ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Austin, Derek and Mr. Karp

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Austin, Derek and Mr. Karp Whadda week! The last seven days had more beefcake in 'em than a Naked Boys Singing open call.

Monday night was the first Mr. Broadway contest. It benefited the Ali Forney Center, which shelters homeless gay kids. Shockingly, in this day and age, many gay kids are forced to live on the streets because their families reject them. I was asked to be a judge alongside the six-packed Scott Nevins and the high G belting Nancy Opel.

Now, I love doing benefits, but this one had the essence of a probable stinker. A male beauty pageant? I smelled a drunken cat-calling audience. A talent segment? I had a vision of having to sit through everyone's audition song ("Anthem," "She Loves Me" and "Sara Lee.") A swimsuit competition? Hmm. I didn't have a bad feeling about that. In fact, that's what got me to the theatre. Anyhoo, Nancy, Scott and I waited backstage with trepidation, but from the moment the opening number started, we were severely pleasantly surprised. It was great! There were seven contestants: Mr. Wicked, Mr. A Chorus Line, Mr. Mamma Mia! , Mr. Curtains, Mr. Hairspray, Mr. Tarzan and, the title Nancy Opel thought was the most awkward one to have, Mr. Mary Poppins.

The talent segments were great. Mr. Tarzan said that his plan had been to break a world record in toe touches. He then found out that there isn't one in the Guinness Book, so if he simply did two, he'd be a record holder. But instead of a world record, he decided to beat his personal best and do more than 30, which is what he once did at the theatre. Throughout his whole explanation, Nancy Opel was looking nonplussed. She later admitted that she didn't know toe touches were Russian splits (jumping in the air in a split and touching your toes). She thought it literally meant bending down and touching your toes. She thought, "What the hell's the impressive part?" Anyhoo, Mr. Tarzan wound up doing 51 toe touches! I thought the next day Tarzan audiences might hear, "At this performance, the role usually played by Nick Sanchez will be played by somebody who can walk."

The most outrageous talent was Mr. Mamma Mia!'s (Frankie James Grande). He did the Golam from "Lord of the Rings" as a contestant singing on "You're The One That I Want." It was phenomenally daring because it could have bombed bigger than The Blonde in the Thunderbird, but the audience ate it up. As a matter of fact, he was the winner!

The interview segment was informative and funny and culminated with me asking Mr. Chorus Line what he would do if he was on for the role of Val and had to sing "Dance: Ten Looks: Three." What would be the assets that he'd substitute for T and A? I ran to the piano and gave him an intro, and he launched into singing his greatest strength: "Jump spli-i-i-its!" He then demonstrated one. He jumped up, and micro-seconds later landed on the floor in a full 180 degree split. Incredibly impressive! Then came swimsuits. As for the drunken cat-calls I had dreaded, they issued forth not from the audience, but from all three judges. Holy Moley! Mr. Curtains was wearing a sassy little number, and when he turned around, he was able to open the "curtains" and give everyone an eyeful! And Mr. Chorus Line wore a tiny suit that showed everyone you could put something extra large into something extra small.

At the beginning of the evening, we found out that when Mr. Curtains was a teenager, he had been thrown out of his house for being gay. But he then told us that he's since reconciled with his Mom, who now works at a shelter like the Ali Forney Center in Utah. Family seemed to be a big theme of the night. Tovah Feldshuh was a brilliant host and at one point told the audience that the two things you have to do as a parent is "love unconditionally and show up." She then gave a shout out to the various family members of the contestants in the audience. I was impressed that so many families came, but I know that I would have been mortified to be in front of my family, strutting my stuff in a dance belt masquerading as a bathing suit. Not because of the lurid sexiness, but because of the amount of love handle jokes I would have to endure at subsequent Thanksgivings. Being with my family is like being roasted at the Friars Club on a night where all the roasters have the same bone structure.

Tuesday I drove up to Albany with my boyfriend James to lobby for Gay Rights. Who knew you could speak directly to your representatives? What a great sense of power! And who knew my boyfriend had never heard my Actors' Fund Hair CD? What a loss for him that I immediately rectified. Luckily the ride was long, so we were able to replay my favorite Shayna Steele riffs in "White Boys" and Julia Murney's amazing rendition of "Where Do I Go." Where do I go, you ask? Straight to the lead in Wicked!

Wednesday was my monthly show at Cardinal Cooke Hospital. I've been volunteering for Lifebeat's Hearts and Voices for 15 years. We bring singers to people hospitalized with AIDS. It's so much fun. I'll never forget when I was working in the prison AIDS ward and one of the inmates/patients was obsessed with my friend's (the triple-threated Naomi Naughton) rendition of "Nothing." He'd ask for it all the time. I finally got Priscilla Lopez to come in and sing it for him, and after the show I was talking to her about "Mr. Karp." She assured me that the whole song was real (except his name), and I asked how he died. Turns out, he killed himself! Wow. Was it left out of the song because it was too much of a downer? "Six months later I heard that Karp . . . had killed himself." Hmmm, I guess it also would have been too many eighth notes.

Thursday I had a dream come true. I did my Broadway Chatterbox talk show sandwiched between Austin [Miller] and Derek [Keeling]! Yes, the two would-be Danny Zuko's told all. Well, all they could legally tell without NBC following through on their threat to sue them for a million dollars if they breached their confidentiality agreement. The good news is, Derek said he's about to do a reading of a new musical, and Austin just filmed a pilot. Also, Austin hinted that he might join the Broadway Hairspray company! They said that during the TV show, they were housed in what they joked was "the crappiest mansion they ever lived in." Although Elton John's house was next door, their pool was broken, the dishwasher was broken and the gate to enter was broken. The most amazing part of the house was the view of L.A., but one day it was all smog outside and Derek said, "Even the view broke!"

Derek also talked about the two-year bus-and-truck tour he did of Grease before he was on the TV show. Because he was Danny, he got two seats on the bus. I guess that's a fun way to sleep for two years. "Wait a minute," I suddenly said. "Tour? I thought Austin was the only professional actor." Derek quickly remembered that he was indeed a "decorator," as per the profession chyroned underneath him during the show. The show culminated with them singing a duet version of "Sandy," including the amazing inner dialogue "Sandy, my darling. You hurt me real bad…"

Over the weekend I saw The Pirate Queen, and brava to Stephanie J. Block for perilous ship climbing across scaffolds and perilous high belting across Ds and Es.

Sunday was my mom's birthday, and I threw her a surprise brunch with some of my friends. Stephen Spadarro (one of the Weissler company managers) got her a shirt that says "Chai Maintenance." L'Chaim! After the brunch, my mom wouldn't stop hocking me (Jewish expression for nagging) that we were going to be late to see Talk Radio, and she "hates being late for anything." I assured her that she was crazy, and I've lived in Manhattan since I was 23 years old. We got into a cab on 74th Street at 2:40 PM, and by 3 PM were at 65th Street. So in a sense, we weren't late seeing Talk Radio. We simply missed the whole show. The good news is, she has a new story to add to her repertoire that includes her warning me to change trains at Jamaica when I take the Long Island Rail Road and me forgetting to do it one time, which landed me in the wrong station (that one's good for multiple "tsk-tsk-tsks" and head shaking from an elderly Jewish women). Happy Birthday.

All right, I'm off to prepare for three Jennifer Hudson concerts this week. Let the belting begin! *

(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 his show, Seth's Broadway 101, will be presented April 16. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

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(l.-r.) Austin Miller, Seth Rudetsky and Derek Keeling at <i>Seth's Broadway Chatterbox</i>.
(l.-r.) Austin Miller, Seth Rudetsky and Derek Keeling at Seth's Broadway Chatterbox.
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