ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City, Plus Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City, Plus Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky Lauren Kennedy

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What time did my alarm go off, you ask? Why, 3:50 AM, 'natch. That's right, I'm doing one of my signature early-morning flights. This one leaves at 5:32 from Kansas City and if this column were on Skype right now you would be slathering Maybelline's "Under-Eye Bags Go-Away" to your computer screen. Anyhoo, I flew out here to see the Music Theater for Young People production of Chicago, and to do my show. I know Julie Danielson from NYC (I hired her to play bass on the MTV Legally Blonde reality show) and she told me about the children's theatre training program that her mom runs (Mtyp.org). Well, I came out to see their senior production (all the kids are 18 years old) and it was great! First of all, I want to say this wasn't the new trend of having kids do "junior" versions of shows, with truncated scenes and songs which sometimes makes me feel like I'm watching a day of 16-bar auditions. This was the full-length Chicago. How long did they rehearse, you ask? One week! Not since I did summer stock in the '80s! They began last Sunday and had their first performance on Saturday night. I thought it would be one of those productions where the songs aren't very staged except for a couple of sassy moves at the end of every number. Cut to: it was fully choreographed, and I mean fully. I was watching the back-up dancers for "All I Care About Is Love" and they had moves every other beat. And they were all together! Usually, when I watch a show that's just started performances, I have anxiety from the anxiety of the people onstage who are constantly thinking "I don't know what's next" (aka, the first two weeks of my show Disaster!). Well, the only anxiety I felt was because all the kids have 28-inch waists and I had just bought an enormous package of trail mix that was supposed to last me the entire day, but I had finished all 20 grams of fat by the time I was in baggage claim. Never felt fatter. My point is, these kids were as confident as if they'd been doing the show since the '96 revival began. (P.S., that Tony-winning revival opened two years after these kids were born! Never felt older.)

Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda)
photo by Monica Simoes

The trick is that they rehearse from 9 AM til 9 PM every day, 12 hours a day! I told the kids they needed to get a union but, of course, they love rehearsing non-stop and would actually prefer a 24-hour-a-day schedule. It was one of those shows where there were different levels of talent on the stage, but everyone was at the same level of commitment. I had tears in my eyes more than once throughout the show because I kept getting that feeling I get when something is really theatrical, like everyone hitting a sassy pose on the button of a song at the same time. Of course, one of the things I love the most is that MTYP also uses a full orchestra. That's right, no pre-recorded music which many theatre groups use, no "piano, bass and drums" to cut down on costs. Whatever the original Broadway show used, they use. So, how come when shows are revived on Broadway, half the orchestra is usually cut? Why does Kansas City realize how much better a full orchestra sounds? Anybody?

I began the week by playing for Colleen Ballinger's alter ego, Miranda. She's the "youtube sensation" who is a horrific singer but thinks she's amazing. And when I say sensation, I mean it. She has hundreds of thousands of views. Her concert was hilarious, and featured Adam Pascal, who, as usual, sounded great. Miranda joined him in a duet of "Light My Candle" from Rent and there were so many amazing moments. Because Miranda "doesn't say bad words" she wound up singing "They say that I have the best tush below 14th Street." The whole concert was filmed and will be shown on my new site SethTV.com. Watch my recent favorite Miranda video

Seth with Andy Cohen

Speaking of TV, I began the week with a booking Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live," hosted by Andy Cohen. Random House got me the appearance to promote "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," but it wasn't my first time with Andy because we did a pilot together a few years that was like a version of "The View" (the show was decidedly not picked up). The pilot ended with me singing a song I wrote about a clip from Judge Glenda Hatchett's show, where she told a defendant, "So what if you paid child support! What you want? A biscuit?" "Watch What Happens" asked me if I would write a song about the "OC Housewives." I said yes, but meanwhile had never seen the show. I got a list of all the highlights from this season plus a DVD of the newest episode, which I watched with Juli. After watching, Juli's comment was, "They remind me of the girls at my school" (the girls at her school are 11 years old). Regardless, I wrote a whole song and had the best time singing it. My fave lyric was about Heather: "When Brianna got married, Vicki was a mess. And Heather stole my gig as the first O.C. Jewess!"

You can watch it here. My launch for SethTV.com is Monday, June 18th at XL in Manhattan and I'm combining it with a fundraiser for the Chesapeake Bay Academy, which is a school for kids with learning issues. I'm still adding performers for the benefit, which is called Not Since High School and features Broadway folk recreating roles they did when they were kids. I asked Andrea Martin to recreate her role from South Pacific (which she played when she was a teen) and she emailed back right away with, "Count me in." Yay! Then I emailed Joe Mantello and asked him to do the number he sang in his high school production of Godspell. His email response was slightly different than Andrea's. After addressing me in the email as "Oprah" (based on the fact that I'm starting my own network), his answer was summed up in three "sentences": "Are. You. High?" Brava on his directness! He did say that even if I were able to talk him into it, he's in rehearsal at that time, so he couldn't do it. We shall see about next year. Get tix here.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger

At Seth's Broadway Chatterbox, I had Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, who both created the webseries "Submissions Only." Right now, Andrew is playing "Crutchie" in Newsies, but he first performed on Broadway as a kid. He played Chip in Beauty and the Beast, and I immediately asked him about any mishaps. He claimed nothing much happened to him, but he did hear about another Chip who was firmly ensconced in his teacart when it began to roll toward the audience. Finally, someone stopped the cart as it was halfway over the edge of the stage, going into the pit. Someone in the cast realized what was happening; the poor kid couldn't stop its terrifying momentum. As you know, none of the Chips are able to use their arms or legs because they're essentially in an fairy tale version of an iron lung. Good gig! Kate Wetherhead talked about the inappropriate roles she played as a young person. When she did Once Upon a Mattress in school, she couldn't get cast as the Princess or Queen because she was an underclassman. So, they gave her the role of the minstrel. They boldly did non-traditional casting, putting a girl in the boy's part, but they didn't make much effort past that — no change in keys. That's right, her big song stayed in the original key, so she was forced to sing it an entire octave up. Not since Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You." Then, when she was in her first summer stock show, she was cast in Working and hoped for the waitress song. Instead she was given the song "If I Could Have Been," normally sung by an older woman who has lived many, many years and is now filled with regrets. Kate was 20. The director "solved" the problem by writing her a monologue to recite before the song that essentially was, "You know, my mom sure isn't satisfied with her life. And I think that someday, I, too, will look back on my long life of missed opportunities. I'll probably feel like this…" Cue song. And crickets.

Anyhoo, the sequel to "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan" was due June 1, and suffice it to say I've only written half of it. But my Random House editor told me he won't be able to read it for another two weeks anyway, so I have 'til June 14. So, now I'm going to dive right in. Right after I procrastinate on youtube for the bulk of two weeks. Peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

The cast of Music Theater for Young People's <i>Chicago</i>
The cast of Music Theater for Young People's Chicago
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