ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "Broadway Nights" and Days

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "Broadway Nights" and Days
 
I just made my Broadway debut, and yet I feel strangely empty. Just kidding, it was amazing!
Seth's new book,
Seth's new book, "Broadway Nights."

Okay, here's what led up to it. Remember how I said we were in "10 out of 12" rehearsals? Where you keep 12 hours free, and you're in rehearsals for ten of those hours? Well, the only thing that was getting me through those rehearsals was knowing that there were only going to be two of them. Guess what? We had five of them!! We added those extra hours because we got a new cast member, and she had to be put into the show. Even though it was hard on the cast to find one of our company members gone, Brooks Ashmanskas cheered us up when he told us about the phone call he got from Martin Short who was in a vacation house with Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman. Martin left Brooks a message saying, "We heard that one of the female cast members was being replaced and we're all worried sick about you." Hilarious.

Let me just say that tech rehearsals are brutal. Now, I know it's obnoxious to be complaining about being in a Broadway show. It's like when I was single, and couples would lament to me that "it takes so much work to be in a relationship." Zip it! You have a boyfriend. Keep your trap shut. So, even though I know I'm annoying, allow me to tell you what a tech is like. You start a scene, full of adrenaline — the first word of the first line is uttered, and you immediately hear the stage manager say, "Hold, please." Then, you sit for ten minutes onstage while something is adjusted. Lights? Sound? Who knows? You're just told not to move.

Or you finish a scene, excited to take a break (and to get out of your old lady drag, in my case), and as you're leaving, you hear "Okay, we're going back, people." Over and over. And over. It's like Sartre's No Exit with an Equity break every hour and a half. The only fun part is chatting onstage while the lights/sound/whatever is being adjusted. Ashlie Atkinson, who plays Vivian, told us about a fellow student who went with her to acting school. During the final showcase he was supposed to chop up a chicken during his scene. On the day of his performance, he decided to use a cleaver. I pretty much knew where the story was going once I heard that key word. So, yes, you guessed it, in the middle of the scene he literally cut off the tops of two fingers . . . and tried to keep going!! Thankfully, he finally stopped the scene, fled to a hospital and got them sewn back on. Then, Jeffrey Thomas and I started obsessing about that reality show where women audition to become "The Starlet." Faye Dunaway was the head judge, and we couldn't remember what her tag line was when she kicked off a contestant. We knew it had the line reading of "You're fired" but with a theatrical bent. All I thought of was "You are not off book" or "Places has not been called," but Jeffrey finally Googled it and told me it was "Don't call us, we'll call you." Why is that any better?

While we were teching, I was still doing other stuff in my "free" time. On Monday night I did "Celebrity Autobiography." Let me just say that Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman are brilliant comic technicians. Jackie was amazing reading Ivana Trump's autobiography where Ivana talks about being completely fearless but, of course, assures us that she would never go to Harlem in the middle of the night. And Mary milked every single joke from Mr. T's autobiography. Her pauses were brilliant. Mr. T talks about doing improv with Sylvester Stallone at his "Rocky 3" audition. "Sly was so impressed he almost couldn't yell 'cut." Pause. "But he did."

I was also doing my Sirius radio show every day and had Andrea Burns (who just finished recording her first CD, "A Deeper Shade of Red") come in and co-host with me. She's the stand-by for Rosie Perez, and the timing of The Ritz schedule is perfect because in the spring she starts In the Heights on Broadway. Andrea and I we reminiscing about the failed auditions I coached her for. She went in for the Tommy Tune production of Grease way back when, and I suggested she sing that old pop tune "See you in September." I helped her come up with some moves and told her that at the end of the song, she should give a sad, little wave. Well, she sang it for Tommy Tune, hit the last note and gave a tiny, forlorn wave. Tommy looked at her . . . and gave the exact same wave back. How rude to dismiss someone by stealing their choreography! Remember how last week I did a stage cross in a towel during Act One and was told to wear a bathrobe asap? Well, this week we were staging the very last moment of the show, and our sassy director Joe Mantello told me to exit my room in a towel and walk stage left. Aha! I thought. I'll be robed for Act One, but the Act Two audience will finally see all the work I've been doing in the gym. I still got it! We started the scene, I crossed in my towel, and as I approached the wings, I heard the frantic running of feet. The second I walked off the stage, a panting costume assistant informed me that William Ivey Long wanted to remind me to always wear a robe. Fine!

So, finally tech was over, and it was time for the first preview. Let me give you a list of the debacles that ensued — essentially all caused by me. First, I want to explain that it's difficult to do a show where you're offstage for long periods and then have to randomly enter the stage. I like the kinda show where you come on and stay on. That being said, during the first preview, I did my first scene as the old Italian Grandmother, then I did the first cross where I enter the bathhouse in my amazing seventies outfit, and then I retired to my dressing room to wait for my first act scene where I actually have a little dialogue. While I was downstairs staring in my dressing room mirror, I heard a line onstage that sounded familiar and realized it sounded familiar because I usually hear it from the stage! That's right. I flat out missed one of my entrances. The good news is, no one noticed. Actually, the bad news is no one noticed. Ouch. Does the song "Mr. Cellophane" mean anything to you?

Secondly, I complained to my dresser because my dance belt was way too tight. All of our clothes are washed between shows, and I told him that someone must have shrunk it. Well, I'm devastated to admit this in print, but I will. After 15 minutes of complaining, I realized that I put it on backwards. Do you know what a dance belt looks like? The back has a single, thin strap. A thin, cutting strap. That strap was literally over my front and, let me just say, I'm not surprised that it hurt. Or that I can't have children.

Thirdly, the Studio 54 theatre has very little wing space, and during the opening scene my friend Jeffrey has to wheel on a bed. He was constantly warned by the tech crew to watch the scrim. The scrim tears easily and is incredibly expensive. Every time we ran the scene, the crew would tell him to be super careful and not be "that guy," as in "that guy" who tore the scrim. Poor Jeffrey, I thought, the pressure on him is enormous. Well, during the Sunday matinee, I was leaving the stage and carrying my walker with the bottom facing straight out from me to expedite my exit. I veered slightly to the right and got my walker caught on something. Hmm, I thought, "What's tangled around my walker?" Yes, people. I was "that guy." I tore the scrim, and the devastation you feel when that happens is second only to a dance belt cutting into your bladder.

The best news is that the audiences have been amazing all weekend. It's so fun to hear laughs throughout the show instead of "Hold, please."

Oh, yeah, my Chatterbox begins on TV this week! It's on every Thursday night on NBC during their "Must See TV" line up — I mean Tuesdays at 12:30 in the afternoon on Manhattan's Public Access Channel 56. Hmm. This week is Legally Blonde's married couple: Orfeh and Andy Karl. Finally, I can appeal to the masses! And, by "masses," I mean anyone home in the middle of the afternoon who is channel surfing and actually gets up to the fifties.

The only thing more awkward than the time of my TV Chatterbox is some of the NYMF schedule. I want to go see Yellow Wood, and they actually have performances at 4:30 in the afternoon. What do you call a 4:30 show? It's too late for a matinee… a dusk-inee? Maybe I'll ask someone from the cast of Christmas Carol. They essentially had shows every 45 minutes on the 45 minutes.

This week is also special because my first novel, "Broadway Nights," just got shipped out from the printers! My publisher is sending me my copies this week, and I'll be selling them at the Broadway Flea Market on Sunday. Come by my booth and get an autographed copy or some Chatterbox DVDs. It's all for BC/EFA. There're also great items at the silent auction at www.BCEFA.org. I want to get the "Mein Herr" music signed by John Kander in honor of the hours I spent as an eight-year-old trying to choreograph it in my den (all I knew was to sit with the chair facing backwards…after that I was stuck). Well, I'm off to the gym, everyone. Peace out and enjoy that delicious crisp weather!

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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 he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com. His first novel, "Broadway Nights," is due in the fall.)


Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick at the party for "Celebrity Autobiography."
Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick at the party for "Celebrity Autobiography." Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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