ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Booked for London (That or Thereabouts)

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Booked for London (That or Thereabouts) A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Todd Buonopane
Todd Buonopane

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Greetings yet again from an airplane. I called American Airlines this morning and they said I could have a window seat on the four-hour flight to Dallas. I guess by "window" they meant near a window because they booked me a middle seat. Wonderful. Hopefully, on my next big plane flight, I'll have a real window seat because it's going to be a lot longer than flying to Texas since it'll be transatlantic. What's that? Where am I flying? I'll tell ya; I'm taking my first trip to England!!! That's right. I just booked a British reality TV series and I'm leaving on a jet plane at the end of this week. They offered to fly me Business Class and I traded in the tickets for three coach seats so James and Juli can come along. The show is called "School Musical" and it features a high school that's putting on a classic musical. The creative team is made up of all London professionals and they put the show together. Then, right before the final performance, in comes a Broadway "expert" to give them the final je ne sais quoi…me! I'm there to put the finishing touches on all the aspects of the show whether choreography, music or acting. It's actually a dream come true, because I'm always wanting to pipe up during rehearsals but usually I'm the music director and I'm not allowed to give choreographic or acting notes. But, now I can finally break all professional boundaries! Yay! I was so thrilled when I got this job because it would mean a week in London seeing all the sights I've only seen in "Mary Poppins" and "28 Days Later." I then read the fine print and found out that the high school is not exactly in London…it's in Liverpool. Oh well, I thought, I can spend the day in Liverpool and take a cab to London every night. It's worth it to spend a few pounds every night if it means soaking in sights like Big Ben, Picadilly Square and Harrods. James then looked at a map of England while he was on the phone with me and this was the conversation:

James: Ooh, I see here that Liverpool is right near Scotland.
Seth: Cool!
James: And…it's right near Ireland!
Seth: Wow!
James: Hmm….the only thing it's not near is London.
Seth: Silence and frantic dialing of my agent.

Well, the good news is, after I add some Broadway sass to the show, the high school kids perform it in a theatre on the West End! So, I'll be spending 60 percent of the time in Liverpool and the rest in London. I can't wait to see an actual West End show for the first time. I'm sure it's nothing like Broadway. They all sound so strange and exotic: Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Billy Elliot…whatever could they be about? Regardless, my next column will be directly from the land of Lord Lloyd Webber, Dame Judi Dench and Kat Deeley. I can't wait! And now, let's talk of U.S. events. This week began with my yearly duties as host and music director for Broadway Stands Up For Freedom, an NYCLU benefit. Todd Buonopane performs every year and this time he sang a hilarious rendition of "To Excess" by Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond. We were chitty-chatting before the show and he made my laugh by talking about a famous Broadway/TV star he recently ran into (name withheld for fear reprisals). To appreciate this story, first look at the picture of Todd. OK? Now, Todd was working on Angels which was a Broadway–bound musical that lost its funding. The Broadway/TV star asked him what he was up to and he said:

Todd: Oh, I was just working on a show that was supposed to come to Broadway, but we got cancelled.
Broadway/TV Star: Oh. (pause) For Colored Girls?

Wow. That kind of question merits the response, "Um…no," while backing away. The only adjective in that title that applies to Todd is "For" and, quite frankly, it's a preposition, not an adjective.

My favorite number of the night was Stephen Bogardus and Michael Rupert doing "What Would I Do" from Falsettoland. How cool to have the original two stars singing it…in the original key FYI. They still got it! It's the song that Marvin sings to Whizzer right after Whizzer dies from AIDS. I love how the lyrics are so moving yet still have the humor of a couple who've been together for a long time.

"What would I do if I had not met you? Who would I blame my life on?" Brava! If you don't have that CD, get it ASAP.

On Wednesday I interviewed the lovely and crazily young Laura Osnes who's now on her second Broadway lead. She was the winner of the Grease reality show and now she's playing Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. Laura didn't expect to get the role because she's only 23, but she kept getting call backs. The issue the director worked with her on is that she was acting too Midwestern-nice (something I've never been accused of). She said that Bartlett Sher had a work session with her and gave her objectives to play during a scene. Then, at her next call back, she started to play those objectives and he told her to forget them and play totally new ones. I couldn't tell if he wanted to know if she was directable or if he was gas-lighting her. PS, does anyone else use the verb "To Gaslight"? It's from the movie "Gaslight" where Ingrid Bergman's husband is trying to make her believe she's crazy. I grew up with my mother bandying it about all the time, ("Seth, I know you're pretending to be asleep. It's 11 o'clock at night and I heard you listening to side two of Ain't Misbehavin'! Don't gaslight me!) but I think I'm the only person under 70 who uses it.

On Thursday I had some of the Hair tribe at the Chatterbox. They told me that during rehearsals each cast member had to act out their character's back story in front of the cast. They were all prepared in advance and some included music, lighting cues and, of course, nudity. My question is, why???? Most of the cast is in their early 20s, what aspects of their character's lives can only be told in full if their clothes are off? I've seen "Inside the Actors Studio" with much older people who've lived incredibly full lives and never once did I see Angela Lansbury or Hume Cronyn feel the need to re-tell a story from their past while letting their freak flag fly. The cast rehearsed at The Public Theater and their rehearsal room had windows that faced an office. One of the cast members climbed up to the window and took it all off with his back to the cast. All they saw was his butt but they were also able to see a gaggle of secretaries looking out their office window with their mouths agape.

Andrew Kober, who gives an incredible comic performance as Margaret Mead (singing "My Conviction"), was cast in the show when he was very heavy. By the time the show came to Broadway, he had lost 100 pounds! He was nervous he'd be fired, but he kept the gig. I asked him how he lost all that weight and was devastated to find out it was diet and exercise. Why couldn't it involve some way where I don't have to change any aspect of my life?

Allison Case, who sings a beautiful version of "Frank Mills" usually ends the show hugging people in the audience. That's right…hugging them. As you all know, going into the audience right after the finale and wrapping patrons in a warm hug is a time-honored Broadway tradition that first with Ethel Merman during Gypsy. Anybody? Nobody. After one show, she approached a man and as she started to hug him he yelled, "Don't touch me! Don't touch me!" She was completely flummoxed and suddenly in the center of a bunch of men yelling at her. She soon found out that Nancy Pelosi had been in the audience the man she tried to wrap in her peace-loving arms was a secret service agent! She was mortified and couldn't make her way backstage so she suddenly broke into tears in the lobby of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre while still in her full costume. She said she felt like she was experiencing what hippies went through in the '60s. AKA they wanted to teach the government to love and instead were pushed aside brusquely. I nodded sagely while thanking the heavens she didn't try to hug me while I was in the audience because I would have had the same reaction. Not because I was guarding a government figure but because of a long-held intimacy issue I refuse to part with.

And finally, I'm hauling up Seth's Broadway 101 at Ars Nova right when I get back from England. It's an all-singing, all-dancing, all-comedy salute to Broadway…my style. At this point, it's also an all-headache because I'm trying to get everything together before I leave. It's going to be for three Sundays: Aug. 16, 23 and 30 at 7:30 PM at Ars Nova. I'm just starting to cast the show now so more details next week, but tickets are already on sale at www.arsnovanyc.com. Peace out and talk to you next from across the pond!

* 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.

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Nandita Shenoy, Seth Rudetsky and Emily Lockhart in "Seth's Broadway 101"
Nandita Shenoy, Seth Rudetsky and Emily Lockhart in "Seth's Broadway 101" Photo by Jay Brady