ready for typical me: The first part of this story takes place a few months ago. When I was a comedy writer on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, I became really good friends with a fellow writer named Linda Smith. Linda works a lot at Caroline’s as a stand-up, plus she runs their stand-up comedy class. Juli signed up for the class and was very excited to do the final “exam,” which is an actual performance at Caroline’s! Of course, Juli has ADD like I do, so I spent the night before her performance helping with her stand-up act, which she had not yet memorized or perfected (a.k.a. written). She finally got it into great shape, and she called my mom and sister at around 12:30 AM to run the jokes by them (the verdict: hilarious). Anyhoo, the next day, I rushed to get her there on time, which of course meant we ran late. As soon as we got to the club I bypassed the person at the door because the show was about to begin, and we ran down the long staircase to the main showroom. Empty! Ah! Where the H was the show?

James, Juli and Seth
James, Juli and Seth

I ran back upstairs with Juli puffing in back of me (she literally had just been in the hospital for asthma) and asked the person at the door where the show was. He didn’t know anything about it! What’s happening?!!?! I finally texted Linda asking where everybody was and turns out, all the other classmates were at various places in the city…because the show was actually the following week. Wonderful. Cut to: last week.

The Rosie O’Donnell Show went on the air in the spring of 1997, and one of my fellow writers, Cassie St. Onge, decided to organize a big reunion! So many of the staff have gone on to other talk shows, Ellen, Wendy Williams, Dr. Oz, Andy Cohen (where Caissie works), and I haven’t seen most of them since 2002 when the show went off the air.

Anyhoo, Linda and I made plans to meet at SiriusXM, where I had to do my radio show, and then we’d walk to the party. When we first talked about it, Linda asked me if the party was dressy. Dressy? I reminded her that it was being thrown by Rosie who’d probably wear her dress crocs. Anyhoo, I myself took forever picking an outfit but finally got one that was casual, but still looked cute enough for a party. When I was at my radio show, I realized it was going to go long, so I asked Linda if she could meet me at 6 instead of 5:30. She then wrote back she could meet at 6, but the party is next week. What is with me and being a week off? And why is Linda always patient zero?

Speaking of SiriusXM, on Seth Speaks I interviewed Alex Brightman who has a Tony nomination for starring in School of Rock. He had done a reading of the show before it came to Broadway, but he didn’t play the Jack Black character…he played one of the kids. They did that same thing for the reading of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. When the creators want to hear if their script is working, and there’s not a lot of rehearsal time, it’s easier to get adults with lots of experience to play the kids roles rather than a child actor.

Evie Dolan, Alex Brightman and Brandon Niederauer in <i>School of Rock - The Musical</i>
Evie Dolan, Alex Brightman and Brandon Niederauer in School of Rock - The Musical Matthew Murphy

Jackie Hoffman played one of the kids in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reading and was her usual hilarious self during rehearsal. At one point, the director Sam Mendes was marveling at the level of talent in the room. He told them that he was cowed at how accomplished they all were and how wonderful it was they were doing the reading. Then he added, “Of course, we could never get you for the full production.” Meaning, that they would all cost too much money. Jackie replied, “You could.” Brava on the directness!

After the reading (which took place in 2010), Jackie dryly told the creators she was “very happy to bust my a** to get someone else a job in England in two years.” She then added, “Helen Mirren will be wonderful.” Still got it!

Anyhoo, after the reading of School of Rock, they started having auditions for the leading guy and brought in Alex. He was younger than most of the others they were looking at because they thought it would be funny if the character was more of an overgrown child corralling other children. For his last call back, they asked him to read a scene and then do it again, but improvise it. I asked him if he remembers any jokes he hauled out, and he said that the first kid in the scene he was supposed to interact was overweight so he pointed and said, “You! Precious!” That could only have been topped by adding her last name: “Based on the novel Push by Sapphire.”

Alex also played Boq in Wicked, and I asked him to recall an onstage mishap. He told me that one day, for some reason, he thought he had finished all of his scenes in act one. Suddenly, he heard his cue coming and fled to the stage directly from his dressing room. He ran and was able to throw on his Boq jacket. Sadly, he didn’t have time to put on his pants. Even more sad, it was the most serious scene he had in the show. At the end of it, Glinda calls him “Biq,” and he corrects through tears her by yelling “It’s Boq!” and then fleeing the stage. But his blocking wasn’t just to turn and run into the wing. His exit was on the opposite side. So he had to run across the entire stage, with the rest of the cast standing there and watching. And while he was running in front of the cast (and audience) he was only wearing a tiny, tiny Boq jacket on top and on the bottom: boxer shorts. Two years later…Tony nomination.

Back to Juli and her asthma. She’s been to the ER a few times this year because of breathing problems and, even though it’s a drag, it always works out fine. She also had to be admitted twice, and—because of her ER visits and admittance—the hospital invited her to its kid’s prom! The Phyllis and David Komansky Center for Children’s Health of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center started having a prom for teen patients who couldn’t attend their own because they were in the hospital…but now the hospital does it for all kids who’ve been in the ER multiple times or admitted during the year.

Juli and friends at prom!
Juli and friends at prom!

Let me say, it was amazing! The boys were all fitted into stunning tuxedos from Men’s Wearhouse, and they looked amazing. But the girls really have the best day ever: They’re treated to a day of full styling: beautiful hair design, stunning make-up, fancy manicures, and then they’re fitted into gowns that they got to choose from Century 21 (!), as well as glamorous accessories. The boys and girls then walk the red carpet, take photos and then spend the evening eating up a storm, playing games like air hockey and foosball and, of course, dancing! They all left with great party bags (including amazing gifts from The Body Shop) and all the girls got to keep their accessories and gowns! What a fantastic idea that would be great in other cities and hospitals! Look how great they all look!

And finally, I’ve been working hard on the Disaster! cast album with Michael Croiter in his recording studio and Steve Marzullo, who was the music director. The album will be released in September, but last week we released a single of Jennifer Simard’s big song as a salute to her Tony nomination. She sounds so hilarious and high belting! You can order it on BroadwayRecords.com!

And, you can watch Jennifer sing the song live on this video I just took of her at “Stars in the Alley”…the big Broadway concert that happened last week in Shubert Alley. Not surprisingly, she sounded amazing! Watch!

And now, peace out!

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