ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Another Weekend in the Country

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Another Weekend in the Country I am sitting in the kitchen area waiting for my farm-fresh eggs.
Seth with James and Juli
Seth with James and Juli

And I literally mean "fresh." There are hens right outside who are busy a-layin'! No, I'm not on the set of Li'l Abner or even the more upscale Little Abner, I am in the beautiful William Rivers House, which is a bed and breakfast in Chester, VT. The two guys who run it, Mark and Geoff, are fans of my Sirius/XM show and invited me, James and Juli to stay last winter, and we loved it so much that we're back again. I wrote a column about it last February quoting my friend Tim, who predicted that Mark and Geoff would pull a Kathy Bates and the weekend would end with them hobbling me. That hasn't happened yet but they have been feeding us non-stop. Perhaps the whole vacation will end with a Vermont version of the Twilight Zone "How To Serve Man" episode in which the aliens wind up eating the earthlings. Who cares? If this is what it's like to be fattened up to be eventually placed in a buffet, then bring on the cannibals.

On a side note, this pastoral setting reminds me of my childhood. Not because anything was peaceful, but because my mother made the bold choice of buying me a lunch box when I was in first grade that featured not Mary Poppins nor Bugs Bunny (two of my faves) but instead the down-home stars of "Hee-Haw." I said it then and I'll say it now: What the hell was she thinking? Do I look like someone who enjoyed country music as a child? Why was I forced to carry that to Yeshiva? Still angry.

Okay, on to Broadway. And by Broadway, I mean "Off-Broadway." I went to go see Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk With Me, and I loved it. He is so funny and the show is so enjoyable. It's a solo show where he talks about a bizarre sleepwalking disorder he has, but that's woven together with hilarious stories about his life. I was asked to do something called "10 Awkward Minutes With Mike" at the end of the show, which is an after-show specialty where he calls up a guest and chats with them. As soon as I got onstage with him, I brought up the awkward fact that he started the show with a 10-minute spin on why people need to turn off their cell phones, and then, right before the end of the show, someone's cell phone went off! It was literally during the one serious part of the show where he couldn't break and do shtick about the phone. He agreed with me and made the audience person 'fess up. She finally raised her hand, and she said her phone turned on by her butt. At first I thought she was babbling, but then I knew exactly what she meant because she has a Blackberry like me. Essentially, you can think you've turned it off, but if you even just breathe on a key, it will turn on again. The "Ten Awkward Minutes" is supposed to be between Mike and a celebrity (the next one was going to feature Rue McClanahan), and I was lamenting about how not a celebrity I am. Mike said that he felt the same way about himself and told us that when people recognize him on the street, they want a prize. They'll walk up, point and say, "Mike Birbiglia, right?" Then they'll smile proudly and ask, "What do I get?" Go to his great website and then see his show, www.MikeBirbiglia.com.

On Wednesday I interviewed the talented composing team, Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, who wrote the ubiquitous and delicious "Taylor, the Latte Boy." I've played that song for many singers, but first played it for Kristin Chenoweth when I was working on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69uHbD2nWKs. I went to go see their show Dear Edwina with Juli, and now the CD is being played 45 times a day in my apartment. Juli is able to take any Broadway song I love and turn it into Chinese Water Torture. After the five-hour drive up here to Vermont, I now officially hate the Actors Fund Hair CD that used to be one of my proudest achievements. Good job, Juli! Marcy and Zina are working on the Broadway-bound Ever After based on the film, and they sang a song from it on my show! You can hear it this Friday (April 17) at 7 PM by logging on to Sirius.com and getting three days of the radio for free.

Also on the show were the two amazing stars of Rooms: A Rock Romance. I asked Doug Kreeger what is was like working with Chita Rivera in The Visit, and he said that she had the most energy of anyone in the cast. Also, he loved how she'd come in a bad mood and say, "The traffic was awful. I just have to put my leg over my head." Since when does that alleviate a bad mood? Trying to put my leg over my head would put me in a bad mood…and traction. Leslie Kritzer regaled us with a story about the time she was playing Fanny Brice at the Paper Mill Playhouse and Liza Minnelli came to see it. Right before the show began, someone told her that Liza was there. Leslie didn't see her…until right after "Sadie, Sadie." She happened to look out and see Liza sitting house left with enormous sunglasses and her mouth wide open in a gaping smile. After the show, Liza came backstage and gave Leslie my favorite "compliment." She looked Leslie right in the eye and said, "Wow! I've never seen anyone work so hard!" The brilliance is that it has the line reading of a compliment filled with the content of a criticism. Brava dichotomy! Leslie then became obsessed with Liza's old-school product placement. She looked at Leslie and said, "Wanna go out for a Coca-Cola?" Who's called it that since 1960? Leslie went out to the diner next door, and Liza immediately began giving her notes. First, she asked Leslie to do "Who Are You Now" as a monologue. Then she told Leslie she had to face front a lot more during the song. Leslie told Liza that she was directed to sing it to Nicky, so Liza told her, "Try it like this." She then began to sing: LIZA: (Facing profile) Who are you now? Now that you're (facing full front) mi-i-i-i-i-ine? Leslie finally relaxed and geared up to have a long, delicious conversation with Liza. As Leslie inhaled to speak, Liza got up and said, "Can anyone tell me how to get on the New Jersey turnpike?" and thus ended their dinner together. As she left, Liza assured Leslie they'd be friends, and eight years have now passed. But the details of the first meeting remain fresh as a daisy. Apparently, when you have only one conversation in a "friendship," you remember it verbatim.

I've been continuing my "30 Deconstructions in 30 Days," and this week did video deconstructions on Raul Esparza, Barbra Streisand, Laurie Beechman, Judy Kuhn and many others, which are all at www.SethRudetsky.com. I was walking around the West 70's and ran into Audra McDonald, who said that she's been watching my deconstructions, and she busted me for sounding like an alcoholic because at the beginning of each video I've been saying things like "I'm committed to doing this..." and/or "I have to do this every day…" She said that I say it with the same gravity as "I promise to go a meeting every day and I'm committed to calling my sponsor before a slip." Audra is constantly dishing me. We once did a talk show about LIFEBEAT's "Hearts and Voices," which is the volunteer program I do that brings music to hospitalized AIDS patients. I've been doing them since I was 24 years old, and Audra has done many with me. I can't remember the woman who was interviewing us, but she asked me to describe it, and I got crazily over-animated. After much babbling, it ended with me saying I love doing it because I love Broadway!!!! The woman looked at me and slowly said, "I…see." Audra later re-enacted it and informed me that the woman's subtext was, "You're…gay."

I also deconstructed my good friend Andrea Burns from In the Heights and ironically, that same day, she called me in an ecstatic mood because she was asked to sing "Help Is on the Way" for BC/EFA's Easter Bonnet Competition. If you've never seen the competition, that moment happens at the end when the votes are being counted I began as rehearsal pianist for the show, and Andrea started by being in the audience. After a few years, she sang back-up for the first singer of the "Help Is On The Way" slot: the late, brilliant Nancy LaMott. Since then, it's been the coveted spot of the show that's featured Melba Moore, Idina Menzel, Brian d'Arcy James, Kristin Chenoweth… and now Andrea! Andrea and I were giddy talking about it, and I completely knew what a big deal it was to her. I was comparing it to a Tony Award, and she said, "Of course, I want to win a Tony…but quite frankly, I think this means more to me," and I totally knew what she meant. If you don't know the song (with beautiful words and music by David Freidman), watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdCluAOog_k with the fabulous Norm Lewis.

And now some quick mortification: This week Juli (who's now eight) and I were at the allergist's office. She saw a fitness magazine and was looking at layout of a guy lifting weights. She pointed to his toned abs and asked why they had bumps. I explained that when abs were incredibly muscular, they looked like that and were called a "six pack." Later that day, I was about to take a shower and walked to the bathroom with my shirt off. She pointed to my stomach and asked, "Is that a six-pack"? Thus followed a devastating conversation. Suffice it to say, it began with the sentence, "Not only is it not a six-pack…"

Okay, this week Juli is in Texas, so James and I are taking advantage of not having to hire a babysitter and will be seeing tons of theatre. Happiness, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Why Torture is Wrong…, and on Thursday my friend Lorin Latarro is going on for Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, so I'm psyched to see her! Peace out and stay tuned for more deconstructions!

* (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.)

Marcy Heisler, Zina Goldrich, Seth Rudetsky, Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger
Marcy Heisler, Zina Goldrich, Seth Rudetsky, Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger Photo by Robb Johnston
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