ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Back to Before With Brent Barrett

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Back to Before With Brent Barrett A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and talk show host Seth Rudetsky.
Paul Castree and Rocky
Paul Castree and Rocky

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I'm back from freezing Bloomington, IL, and settled into freezing New York City. Speaking of freezing, last week one of our dogs started barking at something in our backyard. Turns out, it was a mama cat with two tinykitties! I called my vet, and she told me to take them inside and to a shelter because it'd be too cold outside to survive. James went out to get the kitties, but the mama cat took one in her mouth and ran away. James' mom took the kitten we caught to the ASPCA who estimated that he was one week old (cute!). They also said that there was no cat there who could nurse it, so we'd have to take the kitten and feed it ourselves…every four hours! [AUDIO-LEFT] All of us played a game of "pass the buck" until James' Mom was stuck with the job of waking up in the middle of the night to feed him. The devastating thing is, the kitten bottle that we used to feed him went missing and James' mom wound up having to use an eye dropper in the middle of the night …which made the feeding last three times longer. Yay? The good news is, all of this took place on New Year's Eve and my good friend Paul Castree was at our party. He met the kitty, sensed our total overwhelmed-ness and said, "None of you have time, but my show closed, so I have time. I'll take care of her." Yes, I'm sad that Nine to Five closed and put all of those people out of work, but it paid off for a little kitty who's now named "Rocky." Paul gave him that name partly because that film played non-stop on New Year's Day and partly because Paul said, "He's a fighter." Awwww.

This week I went to Illinois for the state-wide high school theatre conference. I did my Deconstructing Broadway show for 4,000 high school theatre kids! It's so great to see so many kids who love theatre, and they're so the opposite of what people assume most kids are. At the opening, the head of the conference suddenly said, "Beyonce, Jay-Z and Taylor Hicks" and the kids went wild. Actually, what he really said was that next year's "All-State" show would be Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim, and they literally screamed their heads off. I loved it! Those are the kind of kids I wanted to hang out with in high school. Where the H were they in the '80s? The day after I did my show, I did two master classes with them and even though I loved doing it, I was also raging with jealousy. It stinks growing up in NY. We didn't have community theatre, all-state theatre state-wide theatre conferences, etc. All we had was Broadway.

I had a fun interview with Brent Barrett, who's now starring as Billy Flynn in Chicago. He told me that when he was a student at Carnegie-Mellon, he met Stuart Howard, the casting director, who invited him to audition for the 1980 revival of West Side Story. Brent arrived in NYC, and instead of the expected crowded cattle call, it was him and four other dancers…and Jerome Robbins. They had to dance all day long and by the end of it, he was exhausted…and cast as Diesel. I asked him about that infamous West Side Story matinee I had heard about through the Broadway grapevine called "Black Sunday." Now, remember, folks, this was 1980, which was still basically the '70s and people did drugs recreationally (remember Sheila in A Chorus Line having a readily available valium?). Well, the West Side Story cast all got their hands on some kind of valium and passed it around. Brent said he remembers going out to eat on that Saturday night and feeling tired. He put his head down on the table, and the next thing he remembers is waking up the next day in his apartment. He has no memory of going home or getting into bed. He opened his eyes and looked at the clock and it was 2:15…. and he was supposed to be at the theatre by 2:30! He ran like a lunatic and got there a little bit late, but didn't get into trouble since half the cast didn't show up at all! He remembers that around ten people staggered in around four o'clock and didn't understand why the sign-in sheet wasn't up anymore at the stage door. I once showed up an hour late for a show but couldn't blame it on valium. I was playing piano for Grease and working on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" at the same time. I had written a parody of "Comedy Tonight" for the Broadway cast of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum to sing with Rosie, and the only time the cast could rehearse was on a Sunday afternoon. Grease had a weird schedule, and we had 2 PM shows on Sundays, so I got a sub to play my piano part and rehearsed with the Forum cast. Rehearsal ended around 2:30 and I called my boyfriend at the time on our home number (it was before wide-spread cell phone use) and we chatted. After awhile, he non-chalantly said, "By the way, the stage manager from Grease called…you're supposed to be there." WHAT!?!?!?! Turns out, my sub didn't think I confirmed with him and therefore didn't show up. I ran up Eighth Avenue to the theatre and got there by "Greased Lightning."

I'm still obsessed with the length of time it took my boyfriend to tell me that I was supposed to be at the theatre. I think he didn't want to put me in a panic, so he tried to ease into the actual dropping of the bomb. It was one of those wonderful times in my life that has made the daily use of Depends absolutely imperative.

Brent Barrett

Back to Brent. He also said that he was the standby for the great David Carroll during Grand Hotel and when David left the role right before the Tony Awards, John Schneider got the part. John was gearing up to perform on the Tony Awards, but right before the Tonys, Tommy Tune asked Brent to do the big number instead. Brent made his Tony Awards debut playing opposite the brilliant Michael Jeter...and the next day he was back to being a standby. The beauty of the biz. If you have never seen that amazing number, watch this link ASAP. Tommy Tune's staging is unbelievable, and Michael Jeter is phenomenal. Jane Krakowski told me that the genesis of the number happened during rehearsal. Michael was on a break, joking around and swinging his legs on a bar. Tommy Tune saw it and told him he was going to put it in a number. And, it turned out brilliantly. I first heard Brent when he was in the show Closer Than Ever, which I listened to all the time on my walkman…yes, walkman. A few years ago, I got to work with the beautiful-voiced Lynne Wintersteller. Click here for my deconstruction of her stunning tone. Well, Lynne told me that there were a lot of shenanigans backstage between all four in the cast, and Brent was the biggest prankster. She had a song where there was an eight-beat introduction that happened behind the curtain, and she'd rip it open on the final beat and speak in rhythm: "All right, that's it, that's the one that does it, I've had it with that song and dance!" Anyhoo, one night she was behind the curtain waiting to go on and Brent was drinking water. The eight-beat intro began playing, and right on beat seven Brent took his water bottle and sprayed her with water in the center of each of her boobs! She had no time to dry it off because she had to immediately rip open the curtain and angrily start her "All right, that's it, etc…" while the audience wondered why she was lactating.

My Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show is finally back. We took a one-month hiatus so they could refurbish the Times Square Information Center…which turned into two months. Regardless, it's totally re-done, and the show is back now every Wednesday at noon. Last week I had three leads from Ragtime: Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse), Stephanie Umoh (Sarah) and Christiane Noll (Mother). I asked Christiane to sing "Back to Before" and we talked about how hard it is for most women to belt the C sharp at the end of the song. Of course, Christiane has no trouble with it, so I told her she should take it up to an E! She laughed and then sang the song. After it ended she gave me a look and I knew what she meant: I played an intro and she launched into the end of the song again but this time, she not only went up to an E, but interpolated an F sharp as well! It was a brava. Click here for the real version and then the sassed up version.

And, finally, I recently had Kristin Chenoweth on my radio show. Afterwards we took some fun photos and then Julie James, who runs the Broadway channel, asked for a picture with Kristin. We were all standing in a hallway, and I wanted to make sure I wasn't in the shot with them, so I squeezed myself against a wall. Well, the photographer took the photo and kept me in it! I look cra-za-zy. Check out the photo and look for me as "Where's Waldo"…if he was a psycho stalker. And with that, peace out!

Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. 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 has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. 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 posted many video deconstructions.

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Seth Rudetsky, Kristin Chenoweth and Julie James
Seth Rudetsky, Kristin Chenoweth and Julie James
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