ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Broadway 101

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Broadway 101 A week in the life of musician-actor-writer and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Andrea McArdle
Andrea McArdle Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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Hey, everyone! This week's column is a day later than usual because I wanted to wait until after I did my big benefit so I could talk about it. And by "talk," I mean write.

Last Monday was the first rehearsal for Seth's Broadway 101, which is a show I put together for The Actors' Fund of America. The show describes to the audience how Broadway works (what is a vocal arranger, orchestrator, swing, etc…) with live examples. At the first rehearsal Devanand Janki, the choreographer, staged the dance segments. The first thing he did was the swing section. If you don't know, swinging on Broadway is not the same thing as swinging in the movie "The Ice Storm." (Key party? Anybody?) It means to understudy the ensemble. Usually one man for all the guys in the chorus and one woman for all the ladies. I wanted to show the audience how the swing has to be ready to go on at a moments notice and how terrifying it is to go on for the first time. So in order to create theatre vérité, I made myself the swing. Have I ever swung before? No. Would they ever hire a swing whose leg extension is in the early double digits (39 degrees)? No. But I knew it would be exciting for the audience to see real fear and profuse sweating.

Anyhoo, Dev staged the number and apparently it's not good for your body to take dance class in college, take 20 years off and then dance again full out. Let's just say, after that rehearsal I was only able to swing the role of Madame Armfeldt.

The more dances I learned, the more I realized how hard it is to be a gypsy on Broadway. I'm used to music directing and yelling at the cast to cut off on beat three-and-a-half. I didn't realize that you have no time to think about cut offs when your lower body is doing one thing, your torso is doing another, your head is facing is one direction and you still have to think about minutiae like where your focus is (Dev was always yelling things like, "First look at the orchestra seats…then lift your eyes to the balcony."). There was no way I could sing and do all that, so after this week I must ask Ashlee Simpson to move over because I am now the king of lip-synching. If all the body mics cut out during the show except for mine, you'd have seen my mouth moving but heard only a stream of air coming out of my yap that was very similar to heavy breathing. How do people sing and dance at the same time? I couldn't even inflate my lungs. Hats off to gypsies everywhere! Monday night I saw the brilliant Kristine Zbornik's show at the Metropolitan Room. She is so unbelievably funny, yet is also able to belt Es. She brought down the house by just saying simply, "Antonio Banderas' cologne is sold exclusively at Walgreens." I'm also obsessed with her version of "Some People": "There I was in Mr. Orpheum's orifice…and he was saying to me, 'ARGH!!!!'" (followed by uncomfortable grunts).

Dustin Sullivan and Holly Butler
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Tuesday was more rehearsal and the day I found out how much I owed for taxes. Most jobs I have don't take out money, so I owe it all at the end of the year. My reaction was the kind you'd have after spending a day seeing a matinee of Death of a Salesman, an eight o'clock performance of Marie Christine and a special midnight showing of 'night, Mother. Wednesday, Raul Esparza came by to work on his song, "Morning Glow." He told me that he thought Sondheim would love this show and that he would email him. First of all, I'm dying to know what his email is: Goodthinggoing@aol.com? Bring-in-bounce@verizon.net? Also, who has ever said that in a sentence? "I think I'll email Sondheim." Okay, I think I'll email Mozart.

Also, the previous Sunday, Patrick Pacheco wrote an article about the "Grease" reality show that ran in the LA Times. My friend Paul Castree was quoted, and I bragged to him that I had three paragraphs to his measly one. On Wednesday they reprinted it in Newsday. Paul still had his delicious paragraph, but they cut mine down a little. And by "a little," I mean to zero. Nary a trace. I've heard of instant karma, but never four-day-later karma. It was like karma mailed third class.

Thursday I hosted the Chatterbox with Legally Blonde's Michael Rupert. The first thing he told me that I was obsessed with was that he did all these television shows when he was a kid — "My Three Sons" and "The Partridge Family." It's so much cooler to have grown up in that time period. People my age can only brag about doing guest spots on "Silver Spoons" and "Alf." He also said that when he auditioned to replace John Rubinstein in Pippin, Bob Fosse asked him to take off his shirt. Even though he claimed it was above board and solely because Pippin spends much of the show shirtless, to me it smacked of Coco in the movie, "Fame" ("Tres jolie, Coco." Anybody?).

We also talked about him playing Marvin in Falsettos, and he told us about the myriad of letters he got from kids who got the courage to come out because they saw the show. Or the glaring, uptight folk he'd see in the front row who'd be near tears by the end of the show. He also described how moved he was when he'd meet sickly looking men at the stage door who had flown to New York for an AIDS treatment. They'd always tell him how necessary it was for them to have seen the show. I've always loved that show so much. Bill Finn and James Lapine wrote such a real portrayal of gay people. So many times, gay characters in shows have one character trait: they are gay. Instead, everybody in Falsettos is a complex character. Marvin is so flawed at first but finally grows up by the end. It's always so embarrassing for me to be listening to "Unlikely Lovers" at the gym and be crying on the Stairmaster.

Laura Benanti and Raúl Esparza
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Friday I met with Laura Benanti, and we had a long discussion about her wig for The Wedding Singer. She said she used her own hair when the show was out of town, but they wanted to make her look dowdier. She claims they were mopping the floor with something and then realized they could use it as a wig! They also made her wear clothes much larger than her real size (size perfect) because they thought she needed to be a clunkstress.

She's so gorgeous in real life, and I remember when I had her and Steven Pasquale on my Sirius radio program because they were doing the World Aids Day concert of The Secret Garden. I busted them for being so obviously attracted to each other, and they told me flat out there was nothing between them. Of course, now they're engaged. Steve was backstage during Broadway 101 and said that was the first day they felt it. All I can say is, they'd better have kids asap because Ralph Lauren always needs more beautiful children for his Sunday New York Times ads.

Friday was also the sitzprobe, meaning the first time the cast sang with the orchestra. We had a delicious 26-piece orchestra with a full string section. It was thrilling for us all to hear the Gypsy overture with all those instruments and so nice to see the musicians receive all that love from the cast. Friday was also the rehearsal for Manoel Felciano's section, and he warned me not to be shocked when I saw him. He has to gain 40 pounds for a Todd Solondz movie and has already gained 25. He said he's doing it by drinking ice cream shakes and not exercising. It was obviously a replica of my "diet" in junior high School, leaving out my signature supplement of Tastykakes.

Saturday and Sunday were a blur of run-throughs and me frantically going over dance steps. Suddenly it was Monday night. We were sold out, and it was so nice for me to see people I admired so much getting a barrage of hysteria from the audience. Pamela Myers sang "Another Hundred People" form Company just like she did in 1970 — in the original key! The audience demanded that she take a second bow. Andrea McArdle sang that last verse of "Tomorrow," and people freaked out. Before that I had talked about how devastated I was that I saw her replacement in Annie back in 1978, so after she sang, I whipped out my original Playbill (which had Laurie Beechman's autograph on the front!) and had Andrea finally sign it!

Norm Lewis and Charles Busch
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The whole time Raul Esparza was singing, I saw a girl in the third row with her hands over face mouthing, "Oh My God!" It was amazing! Natascia Diaz did the section about quick changes. First she did a section from Evita and did the quick change (frumpy dress and long hair into tight skirt and short bob) in back of dancers who were blocking the audience from seeing what was happening. Then she did the whole thing again but reversed the perspective, so she was facing upstage and the audience was "backstage" so they could see everything. The crowd went crazy! The whole thing ended with Norm Lewis singing "Lullaby of Broadway" with his signature velvet voice and the brilliant ensemble dancing up a storm.

I'm spending the rest of the week in an Epsom salt bath, and then this weekend I go to Palm Springs to play for Jennifer Hudson! I'll tell you all about that and my visit with my dad, who lives there, next week. Til then, take out your recordings of March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, and cry up a storm!

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(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and his show, Seth's Broadway 101, will be presented April 16. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

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