ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Another Hundred People

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Another Hundred People
 
First of all, when did it become the third week of July?
LaChanze
LaChanze Photo by Aubrey Reuben

It seems like only yesterday I was obsessing about "American's Top Model" cycle six. How did we suddenly get to the final episode of Kathy Griffin's " My Life on the D-List"? Also, on a side note, when did a TV "season" become five episodes? Remember "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"? Twenty-four episodes? Kathy Griffin began season three a minute ago, and now this week is the season finale! That's like starting Gypsy with "Let Me Entertain You" and immediately segueing to "Rose's Turn." The only positive aspect would be skipping "Little Lamb." I know it's a beautiful song and it sets up the Louise character, but suffice it to say that when I would listen to that album as a child, I couldn't lift that needle fast enough.

This week began with the NYCLU benefit that I emceed and music-directed at the lovely Skirball Center. It opened with the brilliant Tony Kushner reading a piece that I demanded he get published in the New Yorker. I'm sure he was like, "I kind of have a Pulitzer…I don't need to get my piece in 'Shouts and Murmurs.'" Fair enough.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson was, as usual, so funny. He accompanied himself on the guitar and began his piece by saying, "I'm not a very good guitar player." He followed that statement with "I am, however, an amazing singer." So dry! Then he said there would be a part of the song where he'd ask for applause, as if he just held a long and impressive note. Sure enough, halfway through the song, even though he had only sung a middle C, and held it the length of an eighth note, he demanded applause… and got it! Brava on the manipulation!

La Chanze came to rehearsal and wanted to sing "Another Hundred People." Unfortunately, she couldn't remember what key she sang it in. I name-droppedly told her that she sang it in B major in the '95 Company revival, just so I could show off my Broadway knowledge. She was impressed that I remembered (the reaction I wanted) and I called Michael Lavine, who has every score ever, and he offered to fax it to me. Then I realized that I've been playing that song since high school in C major, and if I tried to play that Sondheim hand twister in another key, I could make a paella with the clams that would be spewing out of the piano. I scurried over to La Chanze and changed my braggart "you sang it in B major" statement to "you'd sound amazing in C major." Thank goodness La Chanze is the nicest person ever and she obligingly belted the whole thing. Phew!

The coolest part of the whole evening was at the after party. During my stand up, I talked about the pen pal I had as an 11-year-old. Instead of writing her a letter, I, not surprisingly, decided to make her a 45-minute tape of me singing and playing the piano. Of course, when I finished, I thought, "I've gotta keep this. It's way too good to send!" After I told that story to the crowd, I played the section of the tape where I sing "Tomorrow," which features unflattering riffs, an unasked-for blue note and certain notes not less than a quarter tone and up to a half step flat. When I talked about my pen pal, I mentioned that I hooked up with her through the magazine everyone my age was obsessed with, "Dynamite!" I always hear the audience murmur agreement when I do that part. Then I hold up one of my many issues (Monday I chose the issue with Sarah Jessica Parker's TV show, "Square Pegs," on the cover), and I always hear gasps. Well, cut to after the show, a young man approached and told me that his father created "Dynamite!" Holy (fill in the blank)! He also said that his Mom created "Bananas," which was the magazine you were supposed to graduate to when you got to high school, but I kept up my "Dynamite!" subscription well into my menopause. He also told me that his parents always listen to me on Sirius! I couldn't believe it! It definitely wasn't a "bummer." (Remember that section of the magazine? "Don't you hate when you wake up early for school…and it's Saturday!" Hilarious! … when you're nine.) I asked what his parents did now. Turns out his mom is in children's book publishing, and his Dad is a writer of children's books. Me: Oh, really? What's his name? Son: R.L. Stine. Me: (Passed out with dollar signs floating around my head.) Tuesday I interviewed Lee Wilkof on my Sirius radio show. He was the original Seymor in Little Shop of Horrors and reminded me of a story I put into my book, "The Q Guide to Broadway." The original Audrey cast in the show was…Faith Prince! But she had a conflict with rehearsal because she signed a contract to do an industrial. She begged to get out of her industrial contract (she actually remembers getting on her knees), but they wouldn't let her. So the fantastic Ellen Greene got the part Off-Broadway… and later in the film! Ironically, the role of Seymor was between Lee and…Nathan Lane. If Nathan and Faith had been cast, would they have done Guys and Dolls ten years later? Or would it have been Bonnie Franklin and Pat Harrington, Jr.?

Lee said that he would periodically come back and play Seymor or do run-throughs for new Audreys. He remembers one rehearsal with an Audrey that he thinks may have been a standby or an understudy. Regardless, he definitely remembers that she was the sexiest Audrey he had ever worked with. He told me that when he got to kiss her, he was having a breakdown…and he worked with a lot of Audreys. That sexpot understudy/standby was…Donna Murphy! And, quite frankly, she's still got it!

I love Lee's voice because he can sound totally nerdy in "Downtown," harsh rocky in "Git it," yet check out the total legit/operatic sound he gets on the word "so" in the song "Perspective" from She Loves Me! Yes, I obsess about minutia like that. Next question.

Friday night I went to see Broadway legend Betty Buckley at the Blue Note. Right before the 10:30 PM show, I scrambled to get her a birthday present, but the stores near the Blue Note that were open only sold a wide variety of bongs. Not cool. My boyfriend (James) and I loved the show, and she sang one of our favorites, "Come On, Come On" and sounded exactly like she did in her Carnegie Hall concert from more than ten years ago.

After the show, we went to her dressing room, and she told me that she recently had an audition for a M. Night Shyamalan film. She was asked to film herself and send it to the casting director. She and her assistant, Cathy, drove from her Texas ranch to Fort Worth, a city an hour away, to get a camera that was compatible with a MAC. They drove back to her ranch, filmed her audition, and Cathy went to transfer the film so she could make FedEx by five o'clock. Of course, it wasn't compatible with the MAC. She frantically called the store, and they told her to bring it in and they would transfer it. Cathy drove back to the store, and when she got there, the store said that they wouldn't do it. She begged them (Faith Prince-style), but they wouldn't budge. She only had an hour til she had to FedEx it! She called Betty, who was riding one her horses (!), and Betty told her, "Wrap the camera in bubble wrap and mail the whole thing!" And that's what she did. Betty got a callback and flew up to N.Y. When she walked in, M. Night was laughing and busted her for mailing an entire camera. She told him that not only did Cathy mail it, but got it back and then returned it for a full refund! Don't cross a diva! And speaking of diva, Betty got the film role! I'm so excited there's going to be belting in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. "I see de-a-a-a-a-a-ad (high E) people!"

And, finally, speaking of MACs, I bought a fancy new laptop and now have a video blog(www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com)! The first one I put up was about me in a movie theatre asking someone politely to move so I could sit next to my boyfriend. She refused, and I got a little saucy. I tell the story and ask for feedback as to who was in the wrong. Rhetorically! I expected carte blanche for my outburst but, turns out, people think I'm the idiot! Listen up: I didn't post a video blog to learn anything — I posted it to have my horrible behavior lauded!

Okay, this week is 110 in the Shade again and then Gypsy. Note to self: "Little Lamb" is a vital song in the score and should not be spent rifling through the Playbill. *

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

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