ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Flies and Flying Vocal Cords

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Flies and Flying Vocal Cords A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Alec Mapa
Alec Mapa

I just finished a fabulous week in Ixtapa doing the first rFamily Vacations on land and, quite frankly, te amo Club Med!

First of all, we were literally on the ocean, so it was beautiful wherever you looked, and secondly I was able to overeat and not feel guilty because it was so unbearably hot that I sweat off five croissants per hour. The brutal, brutal Mexican sun was a downside, but just like they say, "Calories don't count on vacation,"[AUDIO-LEFT] I choose to add "neither does irreversible sun damage." Besides the moisture-sucking sun, the other relentless burden was the enormous fly population in Ixtapa. That was the other calorie burner; the non-stop aerobic waving of your arms either in front of your face, over your food or at tech rehearsal with Audra McDonald. Let me just say she was fully vocally warmed-up after screaming every five minutes, "Oh my God these f***ing flies!!!!!" Regardless, I loved the people, the exercise classes (cinco, seis, siete, ocho!) and the delicious food.

The first comic of the week was Alec Mapa, who is so incredibly funny. He just got done filming the latest in the "High School Musical" franchise. It's about Sharpay coming to Broadway, and he and my best friend Jack Plotnick played a musical theatre composing team. Alec and Jack were so excited telling me that there's a line in the movie where Jack literally calls something "A-mahzing." He investigated and found out it's because the director is a big fan of mine. How nice, I thought…and yet, I didn't get an audition for the movie. I guess it would have been a stretch for me to play a Broadway musician. Anybody? Nobody. Speaking of which, I can finally talk about my upcoming event! Remember a few weeks ago I wrote that I was going to announcing something super-exciting featuring me and a big Tony Award-winning star. No, I'm not doing I Do! I Do! with Elaine Stritch. Instead, on Aug. 30 I'm going to play Vernon Gersch opposite Sutton Foster (playing Sonia Walsk) in a one-night only Actors Fund benefit of They're Playing Our Song! Those roles were first made famous by Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz and right after the announcement went up on my Playbill.com, my friend Tim Cross wrote on my Facebook wall: I didn't have time to read the whole article, but congrats! I have always thought of you as a modern day Lucie Arnaz. What role is Sutton playing? Brava and rude. My sister Nancy wrote, "I can't wait to come but if there's a make-out scene between you and Sutton, I'm out." You can get tickets at www.ActorsFund.org.

Back to Alec Mapa. He and his partner just adopted a five-year-old boy a few months ago. His son is from East L.A., but when people first see him, they always ask what remote part of the world he came from. Alec told us that, shockingly, you can adopt a black child from the United States, and you don't have to go to Malawi or Rwanda. "Obviously, I was privy to some inside information that Madonna and Angelina Jolie never heard." Although, when he was in a Barnes and Noble and everyone was glaring at him because his son was having a full tantrum, he doused them all with guilt by haughtily saying, "He's from Haiti! Now how do you feel?"

Alec also talked about growing up with religious Filipino parents and how they believe in everything. "They not only believe in Jesus, they believe in vampires, leprechauns, etc." He talked about seeing "The Exorcist" when he was a kid, a movie that he claims Filipinos think of as a documentary. He was terrified going to sleep that night because he couldn't stop thinking about Linda Blair possessed by the devil and all the terrifying moments in the movie. His father came into his bedroom, and Alec said that most fathers would tell their child that it's just a movie and all the scary things were just special effects. But when Alec told his Dad what he was scared of, his father said (with a Filipino accent), "That really happened to your Auntie Linda!!!! We all knew it was the devil because the room got so co-o-o-o-o-old" Pause. "Now, go to sleep."

The next day was the Broadway Belters show, and I did the same format as the European cruise. As a way to make lots of diverse songs go together, I formatted it like a jukebox musical about the origin of rFamily Vacations with Gregg and Kelli (the two founders) narrating. Will Swenson sang "Hair" and asked me to sing Gavin Creel's part, which was super fun. We gave a tip o' the hat to all the lesbian parents in the house with our slight lyric change: "My hair like Jesus wore it, Hallelujah, I adore it! Hallelujah, Mary loved her son. Why don't my mothers love me? Ha-a-a-a-a-a-a-air!"

The next night was comedian Jessica Kirson, who's done many rFamily Vacations and is always really funny. She was introduced by Michael Lee Scott, who is the rFamily creative director and always has brilliant stories from his past. He started the show by telling us about something that happened to him in California. His friend invited him down to her new place in Palm Springs for the weekend. He left L.A. on a Friday night hoping to make it in time for her party that night. At midnight she called him while he was in traffic, and he still had an hour to go. She said that all of her friends were too tired to stay up so they were going to sleep, but she'd leave her Winnebago unlocked in the front of her house so he could sleep there. He got there around 1:30 AM and was devastated to discover the Winnebago was actually locked. Her house, however, was unlocked, so he went in thinking he'd see a note. Nothing. Then he saw all the bedroom doors closed and didn't know which one was his friend's. He was too scared to knock and wake up one of her friends. Then he saw lots of keys on the table. Perfect! He went outside and spent a half hour trying every key on the Winnebago. No luck. He walked to her backyard and sat by her pool with his feet in the water and looked up at the night sky. Finally, around 3AM, he decided that he'd just sleep on the couch even though he's way over six feet tall. When he walked back into the living room, he noticed a pile of mail with the house's address. Who was the mail addressed to? Not her! He was in the wrong house! At this point in the story he paused for effect. Then he said, "I started to cry." He fled the house, found the right one and the Winnebago was unlocked. But what if he had gone to sleep on the couch of the stranger's house and the guy woke up first? What would the next morning have been like? "Extremities"? "Misery"? "Deliverance"?

Jessica then came onstage and told us how excited she was that this was the first cruise she's been on where she hasn't felt seasick. "But" she added, miffed. "I keep seeing the same rock. I don't think we're moving fast." Then she told us she had a delicious lunch that afternoon: "It was great. A quesadilla, some guacamole and four flies." Brava!!! During her act, she'll often turn to the side and start speaking as the voice in her head or as the audience's inner monologue. For instance, she did one of her signature bits about how the song "Happy Birthday" is always sung so depressingly. It's always super slow, and people always look so lethargic. She then turned to the side and started speaking as the gay men in the audience: "I don't know why she thinks she can't sing. She actually has a lovely voice. She could play the fat girl in Hairspray." Then she asked the lesbians to allow her to make fun of her own weight. "I know 80 percent of you are social workers, but take a night off." Around a half hour in, she made a mistake with the wording of one joke and afterwards turned to the side and spoke her inner monologue to herself comfortingly, "The reason that joke didn't get a big a laugh is because you messed up the wording. It's OK to own that." Pause. "And don't bring cookies back to the room." Later on there was a pause in her act, and for no reason she turned to the side and said, "Tomorrow just salad and fruit." Will and Audra were sitting next to us, and Audra was literally doubled over with laughter.

James and Audra

The big show of the week was Audra's. And for me, it was the big arm/wrist/head-ache. Every piece she gave me to play was either tendonitis-inducing or in the key of D flat using the mixolydian scale. Any music majors out there? Call back to Music History 101. She, of course, sounded amazing and was a riot. It was the night at Club Med where everybody wore white, and Audra's opening patter was about how it's a little disconcerting being a black woman and looking out at an entire audience dressed in white. AKA, it looked like a fun night out for the KKK. She did a couple of personal firsts in the concerts: First, she sang Adam Guettel's beautiful song "Migratory V" and accompanied herself on the piano! She said she's always been nervous to do it, but the atmosphere is so welcoming during an rFamily Vacations that she felt safe trying it. Of course, she played it great. Yay. It's fun to be not needed. Speaking of which, the next "first" was having Will Swenson (who's also her boyfriend) accompany her with his guitar on a song from Floyd Collins. It's official: They are a stunningly beautiful couple who're also extremely kind and talented. And, because of him playing Berger, they also both sport the same hairstyle (i.e. long and luscious).

Audra began the evening introducing me and told the story of how I played her Juilliard graduation recital, and we didn't have an encore. We decided to wing "Can't Help Lovin' That Man," but at the end I decided it was too short, so I went back to the bridge and then modulated up. She remembers being outraged — I remember her giving me the finger. Regardless, at the rFamily show, Audra did a sing-a-long version of "I Could Have Danced All Night," and she normally goes up to a high C at the end ("I could have danced, danced, danced….all ni-i-i-i-i-ight!") But, just for funsies, I modulated right before the end so she ended on a high D flat! She told everyone that it's the first D flat ever hit in public. It was also the second finger she gave me in public. She then asked if anyone saw the vocal chord that flew out of her mouth. The final first was also the most fun and the most inappropriate. She ended the show singing "Wheels of a Dream," the duet from Ragtime she originated with Brian Stokes Mitchell. Since Brian wasn't around, she used the next best thing; James. That's right, there was a white Coalhouse Walker in Ixtapa. They sounded great together and then during rehearsal, Audra came up with a great idea that brought down the house. When James got to the end of the bridge he sang, "A country that lets a man like me, own a car, raise a child, spend a life with you…..with you!" Normally Audra comes back in singing and echoes the "with you," but instead James walked to the piano and I suddenly got up and started singing! The audience went crazy. We then all finished the song together. I'm not saying Ragtime should have a white Coalhouse and a black woman/white male Sarah, but perhaps if it did, the revival would have run longer.

This week, I'm going to Missoula, MT, to do one of my audition Master Classes and Deconstructing Broadway. Then in August, I'm in Provincetown, MA. I only go to states/countries that start with the letter M. All info is at my website www.SethRudetsky.com and on that note, Buenos dias! *

Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.

Will Swenson, Audra McDonald, Seth and James
Will Swenson, Audra McDonald, Seth and James
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