ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Back From Alaska

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Back From Alaska A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Kate Pazakis
Kate Pazakis

*****

Hello! I'm back from Alaska, or as my tenth grade health teacher would call it, "Alasker."

Let me give you a full cruise recap. And by "full cruise re-cap," I mean skipping the part where a "fan" came up to me and told me how he listens to me all the time but wasn't happy to see me when I boarded the boat because I'm always so annoyingly "hyper" on the radio, and he would constantly wonder how many cups of coffee I'd had. But, he continued, after a full week of seeing me perform, he now likes me. Apparently, he couldn't just tell me the second part, it was important for me to know how much he initially disliked me. I'll also be skipping the part where a passenger said with a straight face, "I think you and I are the same age…48." At least my age has gone down from my 60's.

Okay: First day on the boat. We boarded the Norwegian Star at around 11 AM, and I pretty much went right to rehearsal. Rosie wasn't on the cruise because she's filming the Showtime series "Drop Dead Diva," so I hosted the opening show. It opened with a parody of "Fame":

ANNE STEELE (in a smart business suit): "Baby, look at me…I want some shorts and a muscle-tee. My job won't let me be who I am. A partner, mother and a proud lesbian!" She then changes into a sassy vacation outfit and sings about how this week she'll be free as she pulls her bra out from under her shirt. I changed the part where the back-up people normally sing, "Remember, remember" (pronounced "Remem-bah") to "Wear no bra, wear no bra…" And, PS, I know that "am" and "lesbian" is a false rhyme, and I'm mortified. But, on a side note, and as a diversion technique, let me tell you something I noticed while recently listening to My Fair Lady. In the song "Why Can't the English" Henry Higgins says that people who speak English improperly should be taken out and "hung." Shouldn't it be "hanged"? Am I crazy? Isn't he busted as a so-called expert on the language? Isn't that the ultimate in irony, hubris and another AP English word?

Okay, back to the show. Kate Pazakis sang the phenomenal Jason Robert Brown arrangement of "One Hand In My Pocket" (available on her CD at www.KatePazakis.com), and Tituss Burgess sang an incredible version of "Meadowlark" that ended on a D. As in one step below Patti LuPone's high note in that song. Crazy. Then the fabulous Marya Grandy sang "I Have Nothing." She has such an incredible voice and can literally sing anything. She reminds me of Judy Kuhn in terms of her versatility. Marya did her own act on the boat, and I was so impressed with her delicious clear tone, no matter what the note was. I posted an old clip of her when she first sang a solo on the cruise. Rosie does this "I don't know who this is" intro to make the audience think that Marya is gonna clank and then, of course, she shocks them by sassing it: http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/. Then Natascia Diaz sang and danced "America". She's such a star onstage. I'm obsessed with her story about playing Anita with the New York City Ballet when they did the Jerome Robbins tribute and on the way home from the theatre, she had a bruise on the top of her forehead. She finally realized that when she did the final leaps at the end of the song when her foot is supposed to touch the back of her head, she was bending so far backwards that it was hitting her forehead! AMAZING!

Cheyenne Jackson came out and sang his beautiful version of "A Change Is Gonna Come," and the audience loved it — partly because the song is so appropriate in terms of marriage equality, partly because he sounded fabulous and partly because his face and body put you in a happy trance. Here's a video of him singing it last year at the NYCLU benefit: http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/2008/07/26/cheyenne-jackson-at-nyclu-benefit/. Speaking of that annual benefit, it's happening tonight! Lots o' Broadway stars and I'm playing and hosting. Go to www.nyclu.org/bway for tix.

The show ended with the whole cast backing up powerhouse Mary Bond Davis as she sang her Hairspray song, "Big Blonde and Beautiful." But to make it more appropriate for the cruise, and because the song was introduced by Judy Gold who stands at 6'2", the title was changed to "Big, Gay and Beautiful."

The next night was Cheyenne Jackson's show, which is a combination of beautifully sung and hilariously funny. However, he's on my S list. Cheyenne always keeps my music for me and gives it to me right before the show. As I was flipping through it, around 15 minutes before the show, I saw that the first song was missing the last three pages!!! Luckily, it was mostly a repeat of the first few pages and all I had to do was transpose it. Phew. Then the show began, and I noticed that "Something About You" from Altar Boyz was missing two pages…but this happened while I was playing it. It was horrifying. The song began, Cheyenne was singing, I turned a page and there was nothing there. It's like driving a car and, Bugs Bunny-style, you're suddenly off a cliff and there's nothing underneath you. Well, I've played the song before and somehow my fingers kept going and I got through it. It did age me, however, and I guess I have Cheyenne to thank for looking 48. Maybe that's his Dorian Gray trick. He makes people around him older and haggier so he constantly stays stunning. Or maybe I'm just old and haggy.

At one point, Cheyenne talked about applying a "man tan" before the show. I piped up into my microphone and asked him what brand he used. A sassy lesbian in the audience shouted out, "Cover Girl?" He sassed her right back with a, "Like you'd know!" From one stereotype to another.

On Tuesday Andrea McArdle did her show and told the audience that she almost couldn't go on because she had an abscessed tooth and was waiting to get it drained once we hit Canada. She told everyone that she was taking a pain killer but wouldn't mind some more. Cut to, after the show, Andrea was backstage and I exited through the theatre. So many people came up to me: not to tell me how great the show was, but to pull me close and whisper in my ear, "Listen, if Andrea needs some Percocet/Xanax/Vicodin etc…, I have some in my bag." Stop! When did I become her drug dealer?

Wednesday night was the hilarious Caroline Rhea. I loved the fact that she busted herself for not being that famous. She talked about going to airports and hearing "Look! It's Charlotte Rae!" and she'll have to say, "No…Charlotte Rae is 80." She also told us that when she finally does run into a real fan it usually ends with them saying, "Um…I gotta go."

Wednesday afternoon was my onboard Chatterbox, and it was so much fun! Mary Bond Davis not only sang two songs, but told some great stories about Hairspray (when she was dressed as a cop for the final scene, she'd leave the theatre before her entrance and ask people on 52nd Street if they wanted to be frisked), and Cheyenne talked about his audition for the Phantom sequel. He was trying out for the title role and sang for a dour-looking Andrew Lloyd Webber. He had a fantasy that as soon as he sang a few measures, Andrew would smile and nod his head with a "There's our Phantom!" certainty. Instead, he got a "I just ate day-old blood pudding" expression for the whole song and at the end received a "You have a pleasant voice" nod. He did not get the role. He heard that they want the singer to have a throaty, on-the-verge-of-vocal-damage rock quality. Cheyenne said that he's tried, but he's never been able to do that. He auditioned for Rent nine times and used to scream before the audition to rasp up his voice, but it never worked. Hmm… I guess I feel bad that his voice is always clear as a bell and stunning.

Sharon Gless is a friend of Rosie's and has been on many cruises. I asked her to do the Chatterbox, and she said yes right away. She started out by saying that she listens to my radio show all day long, and I was waiting for the "I hate you because you're so hyper" but it never came. Phew. Turns out, her grandfather was a very famous lawyer for people like Howard Hughes, Cecil B. DeMille and Louis B. Mayer. He advised her not to go into acting, so she became a secretary. She still did some acting on the side, and when she was 27 she did a play for two nights. A producer came the first night and asked her to have a meeting with Universal Studios to see if they'd sign her! They asked her to be a contract player, and she was thrilled 'til she got the contract and saw that she was making around $200 a week…less than when she was a secretary. She asked her grandfather what to do, and he wanted to look at her contract. When she showed it to him, he started to laugh. She asked why and he told her, "I wrote this contract!" This was in the early seventies, and she stayed there for ten years becoming the last contract player in the history of Hollywood! She was asked to be Cagney in the "Cagney and Lacey" TV movie but turned it down. The role then went to Loretta Switt, but she couldn't do the series because she had to go back to "M*A*S*H." Sharon was then asked again to play the role, but turned it down because she had to do another show. That was when "House Calls" was about to go on the air, and Lynn Redgrave asked for the same salary as her co-star and to be allowed to breast feed on the set. In response, she was fired. Sharon, still under contract for Universal, was told to replace her and did the show for a year. At the end of it, she had a big party and called Lynn Redgrave. She explained who she was…and invited her to the party. I told her I thought that was so cool of her, and she said that Lynne was even cooler…she said yes! She then asked Sharon if she wanted to stage something. Sharon agreed and that night, a few hours into the party, Sharon saw a car pull into the driveway. She muttered out loud, "Who could that be?" and went outside. She and Lynne quietly introduced themselves and then started a loud, fake argument. I can't repeat much of what was said, but it ended with Sharon standing at her door yelling, "F*** me? F*** you!!!!!" The cast was standing there with their mouths hanging open as Sharon "apologized" to everyone…and then, of course, invited Lynn inside. Brava!!

"Cagney and Lacey" was put on the air with someone else playing Cagney and cancelled after a few episodes. The producer, Barney Rosenzweig, was told he had one last chance to make it work, and he asked Sharon once again to play the role. She said yes, and the show ran for years and won her the Emmy (and Tyne won, too!)

Judy Gold performed her show, Mommy Queerest and got tons of laughs and a standing O. The show is about how she became a stand-up comic, came out to her middle-class Jewish family and now has a family of her own. I loved the part where she talked about being in Provincetown, and one of her friends came to visit her and her kids. Afterwards in the car ride home, her son asked Judy if her friend was a lesbian, and she said yes. She then realized how far she's come in her life and told us if it were back when she was a kid driving with her mom and she had asked, "Mom, is Mrs. Friedman a lesbian?" her Mom would have crashed the car into the highway divider.

Oy, I still have to write about the new [title of show] show they did on the cruise and the final big show, but I'm late for NYCLU rehearsal. Also, this weekend (if you happen to be in Texas), come see me play for the brilliant Betty Buckley in Broadway By Request at the Modern Museum of Art in Fort Worth. Go to BettyBuckley.com for tix and, if you come, make sure you request "Some People." It's my new obsession. Okay, gotta go. I have to defend our civil liberties by playing for some belters. 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.

Hunter Bell, Seth Rudetsky, James Wesley, Bernard Dotson, Tom Schulteis and Stephen Karam
Hunter Bell, Seth Rudetsky, James Wesley, Bernard Dotson, Tom Schulteis and Stephen Karam