ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "Bravas" for Kristin and Matthew

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "Bravas" for Kristin and Matthew A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Matthew Broderick and Seth Rudetsky.
Matthew Broderick and Seth Rudetsky. Photo by Christie Ford

Britt and I not only did stand-up together in the past, but like me, she's played in many-a Broadway pit. The difference is she's a violinist and I play the piano. As a matter of fact, for a while she was my violin teacher but then she moved to LA. I'm not saying it was my devastating violin playing that made her flee across the country, but you do the math. After she studied and performed with The Groundlings (the L.A. improv group), she moved to Colorado. She brought her one-woman show, So Many Ladies, to the Zipper, and the audience ate it up. One of my favorite characters was a substitute teacher that began class with, "I have a wicked hangover, so don't push me." She also angrily tells the class, "Teacher means talker." I was literally laughing more than anyone in the theatre at that sketch. I'm sure it can't be related to the fact that I haven't emotionally moved on from high school where I hated most of my teachers. Take a gander at the highlights of Britt's show at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQTlOfbuMgI.

I've spent the last week in rehearsal for Broadway 101, which is the show I'm doing for the Actors Fund tonight (April 14)! I posted some great rehearsal footage of me and Jonathan Groff, Andrea McArdle and Andrea Burns, Julia Murney and Norm Lewis…and my amazing full orchestra! (go to www.sethrudetsky.com to watch). Julia's singing "Buenos Aires" in the show, which is appropriate because this summer she's playing Evita in Sacramento!

This week Kristin Chenoweth did a benefit to help find a cure for ACD, which is a terrible fatal disease that affects babies like SIDS. (For more info on ACD, go to 3AngelsFund.org.) NiCole Robinson, whom Kristin worked with on "The West Wing," lost a baby to ACD and asked if Kristin would help. Of course, Kristin said yes right away and gave a solo concert (with the amazing Andrew Lippa at the piano) on Saturday. Celebrities always have riders in their contracts for stuff they need in their dressing rooms. Apparently, Kristin was a total diva and requested...cranberry juice. She also hilariously referred to her portrayal of Marian in the film of "The Music Man" as having received "mediocre acclaim" and also said that she hasn't been singing lately so doing the concert was like crack for her. Thankfully, James' seven-year-old daughter was there, and I've always felt that the sooner she learns about Kristin's crack addiction, the better. When I was interviewing Kristin on my SIRIUS radio show about the benefit, I brought up Thoroughly Modern Millie. Did you know that Kristin was cast as Miss Dorothy in one of the workshops of the show and then bumped up to the role of Millie! But before it came to Broadway, she got her own TV show so she had to drop out. Then the keys got dropped so Sutton could belt it all. Then Kristin's TV show got dropped after a few episodes. And before that all happened, I was the music director of the early Millie workshop and afterwards I got dropped.

Speaking of dropping, the good news is that Kristin's TV show "Pushing Daisies" was renewed. The bad news is, she had to drop out of doing Candide in London. So, if any of you were planning on flying the Concord to go see her, cancel your tickets ASAP. That's right, I'm stuck in the seventies and still think people fly the Concord, or shall I say the SST. Does anyone remember it being called that? Quick, look it up on Netscape. That's right, I'm also stuck in the late nineties.

I also interviewed the hi-larious Matthew Broderick. Matthew grew up in the Village and I was immediately jealous. Listen to the difference: PERSON # 1: I grew up on Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue.
PERSON # 2: I grew up on Rosedale Road on Long Island.

Who would you rather hang out with? The only thing that paid off for me is that it helped my supposed drag name. There's a theory that your drag name is your childhood pet plus the name of your street, so mine is Shoshana Rosedale. I love it because it indicated the high riffing of Shoshana Bean mixed with the hotness of Gwen Stefani's husband, Gavin Rossdale. By the time I got to Oberlin College, I hated being from Long Island and whenever anyone asked me where I was from, I would say with Manhattan-like attitude "New York." Which was true…New York State, that is. If someone would follow up the question with "Where in New York?," I'd go into immediate vocal rest.

Matthew still lives in the Village, and I asked him if he ever thinks about moving to the suburbs. He said that it might be lonely out there…and imagined himself spending his time saying, "Hey…look at that tree. It's coming in nicely...look at that tree." When he was a little kid, he got a library card and wrote as his profession "actor," but it wasn't until he was in high school that he really thought about it. Right after high school, he got the lead in a movie opposite Sally Field! It was called "No Small Affair," and two weeks into shooting he showed up and they told him that the director was ill and that he should stay in his trailer till they needed him. Hours went by, and they said they told him to go home and that they'd call the next day. A week later his agent called and said, "Are you sitting down? It's over." They canceled the whole movie! He said he was in a full depression having to go back to auditioning after just having a lead in a film. It also makes you sound like a crazy person.

"OK, number 53…any recent jobs?"
"I just did a film opposite Sally Field!"
"Wow! When does it come out?"
"Um…never."
"OK. And that's when we'll offer you this job."

A year passed and Matthew was finally offered his next job: the Off-Broadway version of Torch Song Trilogy. He played the son that Harvey Fierstein adopts in Act Three, and at that point the show lasted five hours! Wow! That's the length of three Xanadus! Or one of Jackie Hoffman's ad libs. Since the show was so long, he didn't have to get to the theatre 'til Act Two began, but of course, he would wait 'til the last minute to arrive. And, it was the kind of theatre where he could only get backstage by walking through the audience then across the stage. He was supposed to arrive during intermission, but he said he would often time it "dangerously," and one time the lights were literally going down to begin Act Two and Matthew flew across the stage in the dark as Harvey was getting set onstage to begin the act. Matthew remembers hearing Harvey laugh and ask, in the dark, (à la Harvey), "Is that my son?" The producers, though, didn't laugh and said they were going to fine Matthew for getting there so late. But, Matthew said, since they weren't getting paid, it didn't matter!

Matthew said that although there weren't a lot of people coming to the show at first, they all stayed to the end. And, then when the show got great reviews, Harvey cut it down a tad, and people were flocking. Matthew's dressing roommate was every gay man's dream dressing roommate….Estelle Getty! How fun is that?! I would have asked her for non-stop Sicily stories. Oh, wait…she's not really Sophia in real life? Thanks for devastating me. Matthew said that Estelle wasn't friendly at first because she really liked the boy who played the part before Matthew did.

ME: How did you know?
HIM: She told me.

Ouch on the directness. She would actually haul out the old "He did it like this." Maybe Matthew should have threatened her with "the home," à la Bea Arthur — although he'd have to drop his voice an octave, get taller and figure out where camera three is so he can stare at it.

Matthew tried out for the Broadway production of Brighton Beach Memoirs and the director, Herb Ross, handed him another script at the audition. It was the film "Max Dugan Returns." Matthew wound up trying out for both at the same time. On his way out of the theatre, the casting agent told him that he got both parts! Can you imagine? Getting a feature film and a Broadway show at the same moment? I asked Matthew if that's ever happened to anybody else and he said simply, "No." He then said he thought it would always be like that. I asked him if it was and again he said simply, "No."

I wanted Matthew to tell me about one of his most embarrassing onstage moments. He said it was going to be a gross story and, with his signature dryness, asked the audience to "turn off their ear sets," which was a reference to the ear set that hearing impaired people can get on Broadway, as opposed to my talk show at Don't Tell Mama. I informed him that my Chatterbox wasn't a Broadway show, and he then asked, "Then why am I here?" As usual, hilarious. He said that while he was doing Biloxi Blues in California, he went out between shows and ate bad Mexican food. It was the scene where the sergeant character says he's going to look each one of the soldiers in the eye to find out who's gay. When he looked Matthew in the eye, Matthew said, "I'm gonna throw up" and promptly left the stage. He was woozy offstage, and when he finally realized that he'd better rejoin the cast, he heard them in the improving onstage with such brilliant lines as "The sergeant sure seems mad" (pause), "Yeah…do you think he'll be mad tomorrow?" (pause), "Could be…because he was mad today." Where were Britt and The Groundlings?

Since he can sing, I asked him why he didn't sing in "The Lion King" movie, and he said he tried! He went to the recording studio and sang through the songs three times and remembers each time being told very intensely to "Loosen up!" He was repeatedly asked with more and more fervor, "Why are you so uptight? Why?????" Needless to say, they didn't use his singing voice in the movie.

He was offered his first musical, How to Succeed, but asked the director, Des McAnuff, to come hear him sing at a voice lesson to make sure he could do it. Des gave him the thumbs up, but Matthew had another gig so he had to miss the first three days of rehearsal. He said that he showed up, and it seemed like the whole cast was ready to start performing that night. He said that musical theatre people are always completely prepared, whereas he said he was like, "So…where's the coffee?" He said that Megan Mullally, who played opposite him as Rosemary, was the most polished out of the cast. Her performance was brilliant from the first rehearsal they did together…and he was super-impressed by her singing. Actually, what he said was that her singing could "blast your head off," but he meant it in a positive way. I recalled that she got that part after being devastated by losing another big role…the lead in Busker Alley! That was the show that wound up never coming to Broadway because Tommy Tune broke his foot while it was still out of town. I love those stories about not getting something and than getting something better instead. I'm sure the fact that I didn't get the role of the pianist in Master Class lo those 15 years ago will lead to a better job. I'm patiently waiting. Still.

His then-soon-to-be wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, wound up playing the role for the end of the run, and I asked if it was weird playing opposite someone that you were involved with and he honestly said, "All anyone cares about is 'are you interfering with my laughs?'" Brava on the theatre shallowness! Speaking of which, I got an email from one of my favorite English professors whom I had at Oberlin. He wanted me to know that Brava is actually the feminine of "Bravo" and is not supposed to be used on a man. I had to explain that it's essentially a joke and I've appropriated that word to mean both "Brava" and "Bravo." I also have no shame using it as a noun like: "His singing was a total brava." I didn't mind explaining, but I was devastated that my writing is still being evaluated by my college professors! Isn't this like that dream people always have where they're suddenly back in college and they have a big exam? I thought I was free from that dreaded red ink, but it's still there, lurking. Every word I write is subject to his scrutinizing eye and well-worn copy of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style."

Matthew talked about being in the original workshop of Parade as Leo Frank. After the workshop he heard the show was going to Toronto but never got any details about when he would begin. Then he got a letter from Hal Prince that had the essence of letting him go, but didn't say it. The key line was Even if this doesn't work out, I'd love to work with you again. He thought, "Huh…I think I'm fired." He would show the letter to Sarah and his friends and say, "I think I'm fired? Don't I seem fired to you?" He claims that he realized he wasn't doing it once the show opened on Broadway without him.

As for The Producers, Martin Short got the offer to do Leo Bloom before Matthew, but Martin didn't want to leave his family in L.A. Then Matthew started reading that he was about to be asked to play the role, but no one actually asked him. Finally, he had a meeting for a movie that Mel Brooks was going to act in and at the end of the meeting, Mel asked Matthew to play Leo. Matthew had a meeting later that week and read through the script with Mel as Glenn Kelly played the score. Matthew said he really wanted the part, so "I was acting my heart out — which is a teeny bit more than when I'm not doing anything." As usual, dry. All right, people...this is a busy week. Right after Broadway 101, I go into rehearsal for a reading of The Road to Quatar (www.roadtoqatar.com). This is a musical that's actually a true story about a lyricist (Stephen Cole) and a composer (David Krane) who got hired by a mega-wealthy Arabian man to write a musical in Qatar! Meaning, these two "short, Jewish musical comedy writers" had to go to Qatar to write it…and suffice it to say, it didn't work out so well. But they did turn it into a musical. I'm playing the composer and, speaking of The Producers, Brad Oscar is playing the lyricist. It sounds like a Brava. That's right, you heard me, professor. And by "heard," I mean "read'." Hmm…maybe I can convince them to change it to The Road to Brava. 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.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

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Matthew Broderick and Seth Rudetsky.
Matthew Broderick and Seth Rudetsky. Photo by Christie Ford