ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Buckley, Brown, Blonde and Martin

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Buckley, Brown, Blonde and Martin I'm writing this while surrounded by 50 girls wearing pink dance togs and sporting lots o' blonde hair. My friend Billy Miller is sitting in back of me behind his drum set, and a bag of ice is on the floor next to me. More on all of this later.
Tony Award winner Betty Buckley.
Tony Award winner Betty Buckley.

This week started with an installment of Celebrity Autobiography at The Triad. This is the show where various actors get up and read sections from actual celebrity autobiographies. All of it is real…and mind boggling. When Joan Lunden describes in "Hi, I'm Joan Lunden" how she lays her clothes out at night in the order that she puts them on the morning, why do I need that explained any further? She literally writes, "For instance: Panties, stockings, skirt, some sort of blouse or top…," I get it!

This Monday I'm doing my signature reading of Star Jones' "You Have to Stand For Something, Or You'll Fall for Anything," and Gene and Dayle Pack (who created the show) have added a new section from the book for me to read. I love saying, "People ask me all the time how I see myself." Then I stare at the audience quizzically and say, "Am I a woman?" followed by a long pause. I'm obsessed because Star should have written, "Am I just a woman," but instead she earnestly asks the most basic of questions that is usually answered by a quick glance downward. One of the stars reading last week was Matthew Broderick, who is such a funny guy. He was devastated while he was performing because, as he told me, "I tripped on the way up to the stage and I never emotionally recovered." He said he felt the audience saw it happen and "I broke their trust…I broke their trust." There were so many "Saturday Night Live" people there as well, and I was totally intimidated being surrounded by such quick-witted hilarity backstage. A group of them were talking about some celeb and one of them asked, "Did he act well?" Jason Sudeikis corrected them, with mock pomposity, "He listened well. Someone asks me, 'Is he a good actor?" I say, "He's a good listener." I loved the acting-school pretentiousness.

On Monday afternoon I did an interview with Jason Robert Brown for the Broadway Artists Alliance, which is a program for kids to come and train for a few days and then present a song or a monologue for casting agents and agent/managers. First of all, the kids were so great! I was super impressed with how "on their gig" they were. Also, the monologues were so fun to listen to. One girl did "The Judy Miller Show" (the 11-year-old girl-stuck-in-her-bedroom character that Gilda Radner used to do). I think I'm stealing it. It begins with "I'm bored. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored!" Which, unfortunately, is sometimes the reaction I get from casting people during one of my audition monologues.

Jason talked about his first big job in New York which was at the WPA Theater music directing New York Rock, the musical Yoko Ono wrote. The music was as great as other songs she's written and recorded. Let me repeat: It was at the same level as other music she has put out in the world. 'Nuff said…and implied. It was a "challenging" experience for Jason, and as a thank you, the WPA offered to do something for him. He asked them to produce a revue of his songs, and that's how Songs for a New World got a production. He knew Andrea Burns from the summer camp they had both gone to when they were tweens-teenagers (French Woods), and then he ran into her when he moved to NY. She started doing demos for him and that segued into her getting cast in his show. He used to accompany Brooks Ashmanskas and Billy Porter because they'd both come in and sing at Don't Tell Mama, where Jason worked in the piano bar, and that's how they both wound up in the show. I love how Jason met all three of them in everyday life, and I feel it's a perfect illustration of how the people you start out with can wind up working with you in the big league. And by "big league," I mean "limited Off-Broadway run," but regardless, it's cool!

Songs for a New World was directed by Daisy Prince (whose voice I'm obsessed with on the Follies concert CD), and then her father (Hal Prince) asked Jason if he wanted to work on a new project. Actually, what he said was "Are you interested in working on a project I'm doing…because Sondheim dropped out?" That's right, Jason was asked to replace Stephen Sondheim! That's like someone asking, "Can you run the world? God's taking a break." Jason wrote the words and music to Parade...and won the Tony Award (before he was 30!). But the show wasn't a hit, and the experience left him depressed. He decided to write a really small show after Parade so that he'd have more control and wrote the brilliant The Last Five Years. I loved the show so much and ditto the CD. Not only must you listen to all the brilliant orchestrations which Jason did himself, but you must hear Sherie Rene Scott's excellent E flat on "A Summer in Ohio" ("…and Mrs. Jamie Wellerstein…") and Norbert's amazing hard R's in "Shiksa Goddess" ("…if your motherrr and your brotherrr had relations with each otherrrr"). Love 'em! Right now, Jason's working on 13, which is a musical featuring all 13-year-olds.Not only are the actors 13, but the orchestra is, too! Where was this show when I was hating seventh grade!?!! I could have gotten a gig and auditioned with my recently belted Haftorah. Tuesday night, James and I went to see Betty Buckley at Feinstein's. She did songs from her new CD "Quintessence" and her recent CD, "Betty Buckley 1967." Not only is her acting/singing a brava, but her patter is so funny in it's underplayed-ness. She was telling us how she was essentially singing the songs on her 1967 CD to her first boyfriend. I love how her next sentence was said so simply: "That relationship taught me about true love… and ever since then it's pretty much been downhill"… and cue music. Fun-nee.

After the show James and I went up to her hotel room to hang out, and Betty said that she was doing an all-Broadway request show on Saturday. What happens is people show up, write down the name of a song that Betty has sung on Broadway, and she'll sing it. I brazenly started rifling through her music charts and began hyperventilating when I saw the music to "Writing on the Wall" from Drood. She knew her only options were to get me oxygen or ask me to be a guest pianist at the show, and she chose the latter. We came back for the Saturday show, and Betty was a little stressed because she had done a ton of shows at Feinstein's and then flew to Denton, TX, to do a concert (where James' sister, Danielle, happens to live...and saw the concert and loved it). Betty had gotten around three hours of sleep and before she went on told me that I should pray her voice holds out. Turns out, she sounded more amazing than ever! She was belting so high I wound up being incredibly impressed with my praying skills. I guess my Haftorah paid off.

Someone (thankfully) requested "Writing on the Wall," and I shot up from my seat and walked onstage. When Betty began, it felt surreal to me. I've been listening to the recording of Betty singing this song obsessively since college…and here I was, onstage, actually playing it for her. It was thrilling! Then I stayed onstage, and we sang a duet of "Love Song" from Pippin...which was also surreal for me because I saw Betty play the role of Catherine when I was seven! Every song Betty did was prefaced with a hilarious, self-effacing story (including Betty's two attempts to get the role of Genevieve in The Baker's Wife…both failures), and I decided that she must do this show in New York at a bigger venue. It's a delicious, mega-dose of Broadway with a brilliant star. The only devastating part is that someone in the audience shouted out a request. I was not devastated by the breaking of the fourth wall, but because the request was for "Memories." There is no Broadway song called 'Memories'!" That makes me crazy! It's called "Memory." And, by the way, so-called Barbra fans, there's no Barbra song called "Memories" either. It's called "The Way We Were." 'Memories' is the first word she sings, not the title. That's like me calling Frederik's first song in A Little Night Music "Now." Oh, it is called that? All right then, what about "Soon"? Huh. "Later"? And cut.

A few months ago I got an email at Sirius radio from a Mr. Mark Martins who told me that he loves my radio show and owns a bed and breakfast in Vermont. He said that he'd love to have me, James and Juli come and stay for a free vacation. I looked at the website (Www.williamsriverhouse.com) and immediately said Yes! When I told my friend Tim that I was going to vacation in a small town in Vermont with a fan, he asked if I was filming "Misery Part 2" and warned me to avoid being hobbled. Suffice it to say, Kathy Bates was not present, and we had a great time! Vermont was so beautiful and, despite global warming, was covered in snow. We went snow tubing, and unfortunately I didn't know you're supposed to hold on to the sides of the inner tube and wound up putting out my hand to avoid a snow bank and bending back my thumb. I was terrified it was broken, but it was just sprained, and the doctor said to ice it and it would heal. So, ha ha, Tim, I only got half-hobbled.

This week I also had the thrill of interviewing Andrea Martin on my Sirius radio show, and, of course, she was hilarious. She told me that her childhood inspiration to become a performer was Chita Rivera. Her parents had a condo in San Juan, and they would go see Chita perform and Andrea (who's Armenian) thought that if Chita could make it and not be blonde and all-American looking, then so could she. Right after Andrea moved to New York in her early twenties, she got her Equity card playing Lucy in the Canadian tour of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (fyi, Judy Kaye played the role in the American tour). Andrea stayed in Canada and decided to try out for the Toronto production of Godspell. She thought she was right for it because, although she didn't consider herself a great singer or even actress, she knew the main requirement for the show was personality. She got up to sing and belted the song "Somebody" from Celebration. After 20 measures she got the dreaded "thank you" and was not asked to stay for the call back. She said that perhaps she tried too hard…and by "perhaps," she means she was pushing more than a mother whose baby has crowned. Andrea was traumatized and felt that if she couldn't get Godspell, then she had no hope for ever getting a show. She started a daily depressive regimen of eating large quantities of donuts and then going to the gym to work it off and sit in the steam room. One day, while literally in the steam room, she got paged for a phone call. It was Eugene Levy, who had recently starred opposite her in the film "Cannibal Girls" (seriously…directed by Ivan Reitman). He said that the woman that was cast to sing "Day By Day" was being let go and that there was going to be a big party that night. He told Andrea to show up and be as funny as she could be. She did… and got the gig. And, listen to some of this cast: Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Paul Shaffer as music director and Victor Garber as Jesus and Gilda Radner singing "Learn Your Lessons Well." Andrea said that Gilda auditioned skipping around the stage singing "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." Can you imagine all that brilliance in one cast? Andrea then joined Toronto Second City after a lot of the first cast left to start "Saturday Night Live." They then created "SCTV" as a Canadian version of "SNL." I grew up watching that show every Friday night with my friends Kenny, Sheira, Leora and Eric. I asked her about the origin of some of her characters. She said that Edith Prickley was developed at the Second City improv show. Cast members would bring in old clothes to be used to create on-the-spot characters. Andrea was told by the audience to be a mother of a delinquent and quickly put on Catherine O'Hara's mother's leopard coat and hat. She walked in and said, "Hello, Dear! I'm…" Catherine said, "Mrs. Prickley?" And Andrea said, "That's right, dear. Edith Prickley."

Andrea based Libby Wolfson on a real talk-show host in Canada who was always discussing women's issues. I'm obsessed with the episode where Libby stars in the feminist musical I'm Getting My Own Head, Screwing It on Right, and No Guy's Gonna Tell Me That It Ain't! Libby is completely insecure and always smelling her armpits asking, "Is there a cat in here? I'm smelling some male cat urination." Then, she'll blow into her own hand, sniff it and say, "No. You know what, it's Tabouli. I had Middle Eastern food for lunch." Libby is always completely obsessed with weight loss and whenever a doctor is on and will be discussing a medication who's side effect is diarrhea, she'll interrupt with "I'd kill for diarrhea." Watch some episodes in youtube…hilarious.

Andrea didn't get to Broadway until the early nineties with My Favorite Year and remembers giving an awful audition for it initially, and asking to come back a second time. She said the same thing happened with the "Hedwig" movie. She really wanted to play Hedwig's agent, Phyllis Stein. She read with John Cameron Mitchell (who wrote and directed it) and told him in the middle of the audition that she knew she wasn't nailing it. She asked him if she could go back to L.A, work with her acting coach and fly back on her own dime to try one more time in a week. He said yes, and she got it! She wants actors out there to do that if they feel they're not performing at their best. Take control of the situation. But she also wanted to caution that she's asked casting people if she can come back and then been equally terrible, so it doesn't always work out!

My Favorite Year closed in the winter, and months later when she was in L.A., Andrea found out she was nominated for a Tony! She didn't really know anything about the Tony Awards and hadn't been thinking about it. Now, of course, she says she does non-stop obsessing about it. She won the Tony Award, and a few years later was offered the role of "The Old Lady" in Candide. I remember her telling me back then when she got it that she had played the part in her twenties and it was cute…but now that she actually is an old lady…not so cute. Of course, fyi, anyone who's seen her on the street knows that she always looks amazing. She wanted to play Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! but found that it was very difficult to get anybody to consider her for roles that weren't sketch-like. Also, the Aunt Eller that Trevor Nunn used in London is much taller than Andrea. But she campaigned, auditioned up a storm, got the role and a Tony nomination! After that she played the Cat in the Hat in the workshops of Seussical. When it came time to take it to Broadway, she couldn't decide what to do because her son was in his senior year of high school in California, and she'd miss most of it by being in New York. She knew he'd want her to come see him do sports and his jazz ensemble, etc. She was incredibly torn until she spoke to her agents (Richie Jackson and Gary Gersh at Innovative Artists) who, as opposed to agents that are obsessed with how much money a client can make, asked her, "Would you rather be remembered as a good Cat in the Hat or a good mother?" Brava! Even though she loved that show, and especially its score, she turned down the role. Now, thankfully, she's back on Broadway in Young Frankenstein and is as brilliant as ever.

And, now, finally, here's the reason I'm surrounded by so many ladies as I type this. I got a gig on the new reality series about Legally Blonde! It's been very exciting to film so far, but let me remind all at-home viewers that the camera adds ten pounds . . . and my trip to Vermont added 20. Peace out til next week! *

(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 is titled "Broadway Nights.")

"Mark and his partner Geoff hobbling me!"
"Mark and his partner Geoff hobbling me!"