ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Bonnets, Bistros, Brass, Block and . . . Plotnick

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Bonnets, Bistros, Brass, Block and . . . Plotnick A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Colleen Ballinger, Seth and Jack Plotnick
Colleen Ballinger, Seth and Jack Plotnick Photo by Robb Johnston

Last Monday and Tuesday was the 23rd annual Easter Bonnet Competition and it was f-u-n!

Michael Lee Scott wrote the fabulous opening number, and Tammy Colucci did a great job as the choreographer. Aisha de Haas began the number belting "(Broadway Don't You Bring Me) No Bad News" and then it segued to a section where everything went sixties, and the dancers started doing Fosse's "Mexican Breakfast" dance. Throughout it there were breaks where Broadway folks suddenly appeared, a la "Laugh-in," and did jokes. First came Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff from [title of show].

SUSAN: Hey, Heidi. I got some good news and some bad news.
HEIDI: What's the bad news?
SUSAN: I got the clap.
HEIDI: Ooh…what's the good news?
SUSAN: I got the clap from Hugh Jackman!

Then more dancing, and Julia Murney joined the ladies.
JULIA: Knock, knock-
HEIDI/SUSAN: Who's there?
JULIA: Phantom Two!
HEIDI/SUSAN: Laughs hysterically…then waits expectantly for the punch line
JULIA: That's it…

Then I got to come out doing some of the "Mexican Breakfast" dance, which was very fun, and I did my signature Patti LuPone in Evita versus Madonna in Evita sound clip. Finally, at the end of the number Norm Lewis joined Aisha de Haas singing "Life of the Party" from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party. The number ended, and the audience went crazy, but there was one more section of the opening. I quieted the audience down and called Julia over to me onstage. SETH: Hey, Julia…I don't get it. How has the recession hit Broadway?
JULIA: (Looking down the line at Aisha, Norm, Susan, Heidi and me) Well, for one thing, we were considered the "big stars" of this number.
SETH: Ouch.

Then, I was to bring out Liza Minnelli. Well, we rehearsed me saying to the audience, "C'mon people! Don't you think we can get a big star? Say, 'Yes!'" Then after they'd say "Yes," I'd say, "Don't you think we can get a Tony Award and Oscar-winning star out here? Say, 'Yes!'" Then I told Liza, who would be hidden, to sing her signature Kander and Ebb phrase, "SAY Y-E-E-E-E-E-S!!!!" and then appear. But she added a "No!" beforehand, as in "No, don't say yes, sing yes!" and then she would sing it. Well, unfortunately, she revealed herself before she sang it, and the audience started applauding so wildly she couldn't sing it. In other words, I kept asking the audience, "Don't you think we can get a big star, say, 'Yes!'" and then Liza stepped forward and said firmly, "No!" With no follow-up. What did the audience think that meant? Why was she emphatically saying "no!"? Did it mean we couldn't get a big star? Huh? But she is a big star? Did they think it was opposite day?

The show was great and at the end Jeremy Irons, Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon came out to announce the winners. Jeremy Irons was hilarious busting his show, Impressionism. He looked out at the audience and said, "This is the first time I've seen what a full house looks like." Ouchy. Susan Sarandon broke down crying talking about her close friend who died of AIDS a long time ago and how, at that time, it was all very secretive. She told us how great it was to see a whole theatre full of people doing something about AIDS and how happy she was that things have changed and it's no longer taboo to discuss it. Jane Fonda was giddy that not only did the 33 Variations sketch and bonnet win first prize but her show also raised the most money ($183, 546)!

That night I co-hosted the Bistro Awards with Angela LaGreca. The Bistro Awards are given to cabaret performers and they were held at Gotham Comedy Club. First of all, I'm completely obsessed with Marilyn Maye. She is a brilliant performer. You must go see her at the Metropolitan Room in June (www.MetropolitanRoom.com). Angela LaGreca was hilarious talking about working at "The View" as the head writer for Hot Topics. She said that Barbara Walters had two signature expressions she'd haul out when Angela would pitch topics; either "Who cares??" or "I'm not interested!" Angela then said that both those expressions can be used in any situation that comes up in life...and she's right! Try it- Did you know you were speeding, Ma'am? Who cares? You owe $2,000 in back taxes. I'm not interested! The options are infinite.

Angela then reminisced about Ruth Stern, who was an elderly lady who used to book acts in country clubs. Ruth never minced words and would frequently make the acts she booked aware of how unknown they were to the tri-state area. If Angela would balk at the salary Ruth offered, she'd say "Angela! You'll do this country club for the fee I got you. Nobody knows who you are! I call the country club, I tell them 'Angela LaGreca,' they say, 'Whooooo??'" FYI, Alix Korey told me that exact same story but substituted the name "Alix Korey" for "Angela LaGreca."

Wednesday I did my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway with my old friend, Stacey Lynn Brass. Stacey and I both grew up on Long Island, but she actually made it to Broadway 30 years before I did. She auditioned for Annie when it was in its third year and got cast as the swing. If you don't know, being a swing means you understudy lots of parts. In the case of Annie it meant that Stacey understudied all of the orphans. My friend Gordon Greenberg always makes me laugh when he tells me about seeing the Annie national tour (directed by Martin Charnin) and seeing the swing walking around backstage asking (this only works if you add a smoker's voice and New York accent), "Has anyone seen Martin? I need to talk to Martin!"

Anyhoo, Stacey started rehearsals on a Tuesday and a few days later, during the Saturday matinee, she was sitting in the back of the theatre watching the show like she was supposed to do. Suddenly, in the middle of "It's a Hard Knock Life," Sarah Jessica Parker (who was playing Annie) hit her mouth on her bucket and broke her tooth! She went running offstage, and the understudy Annie (who was one of the other orphans) started singing her part. Someone came and grabbed Stacey and brought her backstage. They put her hair in pigtails, slapped a costume on her and the dance captain got out the "show bible" with all the dances and spacing written in it. He said "Remember all of those dances and lines we were going over this week? Well, don't forget…you go here and here and here..." By this point the understudy was singing "Tomorrow" and the next thing Stacey knew, she was on for Pepper! She called her mom during intermission to tell her she was on, but no one answered (it was pre-widespread use of answering machines) and then she called her dad who was at work. When she told him she was playing Pepper, he started to cry. He announced to his co-workers, "My daughter's on Broadway and I'm not there to see it!" The good news is Stacey was on many more times, and her parents got to see her in a variety of roles. Stacey's going to do the sold-out act she did this past winter this coming summer. Go to www.StaceyLynnBrass.com for deets. And ironically, it'll be in July…which is the name of another orphan!

As for my second guest on the Sirius/XM show, I'm still in a state of shock that she showed up. 9 to 5 had two shows Wednesday (both were performances that critics were coming to), and the next day was opening night. Yet, Stephanie J. Block not only was my main guest, but she sang two songs…and one had sustained E flats!! I've never seen anyone less nervous about resting before critics' performances and less "I must protect my instrument" than Stephanie. Unfortunately, she blew her voice out and wound up missing both shows Wednesday and her opening night…just kidding! I saw her Wednesday night and she was great. After the show I ran up to Stephen Oremus to find out the high notes in her second act big number, and she had the nerve to be belting F sharps! Stephanie has a new CD coming out, and she literally does a duet with Dolly Parton on "I Will Always Love You." Beautiful (and available on iTunes now!).

Before I write about 9 to 5, let me first tell you that a few months ago, Philip Birsh, the President and Publisher of Playbill Magazine, and Blake Ross, the magazine's new editor, told me that I'd have my own column in the magazine. I remember seeing those magazines in bookstores when I went to Oberlin. I was pretty excited…until they told me that it wasn't the Playbill that's mailed around the country, it's the actual Playbills in Broadway theatres! [Editor's note: The column will actually run in both the theatre and subscription issue.] When I was a kid I always dreamed of having my own bio in a Playbill and now I have a column!! My first one debuted May 1, and it's about some devastating moments that have happened to me in various Broadway pit orchestras. So, I went to see 9 to 5 not only with James but also with Juli and Henry Gold (son of the hilarious Judy Gold) because next month I'm also writing a column about what shows to take your kids to if you can't get into one of the signature Broadway musicals geared towards children. I watched 9 to 5 with my eyes half on the stage and half on the kids. Turns out, they loved it! But they were blank-faced when I excitedly told them that Stephanie was belting F sharps. Hmm…maybe they thought I meant the F sharp above middle C. I should have made it clear it was an octave above that. Then I surely would have gotten the reaction I wanted. What? I was the only nine-year-old kid who would listen to a Broadway record and immediately run to the piano to test what notes were being belted, what notes were mixed and what notes were in head voice? That's why I had those 18 years of loneliness? Thanks for telling me after the fact.

James is obsessed with Dolly Parton because while he was growing up, his grandfather and Mom listened to her all the time. He really wanted to meet her after the show, but my friends in the show told me that once she gives them a brava in the wings after the show (see last week's column), she always leaves. Cut to: We got backstage and she was still there! Dave Solomon, who assisted Joe Mantello on the show and on The Ritz, asked her if she'd take a picture with us and she agreed. And, yes, people…as per Paul Castree and Kelli Ripa, Dolly smelled delicious!

Thursday I interviewed my comedy partner and one of my best friends, Jack Plotnick. We told the devastating story of being hired to do an event in Las Vegas for a Hollywood Video convention. We rehearsed the night before the event, and every skit we did was met with blank-facedness and/or fear. The next morning we woke up to discover we were fired! The good news was we had a free three-day-vacation in Vegas, and we were able to see our friends in Mamma Mia! and Avenue Q. At my Chatterbox, we got to debut the opening number we wrote for Vegas but never got to perform. Here's a sample: It starts out very innocently (sung to the tune of "That's Entertainment")

The cash that I lost at roulette…
And that watch that I shouldn't have bet…
And the fact that I've gone into debt!
That stays in Vegas!

And then the lyrics keep getting more and more bizarre
That golf that we played at the club…
And that joint where we ate lots of grub…
And that corpse we cut up in the tub!
That stays in Vegas!
I put the video up on my website. Watch it and then you can decide to fire us, too (http://sethrudetsky.com/blog)!

And finally, I made it to the big time. I was busted by Little Sally and Officer Lockstock in their Easter Bonnet sketch. If you don't know, Jen Cody and Don Richard come out every Easter Bonnet and hilariously insult various Broadway shows and performers. This year they said:

LITTLE SALLY: Officer Lockstock, we've been doing this every year. Do you think we run the risk being of overexposed?
OFFICER LOCKSTOCK: Well, Little Sally, on a scale of one… to Seth Rudetsky…I think we're fine.

I don't know why they'd say I'm overexposed! Just because I have a column now in all Broadway Playbills and this week I'm hosting the National Touring Awards on Monday and I have my Sirius/XM Live show on Wednesday and my Thursday Chatterbox and I'm playing and performing in next week's "Leading Men" concert and I'm on Sirius radio every day from 2-8 PM, and I just finished doing "30 Deconstructions in 30 Days" on my website, and I'm getting ready to host Nothin' Like a Dame, and I'm doing a benefit next Wednesday for PS 87 at Caroline's? How rude. On that note, I gotta go. I have to meet with Norm Lewis about playing his act at Feinstein's!

*

(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.)

Dave Soloman, Paul Castree, Dolly Parton, Seth and James; front row: Juli and Henry Gold
Dave Soloman, Paul Castree, Dolly Parton, Seth and James; front row: Juli and Henry Gold
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