ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "Believe It or Not!" — Albino Horses, Hula Hoops and High Cs

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "Believe It or Not!" — Albino Horses, Hula Hoops and High Cs A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.

Kevin Chamberlin
Kevin Chamberlin Photo by Robb Johnston

Where's the outcry? Where's the candlelight vigil?

For yet another year, I have been snubbed by the Tony Awards. Apparently, they're still adhering to the archaic rule that you have to be in a Broadway show to get a nomination. Unfair! However, I am thrilled for so many of my friends who got nominated. I asked Kevin Chamberlin if he was one of those people who gets up early to watch or just waits and sees if the phone rings. He wound up being a combination of both. He got up early to watch it online. Right when it got to [AUDIO-LEFT]"and the nominations for Best Featured Actor in a Musical…," his computer froze! Instead of hearing or not hearing his name, he got to watch the spinning rainbow wheel. Thankfully, his phone started ringing, and he found out that he got his third nomination. His first was for Dirty Blonde back in the nineties, and he was the youngest out of all his competition. This year he's the oldest. Essentially, he's both the Angela Lansbury and Barbara Cook in his category.

Speaking of Kevin, he put together a fantastic benefit for BC/EFA last week that featured Broadway folk singing TV themes. It was so much fun. Jackie Hoffman probably did the most hilarious/weirdest one. First her husband, who's a trumpet player, played the grandiose theme to "Dynasty." Jackie then came onstage and told the audience that it was literally the music she used at her wedding to walk down the aisle. Amazing choice. Jackie intro'd her songs by telling the audience that the following TV shows were the easiest for her to relate to while she was growing up as an upper-middle-class Jewish girl on Long Island. She then launched into "Sanford and Son." Since it's just an instrumental, she "sang" the melody while her husband played the harmony on his trumpet. They immediately then segued into the theme from "What's Happening?" The whole time anyone was onstage singing a TV theme, the original intros were being projected on a video screen in back of the singer via Kevin's handiwork. Some other highlights were Paul Castree singing the theme to "The Greatest American Hero" and then giving facts about the show which were punctuated with me and Kevin singing, "Believe it or not!" My favorite one was a passive-aggressive bust on William Katt's lack of a follow-up career: "Though he lost out to Harrison Ford for the part of Hans Solo, William Katt went on to star on the first two seasons of 'The Greatest American Hero.' This wound up being a stepping stone …for what was to become the third and final season. Believe it or not!" Christine Pedi sang "The Love Boat" and imitated various guest stars including Merman and Bernadette Peters (who, by the way, never appeared on the show). At the end, she was doing Elaine Stritch and sang, "Welcome aboard it's lo-o-o-o-ove! Lo-o-o-o-o-ove!" Then the final note was Ri-i-i-i-i-i-i-ise!" Shayna Steele came onstage and talked about her audition for Rent. Back then, you had to be very non-Broadway when you came in for that show, and she demonstrated by singing her audition song for us…the theme to "The Jeffersons." PS, she got it!

I sang the theme to "Bewitched" but used the hilarious lyrics that my friend John Hoshko wrote many years ago about Dick York (Darren) being replaced on the show by Dick Sargeant. (Sung to the tune of "Bewitched"): "Switched Dicks, switched Dicks, they've gone and switched the Dicks. Dick switch, dick switch, of all the rotten tricks…" It ends with, "Samantha didn't notice, neither did Tabitha, Endora or the Tates. And neither did the two Mrs. Kravitz!". The most amazing singing of the night came from Morgan James. She's in the ensemble of Addams Family, and Kevin had been telling me for weeks how brilliant a singer she was. I would nod politely and took a "wait and see" attitude. Turns out, he was right. She's amazing. I interviewed her this Wednesday at my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show and was shocked to find out that she was an opera voice major at Juilliard! She claims that she taught herself to belt only a few years ago. I couldn't understand how she was able to riff so well and turns out, it's because she is a coloratura, and they're always doing runs, which are basically the same things (but two octaves up). Kevin and I knew all the fun TV themes from the seventies but were at a loss when it came to the eighties. Thankfully, Morgan is younger than us, and she and Damien Bassman (the Addams Family drummer who also wrote the drum book for Next to Normal) came up with a brilliant medley of "Gimme a Break," "Different Strokes" and "The Facts of Life." The singing is amazing. Listen here: sethrudetsky.com/blog.

At the same show I was interviewing Andrew Lippa, who changed from a voice major to a composer while in college. Why? Because another student told him to give it a try. Who was the other student? It was Jeffrey Seller, who went on to become one of the producers of Rent, Avenue Q and In the Heights! I guess I have Jeffrey to thank for this: sethrudetsky.com/blog. I asked about Kevin's amazing moment at the end of his song in Act Two of Addams Family, where he hits a fantastic high C. Andrew told me that it was originally a G, and one day when they were rehearsing the workshop, Kevin asked if he could move it up to a C. He sang it, Andrew loved it, and the note stayed. Kevin then admitted to me that the main reason he did it was for job security. I didn't know what he meant, and he explained that there aren't that many bald, chubby guys who can haul out a high C eight times a week. AKA he was making it difficult for them to find anyone to replace him before it moved to Broadway. Brava on the manipulation! When we did the TV theme show at Joe's Pub, Kevin told my favorite story before he sang the theme to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." His first TV show was "New York News," which starred Mary and Madeline Kahn. As a side note, Mary's hobby is raising albino horses... remember that fact. One day, Mary showed the cast her new autobiography, which was called "After All." Kevin told her that he loved the title since it was obviously based on her theme-song lyrics "…you're gonna make it after all." She didn't smile and told him, "Well, it wasn't my idea. My publisher insisted." She then proudly explained, "I was going to call it 'In The Shadow of the Albino Horse.'" And…zero copies sold.

Last Thursday was my mom's birthday, and I took her out to brunch with a few of my friends. When her dessert came, there was a candle on top. Two things happened I must share: First of all, my mother muttered, "I don't know what to wish for." My friend Aaron advised her, "This year make it a positive one." I love the implication that every year my mother has laid a curse on someone during her birthday. Then my mother obviously was stymied because she closed her eyes for an interminable amount of time and literally took so long trying to think of a wish that the candle actually went out.

Later that day, I did the Chatterbox with recent Tony nominee Chad Kimball from Memphis. I had to ask him about Good Vibrations, which was the ill-fated "Beach Boys" musical that he briefly appeared in. He told us that they postponed the opening night because the show wasn't ready, but because there were so many friends and family with tickets for the original opening date, the performance was sort of like an opening, so he called it a faux-pening. Amazing terminology. I then asked him when he first realized the show was in trouble. He remembered a big bunch of the ensemble at rehearsal in a clump and an enormous hula-hoop was put around them. They didn't know what to do with the giant prop. It was implied that they should make it do what a hula hoop does. Chad asked, "You want the whole group of us to somehow act as one giant pair of hips?" I'm obsessed with his verbiage.

Upcoming performances you ask? This Monday and Tuesday I'm in Boston at Speakeasy Stage, then on Sunday I'm in Chicago with Andrea McArdle at the Wilmette Theater. Monday, May 17 I'm doing my Deconstructing show here in New York at Don't Tell Mama for one night and then going to Atlantic City on Saturday, May 22. I'm actually playing the Taj Mahal! All info is at sethrudetsky.com/blog. And on that note, Happy post-Mother's day. I'm in Boston with Mom right now, so they'll be plenty of hilarious stories (read: screaming matches) to hear about next week. Peace out!

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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 be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.

Seth Rudetsky with Chad Kimball
Seth Rudetsky with Chad Kimball
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