ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Alan Cumming, Amanda McBroom and Hotel California

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Alan Cumming, Amanda McBroom and Hotel California A week in the life of actor, musician, music director and talk-show host Seth Rudetsky.
Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming Photo by Francis Hills

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Hello from sunny Newport Beach, California! I'm here doing a benefit for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and just came from a delish breakfast with James in nearby Laguna Beach. And my Dad and his wife live in sort-of nearby Palm Desert so they're on their way up to meet me. Whenever I'm in California, I think that it's so gorgeous I could totally see myself moving here. The only problem is that I hate to drive. I guess I'd just have to take the L.A. subway a lot. It's good, isn't it?

[AUDIO-LEFT] Anyhoo, this week I interviewed Tony-Award winner Alan Cumming at my "Sirius/XM Live on Broadway" show. His new CD is called "I Bought a Blue Car Today," which is based on the citizenship test he had to take. In order to qualify as U.S. citizen, you need to prove you can read and write English and the oral dictation sentence he had to write was "I bought a blue car today." Oy, that kind of thing makes me so nervous. There are things I know I can do, but when I'm under pressure, I panic. Back in the '90s, I got very used to reading from the sheet music when I was the keyboardist for Grease! on Broadway, even though I totally had it memorized after playing it for more than two years. During one performance, the music fell to the floor and, though I knew it by heart, I was in a panic that I didn't know what was coming next. I was so nervous I was going to ruin the show… forgetting that having a 44-year-old woman to play Rizzo at the time perhaps already handled that. Speaking of Grease! and Rizzo, when my friend (and great composer) Steve Marzullo was playing the show when it first opened, he spilled coffee on the keyboard. Everyone in the pit thought it was going to break, but luckily it worked fine. Until Act Two. When Steve changed the keyboard sound to play "There Are Worse Things I Can Do" it transposed the song up a third! If you ever wanted to hear Rosie O'Donnell try to sing soprano, that night was your chance. Suffice it to say that Candide came to Broadway a few years later and that performance proved Rosie would not be in the running for the role of Cunegonde.

Alan also told me that when he was playing the Emcee in Cabaret he hit his head onstage and got a concussion. He passed out during intermission and remembers the stage manager standing over him asking, "Are you able to go on for Act Two?" He was not and they took him to the hospital. Weirdly enough, there was a woman in the audience who waited months and months to see the show and she also fainted during Act One and had to go to the E.R. She was devastated she missed the show and missed seeing Alan Cumming. Of course, she was overjoyed when he wound up with her in the E.R.! Alan was frantically wiping off his butt- cheek, and panicking he was going to get a Jewish doctor. Not because he's an anti-Semite, but because he didn't have time to take off his make-up when he left the theatre and he had big fat swastika on his patootie!

I saw Love, Loss and What I Wore with my Mom and we both loved it. The stories are fun and moving and the performances were a brava. However, my question is: why is one allowed to say anything one wants, and at any volume one wants, once you've hit the age of 70? Tyne Daly began the show by talking about various outfits she'd worn throughout the years and showing drawings of them. The drawings were facing out so everyone could see them, and yet that didn't stop a woman in the left of the audience from yelling, "We can't see them!!!!!" Regardless, the yelling worked and Tyne made sure the woman saw the drawings. And, thankfully, this time the woman was not my mother.

I also got to interview Amanda McBroom who wrote the beautiful song, "The Rose." Turns out, the way the song came to be is bizarre. Amanda was a singing actress when she wrote the song, and not a songwriter. She was driving home and heard a Leo Sayer song on the radio (so '70s) about love. She thought, "That's how he sees love, but not me." She began to think about the many different views of love and the song just came to her. She went into her house and wrote it all down. I asked her about the signature vamp at the beginning (the two notes making an open fifth) and she said she did that because she's not a very good pianist and it was easy for her to play just two notes! That night, she played "The Rose" for her husband and he asked, "Do you know what you just did? You just wrote a classic." She played it for some more friends and that was that. Well, turns out, one of her friends worked in the film business and played the song for a film executive who was trying to get a theme song for the Bette Midler film based on Janis Joplin. The crazy part is, Janis Joplin was known as "The Pearl" but the film couldn't get the rights to that name so they changed it to… "The Rose"! And Amanda's song, purely by accident, happened to be named "The Rose." How crazy is that!?!?! Turns out, the film executive didn't like the song, but Bette Midler did and it became a world-wide hit. But, because it wasn't written expressly for the film, it wasn't nominated for an Oscar. But, Amanda told us, it did pay for some major renovations for her house so it's all good!

My great friend Jack Plotnick is visiting with me here in Newport Beach and then we're going to stay at his place in L.A. He was recently on a "House" premiere episode (playing the anorexic) with Lin-Manuel Miranda and said it was torture because it all took place in a mental institution and all the actors had to be in the background of every scene. They weren't allowed to sit and read a book, but they were allowed to sit and do a puzzle. But the director didn't think the patients should be good at the puzzle (I guess because they had mental problems?) so every time they got a section of the puzzle put together, a P.A. would come over and completely mess it up all up and they'd have to start it all over again. It's a horrible combination of "Groundhog Day" and Sartre's No Exit.

Jack told me about sitcom audition he had where he was having trouble finding the comedy in the script. He went to the audition and tried as hard as he could to get laughs. He left the room exhausted because he had hauled out so many comedy chestnuts, but he knew he really worked every possible laugh. He then got home and found out that the "sitcom" he auditioned for was actually a drama. He was mortified. However, the double/triple whammy is... he got the gig!

OK, I have to take a shower and get ready for the benefit. Speaking of showers, yesterday I was in a bath towel and about to step into the shower when I saw that James used up the shampoo. I left the room on the hunt for a nearby housekeeper I could get shampoo from. I figured that they were used to seeing people in their skimpy shower towels so I wouldn't be embarrassed. I heard a vacuum going in a nearby room and knocked. No answer. I figured the housekeeper couldn't hear me knock above the sound of the vacuum, so I knocked harder. Finally, the door opened…and it wasn't a housekeeper with a vacuum. It was a hotel guest staring at me in my towel. "Um…isn't the housekeeper vacuuming in there?" He replied, "No," and continued staring. Then his wife walked to the door holding the hair dryer that sounded like a vacuum. I felt I should explain so I said, "Oh. I, uh, wanted some shampoo, " and then realized it made me sound crazier. I fled to my room, towel a-flapping, and hoped that the image of my exposed chest and calves spiced up their love life that night. Anybody? And I close with a decisive, nobody. Peace out!

Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway" and the novel "Broadway Nights." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and hosts the BC/EFA benefit weekly interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama every Thursday at 6 PM. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethrudetsky.com.

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