ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Glory Days and Nights

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Glory Days and Nights A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth and Jonathan Groff.
Seth and Jonathan Groff.

First, I had to ask all these actors to be voices on my book…then I had to drop the bomb that it was being recorded in Newark. I was walking down Amsterdam Avenue in the West 70's mulling about how I couldn't find the right actor to be the voice of the horrible, shallow agent character. Suddenly, I ran into Richard Kind. The next thing he knew, he was on a New Jersey Transit train heading to Newark at ten in the morning. I had my boyfriend James play one of the roles, and I was talking about it in front of his seven-year-old daughter Juli. I thought maybe she'd want to come watch us record, but I felt bad she couldn't play anyone in the book. Hmm, I considered, maybe the ex-alcoholic star who married a Mafia Don? Then I remembered there is a role for a seven-year-old who's trying out for the role of Young Cosette! I hired Juli and fired Dakota Fanning. The scene in the novel takes place when the lead character is playing auditions for Les Miz and this girl walks in and asks him to transpose a Charlotte Church song…and then blames her clanky singing on him! As she walks out, she turns to him and says, "Thanks, anyway." Juli told me before she recorded that she decided the first word should be sweet and the second one sassy. Brava on the acting beats! To make sure another woman in my life wasn't jealous of a seven-year-old, I also cast my mother on the recording. She actually read three roles: a rude usher, a pretentious actress and an anxiety-ridden usher. I decided to cast my mom according to the theory, "act what you know."

Speaking of my mom and because last Tuesday was her birthday and Sunday was Mother's day, I decided to regale you with one of her signature tales. When she and my dad split up, she decided to "treat herself" and get some ice cream. She lives on Long Island and drove to the local ice cream store to get a cone. Well, even though she was enjoying her ice cream immensely, she was obviously still feeling stressed out because of the divorce and, before she knew it, she had run through a few stop signs. She pulled into her driveway and saw a car pull in behind that had "pretty lights" on top of it. She snapped out of her daze and realized that it was a police car, and the cop inside of it was going to ticket her for reckless driving. She suddenly remembered that her license specifically states that she must wear glasses when she drives. Uh-oh! Where were they? In her bag, phew! But, then she panicked because she had an enormous ice cream cone in her hands, and she thought the cop would say, "Ma'am, apparently you were so busy with your ice cream that you didn't see all those stop signs." PS, my mom was basing the cop's personality on her own. She's the one who says things like, "You were so busy with your new nano iPod that you forgot to call Aunt Phyllis!" Anyhoo, she began to freak out; torn between wanting to get rid of her ice cream and panicking because she wasn't wearing her glasses. Ice cream, glasses, ice cream, glasses…finally, she shoved the whole ice cream cone in her hand bag, took out her glasses (which were now covered in ice cream), put them on, and turned to the window of the car just as the cop approached. She decided to speak calmly. "May I help you?" she asked. Her face remained impassive as the ice cream dripped down her glasses. She thought if she didn't acknowledge the ice cream, maybe he wouldn't. The cop looked at her and perhaps picked up on her state of being. He inquired, "Are you okay, ma'am?" She replied mysteriously, "I will be…soon." What? Well, essentially, the insanity defense worked because instead of revoking her license, as he should have, he wound up walking her to her door.

Okay, I saw A Catered Affair, which was thrilling for me because it marked the Broadway debut of my good friend and performing partner, Kristine Zbornik. The show opens with her talking through her window with the other neighborhood ladies. I was so excited and happy for her that I started to cry…it was so cool! Also, I'm really glad I didn't see the first preview or opening night where I'd be nervous that she was nervous. I knew that she had done it before, and I didn't have to worry about her not making a costume change in time or forgetting a step in a big splashy dance number. I especially didn't have to worry about the latter because it's essentially a chamber musical and has less dancing than the town of Beaumont (Footloose? Anyone?). But, regardless, I was especially impressed by her role as a salesgirl. She's really just there to show the super-talented Leslie Kritzer a wedding dress, but Kristine is hilarious. What I love is that she took something that could have been a service part and found the humor in it without me thinking, "Oy. What a needy actor. Taking a small role and desperately trying to get a laugh out of it." (See bootleg footage of me as the pianist for Forever Plaid.) The whole cast was great, and I'm so happy to see Harvey Fierstein on Broadway again. He's not only a pioneer/trail blazer, he's also a terrific actor and Broadway legend. And, we really don't have that many Broadway legends. Thank goodness two of them are starring on Broadway right now (if you don't know who the other one is, let me just say, she lived in the Natchez Trace, moved to Buenos Aires, sold her hair, took a cruise ship at Lincoln Center, visited the old neighborhood…oy, all right already, it's Patti LuPone. I don't have the energy for more wordplay).

Monday night I hosted a benefit for the Roundabout Theater that was a karaoke night. I didn't know what was gonna happen, but it was great. It was really fun to see a different kind of benefit. The songs were ones actors would never sing in a regular benefit (Susan Blackwell of [title of show] rocked "Rio," and Xanadu's Kerry Butler belted "I Will Survive"). The biggest surprise was Ben Walker, who's in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He was hilarious in his intro: "This is the second time I've ever done karaoke and the first time I've done it sober." Then he proceeded to belt the h-e-double hockey sticks out of "New York State of Mind." Who knew? I was miffed, though, because after Nellie McKay did a jazzy version of Cole Porter's "I Get Along Without You Very Well," I complained that the lyrics that were streaming on the karaoke screen were wrong. They read, "What's in store? Should I fall once more?" I asked the audience to back me up on the fact that the lyrics are "What's in store? Should I phone once more," and I got blank faces. Well, I went home and researched it online, and I've found both! On a Billie Holiday site it's "should I fall once more," and on a Frank Sinatra site it's "should I phone once more." I make you a bet someone just transliterated the lyrics from listening to Billie and her sassy diction and thought it sounded like "fall once more" because what the hell does that mean? Fall where once more? Fall in love once more? You already are in love…that's the point of the song. Annoying! But, most bizarrely, as I was researching the Cole Porter lyric, I got taken to a website that not only a. offered Cole Porter ring tones but b. the banner on top was Get "I Hate Men" ring tones. That's the song they decided to advertise heavily? I'm dying to see if there's a Sondheim site with Get "Bring Me My Bride" ring tones. By the way, I'm not joking about the Cole Porter. Go to http://www.lyricsdownload.com/cole-porter-i-hate-men-lyrics.html

Tuesday I recorded my audio book with the sweet and talented Jonathan Groff. We wound up taking up so much time because he's one of those people that gets the giggles, and I'm one of those people who only encourages it. There were a lot of us saying to the audio engineer: "OK…Mason dialogue, page 46, here we go." There'd be a pause, Jonathan would inhale and then crazily start laughing and, of course, I would too. It was hilarious, 'til I realized we had to keep stopping so much that we went too long, and I was running out of there at 4:20 PM to catch a 4:30 PM back to Penn Station. Jonathan was telling me about his obsession with Thoroughly Modern Millie. When he first moved here, he auditioned for the ensemble and after he sang, he got the ol' "Thank you." He then told Rob Ashford (The Tony Award-winning choreographer) that he had prepared a dance. First of all, everybody, let that sink in. He then asked if he could perform it, and Rob said yes, perhaps simply to have an amazing story to tell his peers at the Choreographers Club. Jonathan had watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade over and over again 'til he had memorized the dance to the opening number. He did it for Rob…and got a call back! He went to the call back and kept getting through when they'd make cuts, until he finally got ixnayed. But on his way out, he told Rob that it was his favorite show in the world and had him autograph his souvenir program. A few years later, Jonathan ran into Rob again…right after he was nominated for a Tony Award for Spring Awakening. He reminded Rob of the story, and the weird part is, Rob only vaguely remembered. How many people came to audition for him with a memorized dance from the show? Perhaps Rob's brain forgot the whole thing to protect him from remembering the trauma of watching something so awkward.

On Wednesday I went with my mom to South Pacific. All I can say is brava to whomever decided to use the original size orchestra. Thirty delicious instruments! This whole theory that it's too expensive for a full orchestra makes me crazy. Why does no one balk at having custom-made shoes? Ever hear of Florsheim? And, the audience went crazy when the stage moved backwards, revealing the pit with all those musicians. They went even crazier when my mom's cell phone went off during a scene ("Sorry…I thought I turned it off"), but we shan't discuss that. The cast is great and I L-O-V-E-D Loretta Ables Sayre, who plays Bloody Mary. I obsessed with the vibrato she puts on the "ha" in "Happy Talk." Speaking of that song, my friend Mary Ann Hu is her understudy and actually got to go on last Saturday! Because they just opened, she hadn't had a full understudy run-through yet. She sang "Happy Talk" once when she was learning her blocking and told me that it was thrilling/terrifying to sing "Happy Talk" for the second time in her life…and this time be accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra. My friend Chris Gattelli did some great choreography, but I totally laughed when they put on the big Thanksgiving show in Act Two. Everyone is in makeshift costumes, and they announce that Nellie and the gang made their costumes out of old newspapers and stuff found on the island. I'm just wondering where they got the pointe shoes that one of the girls wears. Are they totally isolated in the South Pacific…save for an outlet Capezio store on the isle of Maria Tallchief?

The cast and creators of Glory Days with Seth Rudetsky
photo by Christie Ford

First of all, I announced last week that I was so excited to see the opening night of Glory Days, but I couldn't go because I was in audio recording hell. I figured I'd catch the show this weekend. Then I was so overwhelmed with doing my audio book that I didn't have time to book a Chatterbox guest. I was about to cancel when I got an email from one of the investors in the Broadway show Glory Days telling me that it closed right after opening night. I felt bad for everyone involved in the production and annoyed that I'd never get to see it…but then I thought…wait a minute, this could pay off for me! I called my friend Jesse Vargas, who did the musical arrangements, and he got the whole cast and creators to come to the Chatterbox! It was great. The swing was there, too, and of course, I asked if he had gone on. Alas, no. Everyone had such a great attitude, and no one was bitter. Except maybe, rightly so, Andrew Call, who showed up at the theatre for a meeting the day after opening, not knowing what it was about, and saw a box-office person through the glass of the theatre who mouthed, "Sorry, your show closed!" He was like, "It did?" Unfortunately, the same thing happened to him last year when he did High Fidelity. Before he heard anything from people involved in the show, someone who saw it on Playbill.com called him to say, "Sorry."I feel bad for him and/or advise him to bookmark Playbill.com in his "favorites" to prevent further occurrences of "It did?" Alex Brightman (the swing) said that everyone gathered onstage right before the show on opening night, and Nick Blaemire (the composer) said that no matter what happens, no one can take away the fact that they played Broadway. I thought that was very sweet and mature for his age. Speaking of mature, I was mortified to be onstage surrounded by people whose first Broadway show they listened to was Rent. I felt like Stephen Spinella during the curtain call of Spring Awakening.

James and I hightailed it to City Center on Saturday to see No, No, Nanette. I was very proud of Rosie (O'Donnell) who started taking tap lessons recently so she could tap in the show. Right at the end of the show, she hauled out some steps, and I was mind boggled at how clean they sounded. And, she wasn't tap-synching. Lip-tapping? I don't know the exact word to use, but you know what I mean: having someone backstage tap for her. And, it was definitely her feet tapping onstage…as opposed to what I saw in the film version of "Chicago." People involved in that movie were constantly saying that Richard Gere did all of his own tapping in "Razzle Dazzle." Hmm…I guess that's possible, but a. Why was there never a full body shot? b. Why only shots of the top half of him showing "style," and then the bottom half tapping and c. Why was it filmed completely in the dark? Did all the lights blow in Toronto, and they had to use the ghost light to film that sequence? Couldn't they have gone to a bodega and gotten a couple of 75 watt bulbs?

Anyhoo, I also loved Michael Berresse's amazing dancing and Beth Leavel's hilarity in Nanette. Plus, she is the queen of hitting a high note and making you think, "Wow…she can't belt that, but it sounds amazing in head voice…good choice!" and then, one minute later, belting that same note and then belting one even higher just to show you that she can hit any note she wants, however the hell she wants. Brava!

This week I can finally relax a little (aka pay all my overdue bills…sorry Equity) and continue the "fun" search for a new apartment. James and I are moving in together and want to stay on the Upper West Side. We decided that our ideal apartment is a ground-floor duplex in a brownstone with a backyard (for my doggie, Maggie). We saw two apartments that we loved and both were snatched by someone who applied before us. Not cool! Note to NYC: before you apply for an apartment, please clear it with me at www.sethrudetsky.com. Thanks! All right, everyone, this week I'm also gonna see Spring Awakening one more time because Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele are both leaving, and I get to interview Christine Ebersole at Sirius radio and Boyd Gaines at the Chatterbox. It's another week of Broadway! Peace out!

*

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway" and the novel "Broadway Nights." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and hosts the BC/EFA benefit weekly interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama every Thursday at 6 PM. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

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Seth and his mom.
Seth and his mom.
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