ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Betty, Cheyenne, Sarah, Neil, Brian, Rita and More

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Betty, Cheyenne, Sarah, Neil, Brian, Rita and More
 
The reviews are in!
Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley Photo by Aubrey Reuben

It's an age-old truism that pretty much every performer dreams of being reviewed in The New York Times. My last big review was for Rhapsody in Seth when it was playing at The Actors' Playhouse, and I've been itching to get one ever since. Well, people…this week I opened Betty Buckley's fabulous Broadway By Request show at Feinstein's and it got great reviews…including one from the Times (see later qualification). I knew I'd be mentioned in the reviews because the show begins with me coming onstage and "deconstructing" some hilarious video footage of Betty, and then I accompany her as she sings tons of songs from her various Broadway shows. Right after opening night, I was first name-dropping the "I don't read reviews" card, but within two minutes I Googled them all. The Times called me a "garrulous theater wag who serves as Betty's accompanist and comic foil." I was totally at peace…until my sister, Nancy, used an online dictionary. Turns out garrulous doesn't mean "chatty" as I thought it did. Nancy's email to me was:

Subj: Ouch
and the message was: Garrulous (adjective) — excessively talkative in a rambling, roundabout manner, esp. about trivial matters.

Son of a-! I thought my non-stop babbling was charming…or at least something you could chalk up to a chemical imbalance. Regardless, the show has been so much fun to do. I grew up listening to Betty belt "He Plays The Violin," and now I'm literally onstage, playing for her as she does it live! So, all you kids out there who are the same as I was at your age, just know that you may one day be playing for Kristin Chenoweth at Feinstein's as she sings "Popular"!

This week I had Cheyenne Jackson at my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show (Wednesday at noon at the Times Square Information Center). He was talking about his recent guest appearance on "Life On Mars." He played a rock singer, but was forced to lip-synch to someone else's voice because they assumed that since he was on Broadway, he would only know how to sing like John Raitt. Did they not hear him rock out Xanadu? He also said that Harvey Keitel is fun to work with because he will suddenly improvise things in a scene. Cheyenne had super-long rocker hair in the episode, and at one point during the interrogation, Harvey grabbed Cheyenne's hair and put it next to a flame, threatening to burn it all off. Hmm…my idea of improv is more along the lines of . . .

"See that monster?"
"I sure do! He's got big teeth." It's not having my wig held up to a flame right after it's been hairsprayed, aka a brunette fire hazard. Note to Harvey Keitel: More Groundlings, less Firestarter.

Cheyenne told me that he and his partner Monty were on an elevator in the Wall Street area and some guy in a suit got on, looked at them and asked, "Are you guys brothers?" Cheyenne said, "We're partners." The guy looked confused and said, "Partners? What kind of business?" Monty winked and said, "Monkey business." Brava!

Seth with The Story of My Life creators Brian Hill and Neil Bartram

Speaking of partners, I had Neil Bartram and Brian Hill on the Chatterbox. Throughout the nineties, I would set companies of Forever Plaid around the country. It would entail me flying to whatever city a new company was starting in, teaching the four guys (and the pianist) the score and then leaving right after opening night. Anyhoo, way back in 1993 I went to Toronto to set the show with an all-Canadian cast (except for my good friend Paul Castree, whom they brought up from New York). Brian was Frankie, and Neil was Sparky. Around a month into the run, Neil forgot all about the "never date anyone you're working with" rule and asked Brian out. They were the one exception to the rule, and they've been together for 16 years! So many hilarious stories happened during the run of that show. Here are two: Throughout the show, the Plaids wear white dinner jackets, and right before the end, they get a package delivered. They excitedly go backstage and emerge in beautiful Plaid jackets singing "Shangri-La." At one point in the number, they slowly open up their Plaid jackets and we see their names stitched inside. They look at each other's name and give each other a thumb's up. Anyway, one night, the Toronto Plaids got the package, ran backstage…and there were no jackets!!! The stage manager forgot to pre-set them, so they had nothing to strut onstage wearing. The song began and they didn't know what to do, so in a split second they decided to keep going and do their normal staging…even though they had no jackets. So, they emerged from backstage at the start of the number, doing a triumphant walk, but instead of beautiful Plaid jackets, they were wearing their regular button down shirts and no jackets. I'm sure the audience was like "What was in the box they were so excited about? Why are they walking triumphantly? Where did their white dinner jackets go? And in conclusion, what's happening?" Then they literally continued with the blocking of unbuttoning their jackets, opening them up and looking at the names inside...but since there were no jackets, they mimed it. Yet again the audience must have been like, "Why are they undoing fake buttons in the air in front of their shirts, why are they slowly opening their arms to the side and why are they looking at each others rib area and giving themselves a thumb's up? And in conclusion, is it possible to get a refund right before the end of a show?" Part two: During "Matilda," the Calypso number, Neil (who played Sparky) would run into the audience in his sombrero, and if he saw someone else wearing a hat, he would put his sombrero on them and put on their hat. So, one night he ran into the audience, saw a woman with a hat and snatched it off. And with her hat, came her wig! Neil was mortified and quickly put the wig and hat back on the woman. Cut to, a few days later he found out that the woman was with business associates who didn't know she wore a wig and she was going to sue the producers and Neil! The crazier thing is that the producers offered her tickets to the Hal Prince production of Show Boat, and that was all if took for her to withdraw the case. If I remember correctly from my days of watching "L.A Law," most law students learn that a satisfying settlement is either property, money or seeing Elaine Stritch as Parthy.

The Story of My Life opens this week on Broadway starring Will Chase and Malcolm Gets. Go see it, and if you're be-wigged, avoid Neil.

I saw Charles Busch's new show, The Third Story (directed by Carl Andress) and, as usual, he was brilliant. If you've never seen him live, you must see this show! Sitting next to me was Sarah Jessica Parker who I've known since we were kids performing in a kids club act called Beginnings, which was at a dessert club called "Something Different." It featured kids who were featured in Broadway shows (Evita, Peter Pan, Annie, etc…) and kids who could sing but never got a Broadway gig (me). I still remember the first day I showed up for rehearsal. Beginnings had been running for months, but they needed some new kids, and that's why I was cast. I got there, and all the kids knew each other, so I felt incredibly out of it. During a break, they all went out for pizza, and I remember Sarah turning around and coming over to invite me. AKA, I've loved her ever since! Anyway, we chatted before the show, and she told me that she and Matthew listen to me on Sirius/XM in their car all the time. I felt so famous. I immediately asked her if she'd do another musical on Broadway, and she said she would. I gave her the option of revival or original, and she chose original. People! I've done all the work for you, now write her a show! She not only acts and sings, but she can also dance up a storm. When I knew her she was a ballerina. I put up a clip of her singing from Annie on my website in the hopes that someone will see it and write a show for her. Get crackin'! (www.SethRudetsky.com)

This week I chatted with the talented Rita Moreno because she's about to open Little Tributes in L.A. This is the act she did in NY and San Francisco that got great reviews, and it will be her first time performing in L.A. in 25 years! Of course, I immediately asked her about the "revival" of "The Electric Company" on TV. I was one of those kids who thought "Sesame Street" was baby-ish but loved "The Electric Company." I needed to know the genesis of "Hey, you guys!" Rita said that there was a sketch where she was playing a milkman's assistant (Millie). They were delivering milk at 5 AM, and Rita was supposed to yell and wake up the neighborhood. She based her line reading (yell reading?) on how Lou Costello used to yell for Bud Abbott in the old Abbott and Costello movies (Hey Abbott!!!!). Suddenly, "Hey, you guys" became a catch phrase that she'd hear wherever she'd go. If she ran into me in the mid-70's first I would have yelled "Hey, you guys!" and then I would have sassed her with "I know you do!" to cover both her TV and film oeuvres. We talked about the genesis of The Ritz, and she confirmed the story I had heard. Rita used to do Googie Gomez at parties to make people laugh and one day, she was at a party at James Coco's house (I love the 70's of it all) and someone yelled, "Ritz! Do that crazy Puerto Rican you always do!" Terrence McNally was there and wrote a play for that character. Rita described Googie to me as a completely confident (not competent) performer who thinks she's a gift from the gods of theatre. At parties, Rita would do the player King speech from Hamlet, the Hiawatha poem (aka, "From the shores of Gitchigoomie") and then launch into "Everything's Comin' Up Roses." I uploaded a video of her singing it onto my website, and FYI, she sings it a step up from Merman's! Turns out, Googie's a high belter. A high, horrifying belter.

I also asked Rita about playing Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (PS, she'll be singing Norma songs in her act.). She said the hardest thing about that show was not coming down the long, signature staircase, but getting up the staircase backstage in order to come down. It was murder on her knees, so her method of protecting her gams began by sitting on the bottom step backstage. Then she'd shimmy up the stairs by pulling herself up, clutching the banister. How hilarious would it have been if the curtain had somehow gone up to reveal what was happening backstage and everyone saw the great, glamorous Norma Desmond pulling herself up the stairs on her butt. "I am big…but the stairs are bigger." Speaking of which, Rita got so muscular that the costumers had to let out her costumes because her back grew so big! Hmph. That's like those people at the gym who say to me, "I can't do this exercise or else my calves (thighs, chest, etc..) will grow way too muscular." I guess I feel bad for you. Regardless, her back has returned to it's usual sass, and her show is on Feb. 19 at the Conga Room at LA Live. Go to http://www.ticketmaster.com/Rita-Moreno-tickets/artist/756913 for tickets!

OK, everyone, Happy post-Valentine's day. PS, Betty Buckley got me a box of delicious truffles, which were gone in one day. Hmm…I think my costumes need to let out for tonight's show because my "back" got too big. 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.)

Seth Rudetsky, Carl Andress, Sarah Jessica Parker, Eric Hughes, Charles Busch and James Wesley
Seth Rudetsky, Carl Andress, Sarah Jessica Parker, Eric Hughes, Charles Busch and James Wesley Photo by Mark Sendroff
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