ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Benefits with Friends

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Benefits with Friends Hello from seat 3A.
Julia Murney
Julia Murney

I'm on a Virgin America flight to L.A, and this plane is so cool. The design is very Jetsons looking, and all I want to do is watch all of the TV shows and movies that are available on my personal screen in front of my seat. Instead, I will forgo the new Indiana Jones movie (the AARP one) and write about this past week.

On Monday, I took Juli to school and then hightailed it uptown where I was meeting Josh Henry (from In the Heights) and Julia Murney (recently from Wicked). We were all going up to Ithaca to do a benefit for The Hangar Theater, which is now run by Peter Flynn (who also directed me in Rhapsody in Seth and Broadway 101). I'm one of those "don't talk to me until I've had my coffee" people and, on Monday, decided to put off breakfast because I love acting out with food in airports. Right after my bag goes through the scanner, you can find me at some kiosk treating myself to a delish bagel/cappuccino and devouring it right before boarding. The only downside is that the bagel and coffee usually costs more than the AIG bailout, but it's worth it. Anyhoo, we met the van on 96th and Broadway at 9 AM and were soon on our way.

Julia told me and Josh that she has a great "road trip" car and, for a while, she had thought she'd be driving us up to Ithaca. I was without my soothing caffeine, so I was extra sassy. I rolled my eyes at her and said, "Why would you think you were driving? We've gotten so many emails about this trip! Don't you read them????" I shook my head at her and then leaned forward and asked the driver if we were going to LaGuardia Airport or JFK. Julia looked at me like I was an idiot and said, "Neither." I realized that Ithaca was a small city, so we were probably going to one of those tiny airports. "MacArthur?" I offered. "Seth!" Julia yelled. "We're not going to any airport." I was totally confused. She spelled it out for me. "We're driving!" she said, with a subtext of "You're a moron." That's right, people… one minute after I busted Julia for not reading her emails, I was boomerang busted for never actually reading mine. I had done my version of reading the entire email. I would read the first part saying that we were being picked up by a van at 9 and ignore the rest. I kept wondering why the email told us the name of our driver. Why would I need to connect with "Randy" for a 30-minute drive? I soon found out that the 30-minute drive to the airport was actually a four-hour drive upstate. How long before my long-awaited breakfast and coffee?? Randy said we'd stop in an hour- and-a-half. That did it. I turned on the charm (aka tears) and begged him to find a Starbucks. He kindly pulled over and I loaded up on carbs and a smattering of protein. Ahhhh.

We got up there around 1 PM, and met up with Andrea Burns (from In the Heights and Peter's wife) and Jeremy Webb (whom I had just seen in The Visit down at the Signature Theater). For the benefit, Andrea and Julia did a section from Broadway 101 where I explain that the biggest war on Broadway happens every night…between belters and sopranos. We showed what belting is (Julia sang the end of "All That Jazz") and what head voice is (Andrea did the Julie Andrews ending of "Do Re Mi"). Then, I allowed that sometimes both head voice and chest voice join peacefully…and they performed "A Boy Like That." The audience ate it up.

Jeremy Webb is an Ithaca favorite because he did many Hangar Theater shows, including one where was a suitor in the "Tom Dick and Harry" number in Kiss Me, Kate. The lady playing Bianca in that production was none other than Julia Murney in her first professional job! Jeremy sang "Absolom" from The Glorious Ones, which he did last year, and then Peter announced The Hangar season. He's doing great shows, including Once On This Island, one of my favorites that I just heard a great story about. Steve Marzullo was the music director for Once On This Island on Broadway, and he was getting irritated with the cast during rehearsal because he felt that they were riffing too much and changing the melodies of the songs. He put his foot down: No more riffing! Kecia Lewis-Evans decided to sass him and when she got to the end of her big number, "Mama Will Provide," she hit the high E like she was supposed to, and then just to bust his chops, she went up to a G sharp. Turns out, everyone decided that it was brilliant, and her little joke turned into the classic ending of the song! Josh Henry closed the show with "Wheels of a Dream" (another great Ahrens/Flaherty song) and, afterwards, all the performers decided to stay up late and eat/hang out. Josh and I were sort of full already since we had shoveled chocolate chip cookies (my fave) into our yaps before the show began, but it didn't stop us from shoveling more after the show. Then Andrea begged Josh to do what he does backstage during In the Heights, and we all went back to the room with the piano so he could demonstrate. Andrea said that every night during the song "Home," she and Josh sit offstage, and he sings a medley of Broadway songs while Mandy Gonzales and Chris Jackson sing onstage. Josh's mind is able to figure out what other Broadway songs can fit with the chord changes of "Home," and he changes it up every night. I sat down and played the piano, and while Andrea sang the main part, Josh was able to sing a countermelody including "I Have Dreamed," "Younger Than Springtime," "The Ladies Who Lunch," "The Life of the Party" from The Wild Party, "Patterns" and "The Story Goes On" from Baby and finish it off with "Being Alive"! Thankfully, I videotaped it and put it up on my website because Josh is brilliant and the whole thing is amazing/hilarious! Visit www.SethRudetsky.com.

Cheyenne Jackson and Bianca at Harvey Milk School benefit

Tuesday I got back into town and hightailed it to another benefit. This time it was for The Hetrick-Martin Institute, which runs the Harvey Milk school, the NYC high school for Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Trans and Questioning Youth. I know the monikers sound like a headache, but there are many teens who are dealing with one of the those issues and drop out of school because of abuse they suffer at school or at home. I was there playing the piano for Cheyenne Jackson, who should sing at every benefit. He always sounds amazing, looks amazing and is hilarious. When he got onstage he said, "Now, for those of you who don't know me, you probably looked in your program and when you saw the name Cheyenne Jackson, you expected a sassy little black girl. And to that I say…pretty much!" He then did an update on the Marcia Brady driving episode by saying that he was a little nervous before he went on, but he relaxed himself by picturing the audience in their Spanx. Tony Kushner delivered a great intro for Mary-Louise Parker, who was the honoree for the night. She said that she knew what it was like to be an outsider as a teen (she used to have twinkies thrown at her), but she couldn't possibly understand what it was like for the children who have to come to the Harvey Milk School. She gestured to the table of kids from the school but got so choked up that she couldn't speak and, of course, everyone gave her a standing O. If they had a school like that when I was growing up, maybe I wouldn't have had so much unexpressed fear/sadness that came out in crazy ways, aka crying for two hours after seeing "Flipper." My mother was like, "What the-? It's just a dolphin!"

Tim Gunn with Seth

Tim Gunn from "Project Runway" was the host, and I cautiously approached him backstage and asked for a photo. He was so kind, and I told him I was a big fan. When I said that I was gonna run the photo in my Playbill column, he recognized me and said that he was a big fan! I still got it! I begged him for a tip on where I should buy clothes, and he recommended Club Monaco. I knew I wouldn't be using that info until I get a tip on how to actually have money to buy clothes and, though I scoured the mostly gay/lesbian audience, Suze Orman was nowhere to be found. However, a hilarious drag performer named Bianca was at our table. Bianca was there to do the auction, and I complimented her enormous sprayed/wrapped hairdo. She was hilarious and said, "I've always gone for the natural look…for a corpse." The worst part was the dinner. Not the food…quite the contrary. I got there and sat down and was psyched that the appetizer on my plate was a delicious shrimp cocktail. I was even more psyched when I saw that the person next to me wasn't showing up. Yes! I quickly ate their shrimp cocktail…and then they showed up. There was a plateful of empty shrimp shells, and I started panicking. Thankfully, only two people in their party arrived, and there were three empty seats, so I didn't have to use the excuse I quickly made up indicting Bianca.

Wednesday was a big day because Sirius and XM Radio officially merged. I used to only be on Sirius, but now I'm on both the Sirius and the XM Broadway channel. I'm still doing my radio interviews every Wednesday, and I recently had Nick Spangler and Margaret Ann Florence, who play Matt and Luisa in The Fantasticks. When I used to be a sub pianist for the show, it was at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, but now the show has moved to the Snapple Theater. The only problem with the theatre is that it's on top of a restaurant that sometimes gets smoky and, around every two weeks, an incredibly loud fire alarm goes off inside the theatre during the show! Unfortunately, it's always during the "Soon It's Gonna Rain" scene, i.e., the most romantic and quietest section of the show. It happened the night I saw it, and I was alternatively loving the sweet scene being played onstage and trying to remember the correct order of verbs in "Stop, Drop and Roll."

Nick is currently on TV's "The Amazing Race" with his sister, and I asked him what filming it was like. He said that he didn't want the other contestants to know that he was an actor because he thought that they'd assume he was always putting on a façade, so he told people that he was going into his father's business as a funeral director. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, right after he told everybody, they went to an airport computer station and googled him, which led right to his acting website. For the rest of the trip, he kept up the façade that he was in the funeral business not knowing that they were keeping up the façade that they believed him. His version of not wanting to appear deceitful set him up to look ten times more deceitful. Excellent work!

Then I interviewed Constantine Maroulis from Rock of Ages and I, as usually, lamented the fact that he lost "American Idol." Turns out, he wanted to sing a sassy song on the show for "90's week," but they couldn't get the rights to the song for TV. So he was stuck with a headache-y one instead. Shockingly, that was the week he was voted off. He said that he loved doing The Wedding Singer on Broadway and, for some reason, keeps getting cast in 80's musicals. I offered the theory that probably his fabulous rock voice appealed to the producers plus the fact that they wouldn't have to pay for a lace-front wig. This week I have the fabulous Orfeh — who has a new CD (!) — and recent Tony winner, Laura Benanti! (Wednesday at noon at the Times Square Information Center).

Friday night I went to the opening of Cirque Du Soleil's Wintuk. Because it was the opening, there was a reception in the lobby before the show with lots of delish snacks. I got my mitts on cotton candy, cupcakes, cookies (alas, not chocolate chip) and hot chocolate. However, it was extremely damaging to my self-image to watch all those phenomenally in-shape Cirque Du Soleil gymnasts knowing I just ingested a year's supply of their sugar intake. Quite frankly, while all of those fit bodies were pushing their physical limits for two hours, I was sitting in the audience for both acts with the top of my pants unbuttoned…there I said it.

Saturday night, we had "family fun night" and James, Juli and I watched "The Bad News Bears." I never saw it back in the 70's, and let me just say that PG then is not like PG now. Those kids were cursing up a storm. When Juli asked what it meant when Tatum O'Neal said that some other kid had balls, I said it was a crazy 70's expression. She does not need to know any anatomical parts that are not on her own body!

This week, I spent a lot of days working on the Rosie O'Donnell variety show, and it looks like it's gonna be fun. Rosie has always loved the Urinetown Officer Lockstock sketches that appear during Gypsy of the Year, so she asked me, Eric Kornfeld and Hunter Foster to write some about her new show. Rosie said that we should bust her as much as possible, and we went to work. They were filmed last week with Jen Cody taking a break from Shrek to do her hilarious take on Little Sally, and the promos are up on Rosie's website (Rosie.com). This is my favorite thing I wrote: LITTLE SALLY: Who's the host of this new variety show, Officer Lockstock?
OFFICER LOCKTOCK: Rosie O'Donnell. Are you a fan?
LITTLE SALLY: Well, I liked her in "Misery."
OFFICER LOCKSTOCK: That was Kathy Bates, Little Sally.
LITTLE SALLY: I didn't mean the movie, Officer Lockstock, I meant the year she spent on "The View."

OK, people, we're about an hour from L.A. Remember when I did Broadway 101 last year and a cool lady from a production company hired me to write a sitcom about my childhood? Well, I finally finished the script, and we have our first network pitch on Tuesday! I've never pitched a sitcom before, and I'm preparing myself for a sea of blank faces and significant flop sweat. I'm gonna go right from possibly tanking to taking the red eye home so I'm back for the Sirius XM show. I'm sure Orfeh and Laura will love being interviewed by a baggy-eyed, exhausted sleepwalker. 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.)

Andrea Bruns, Josh Henry, Seth and Julia Murney
Andrea Bruns, Josh Henry, Seth and Julia Murney
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