ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Ann Harada, Maury Yeston and Snow Business

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Ann Harada, Maury Yeston and Snow Business
 
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and talk show host Seth Rudetsky.
Juli and Seth Rudetsky in the snow
Juli and Seth Rudetsky in the snow

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It's nice to live in a townhouse in NYC. It's also beautiful when it snows in NYC. But what's not nice and/or beautiful is the fact that living in a townhouse and not an apartment means that there's no super. AKA when it snows, you have to do the shoveling. That's right, on Saturday James and I took a trip to Home Depot, bought two shovels and prepared for the onslaught. This morning, Juli and I shoveled the stairs and the sidewalk in front of our place and I felt like I was back on Long Island again shoveling in front of my childhood home. P.S., not to sound like an old geezer, but that's when we really had snow. I'll never forget when I was a kid in 1978 and we had two major snowstorms within a month. First they closed school for the day and, for the second one, they closed school for an entire week! It was my favorite week…which is also the nickname I give to the first show I played on Broadway: My Favorite Year (we didn't last long). [AUDIO-LEFT]

Anyhoo, this week has been chock full of Broadway. On Monday night I saw Ann Harada (the original Christmas Eve in Avenue Q) do a sold-out show called Christmas Eve with "Christmas Eve". It was FANTASTIC! It was so well-written (by her), directed (by Alan Marouka) and performed. She played her character from Avenue Q. (the therapist with two masters degrees) and used her signature thick Japanese accent. We were told that her Christmas wish was to do a show with fabulous leading men from Broadway. When Chip Zien came out, she said, "We most famous therapist on Broadway," because he played Mendel in Falsettos. Then she looked "sympathetic" and said "My show run longer." Then she said, "But you most famous baker on Broadway" because he played the baker in Into the Woods. Then she added, "My show also run longer." She sang a duet with each one including a hilarious "Barcelona" with Raul Esparza as Bobby and her as April. The bridge culminated in:

Ann Harada

RAUL: No, you're a very special girl….June!!!!
CHRISTMAS EVE: Aplir!!!
RAUL: (confused) Aplir??
CHRISTMAS EVE: Thank you… I hope Ann makes this a December tradition. It was a brava! On Tuesday at Sirius/XM, I interviewed Maury Yeston, the composer of Nine, and Ron Fair, the producer of the new soundtrack album, who is also the chairman of Geffen Records. Ron has discovered many amazing singers and I asked him about Christina Aguilera. He said that she had a demo tape that everyone kept rejecting because it wasn't great. Ron said it pretty much took detective work to figure out she was amazing because it wasn't until the third song that she really sassed it. And not only did you have to listen to the third song, it wasn't until the bridge! Well, thankfully he listened to it all and asked her to come in and sing for him. She was only 15 (!) but gave him a great and supremely confident performance. He loved her but downplayed it to try to get the best deal he could get. He was like "Hey, you're kinda good….I'm interested in doing some stuff with you…-ish…" (The "ish" was added by me for effect). Christina wound up getting the big song from "Mulan." The money she made on that paid for her first CD and the next thing I knew I was trying to imitate her riffs on "Lady Marmalade." I could not.

Maury remembered that when he was at the initial auditions for the Broadway production of Nine, many women tried out who were incredibly talented and had the essence of an actual European. Yet the men they got all looked like Mid-Western hoofers. Besides the leading role of Guido, there were many other male roles to cast and they didn't know what to do. Finally, Tommy Tune (the director) suggested they make the show all women except for Guido. It wound up not only solving the problem of finding men who could seem European, but it also made the character of Guido believable. Maury said that the audience had to believe Guido is an incredibly powerful, successful director and by having him be the only man onstage surrounded by women immediately showed him as the most powerful onstage. Ironically, whenever I get together with my mom and two sisters, I'm the weakest one in the room.

Maury loved the cast of the film and said that Rob Marshall called Sophia Loren and told her that if she didn't play Guido's mother, he wouldn't make the film! When she agreed to the role, Maury wrote her a new song because the one in the musical is for a soprano and Sophia is a fiery bass. I asked him how Sophia heard the song for the first time…did he play it for her in her villa or make a demo singing it himself (since they probably have the same range)? Turns out, he made a demo with a brilliant singer I know who lives in L.A. named Tami Tappan. If you don't know her UNBELIEVABLE voice, watch this deconstruction ASAP.

Maury also said that Kate Hudson came in and belted up a storm and everyone was in shock that she sang so well. I, of course, wasn't surprised because I remember the special her mom Goldie Hawn did with Liza Minnelli back in the '80s. Yes it's un-watchable taste-wise, but they both sound great. Because Kate was such a sasstress, they created a new role for her in the film and Maury wrote a song where she could belt and dance up a storm called "Cinema Italiano" which, P.S., was just nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Maury and Rob decided not to have the wife sing "Be On Your Own" because it would mean having three ballads in a row. Maury commented that on Broadway you can have a star stand in a center spotlight and sing a great song, but in a film that sometimes translates as b-o-r-i-n-g. So they came up with the idea of having his wife sing a new song while doing a striptease because they felt that would be the hardest thing for Guido to watch: his wife desiring and being fondled by other men. Maury had a great point about when people ask him how he can support changes in the script or the score. They'll say "Are you OK with what they've done to your musical?" and he says "They haven't done anything to my musical. The musical has stayed the same. This is the film." Excellent!

Victor Garber at the "Nine" premiere
photo by Aubrey Reuben

I harassed Ron from Geffen Records for tickets to the Dec. 15 red carpet premiere of "Nine"…and he got them for me! James and I went to the Ziegfeld for the 7:30 showing. We were nervous that we only got there 15 minutes early. Turns out, premieres don't begin 'til 45 minutes late. But it gave us delicious time for people watching. We saw Victor Garber and Donna Murphy and I went over to say hi. Victor said he's having a great time rehearsing Present Laughter for the Roundabout and we reminisced about the last time we worked together. It was for the 1996 Easter Bonnet Grease! sketch. Grease! opened in 1994, ran for a few years and then closed. Then, magically, three months later, we re-opened! It was so bizarre to have a show close then re-open that I decided we had to make our sketch about that especially because the day we re-opened was also the Easter Bonnet Competition! I can't remember all the details of our sketch, but I remember that I dressed up as the producer. I walked onstage and signed a contract with Victor…who was dressed as his Damn Yankees devil. Right after I signed, the cast eerily appeared and said, "Poltergeist"-style, "We-re ba-a-a-a-ck.". Blackout.

Donna Murphy said she's getting ready to do a new animated film…as the voice of the villainess! Speaking of which, we just saw "The Princess and the Frog" and loved it! Anika Noni Rose sounds so great on the songs and I was freaking out to hear Jen Cody in a major role! She is the voice of Charlotte, a blonde, super-rich, spoiled Southern belle. I've always heard that when you audition for animated films, the people auditioning you have their backs turned so they don't know what you look like and now I know why! Jen is nothing like a blonde Southern belle but her voice for that character was PERFECT! As soon as she had her first scene I texted her to say she was amazing. My phone vibrated immediately after that and I quickly read her sweet note thanking me for taking the time to praise her. Hmm…let me re-phrase that. My phone vibrated and I read the note from her which said: "Stop texting and watch the damn movie!!!!!" Point taken.

James spent the whole time before "Nine" being obsessed with the hope of seeing Goldie Hawn because he loves her movies (we just re-watched "Foul Play"…scary!). At around 8, we had had it with sitting in our seats so we went to the lobby for a Pepsi and at that moment, Goldie Hawn walked in, looking great! She wasn't surrounded by a huge entourage, she just had a young, cute guy with her. As she walked by, James and I applauded and she winked at him. He was thrilled.

Before the film began, all the bigwigs got up and made a speech. Harvey Weinstein was very funny and said that people were worried that having all those great actresses in one film would make them all competitive and cat-fighty. He said that no one was a big diva…except Judi Dench. She was impossible. Then Rob Marshall got up and introduced all the stars. They each got up and waved and, director-style, he immediately asked the lighting man to hit them with a spotlight. They all looked stunning, especially Penelope Cruz in a red dress and we also noticed that Judi Dench had the most bodyguards around her. Wait a minute…Harvey wasn't joking?!?!?!

After watching the film, all I want to do is move to Italy…in the '60s. I'm now officially obsessed with the song "Be Italian." A while ago, I remember Andrea Burns telling me that she had an audition for the film to sing "Be Italian." I asked her if they were changing the look of the character because normally it's sung by someone very overweight. She said she assumed they were…then she paused and pointed to herself and said, "Wait…unless in Hollywood, this is very overweight." Shockingly, she wasn't far from the truth! The pop singer Fergie got the role and I read an article about what an ordeal it was for her to gain all that weight. What? Have you seen her in the film?!?!?? That's what she looks like after gaining weight? Tipping the scales at 90 pounds? Regardless, she sounds AMAZING on the song and I can't stop listening to it. After the film, we debated going to the after-party (we have to get Juli out of the house to go to school by 7:30 AM) but we finally decided to go, if nothing else, to eat the delicious food. I know the kind of food that's at a Broadway opening and since Hollywood has more money, I was salivating at the thought of the non-stop buffet. Turns out, the non-stop buffet was a bunch of waiters walking by with, I'm not kidding…triangle points of grilled cheese. That was one of the most filling choices! Not half-sandwiches of grilled cheese, but take a half sandwich… and divide into 30 pieces. That's the L.A. food I filled up on. Now I know why it was such an ordeal for Fergie to gain all the weight…there's no food in California! And on that note, have a great holiday. Peace out!

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Seth has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls (recorded on Nonesuch Records) and Hair (recorded on Ghostlight Records). As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He's written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com starring himself, Jonathan Groff, Andrea Martin and Kristin Chenoweth. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, Deconstructing Broadway. He can contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com where he has MANY sassy video deconstructions.

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