ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Guys and Dolls

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Guys and Dolls Yay! We just celebrated Memorial Day, which means it's almost summer, and that means it's almost time for the Rosie cruise!

This is the sixth summer I've done it, and every year I've tried to get Cheyenne Jackson to come, but he's always had something else going on. Finally, I got him booked, and he's singing in the opening and closing shows (and perhaps have a shipboard romance with me). Also, when Gregg Kamisky and Kelli O'Donnell (who run the cruise) saw [title of show] at Gypsy of the Year, they were so blown away by their presentation that they booked the cast for the cruise right after the show. The amazing thing is, [title of show] is creating a new 45-minute show to premiere on the boat! I'm so excited. It's like when the British version of "The Office" ended and then, a year later, there was another episode. The cruise website has posted lots of great videos of past cruises and performances that you have to watch. There's Andrea McArdle singing an impromptu "On My Own" from Les Miz, and you must take a gander at the one with Capathia Jenkins. It's from the last cruise and she's singing "(Let a Big Black Lady) Stop the Show" from Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me. The white back-up singers have a lyric asking if they can clap along, and Capathia busts them by singing that they can, but not on the nerdy first and third beat. Cut to: When the song starts getting sassy in the video, the cruise audience starts clapping along…on the first and third beat. It's very art imitates life slash which came first the chicken or the egg slash she's my mother, she's my sister. Watch it at www.rfamilyvacations.com.

I took my mom to see Hair, and we loved it. It was very role reversal because that's the first show my parents took me to see! On the way to the show, I texted Gavin Creel, and said I was coming with my mom, but I couldn't remember what theatre it was at. Gavin wrote that he was nervous because he didn't know if he was in full voice and then he tried to trick me by saying the show was at the Longacre Theatre! Finally, he admitted it was at the Al Hirschfeld, and I wrote I was looking forward to seeing him completely nude. He wrote back that he assumed the last message was from my mother. Brava! Anyhoo, I loved the show, and I'm so happy that brilliant score is getting a new life on Broadway. As for Gavin, as soon as he started singing, I got tears in my eyes. He sounds amazing! I was devastated months ago because he turned down major auditions for Broadway leads because he was contracted to play the lead in Godspell. Then Godspell got ixnayed, and I kept obsessing about all the great roles he didn't go in for. But I'm so happy that it worked out the way it did because he's so great as Claude, and he got a delicious Tony nomination. If you don't know his phenomenal voice, watch my deconstruction at http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/2008/09/.

On my Wednesday Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show, I had three leads from Rock of Ages and the cast of Off-Broadway's For Lovers Only. I'd love to re-cap the show, but I'd mainly like to focus on the fact that one of the For Lovers Only cast, Glenn Seven Allen, to be specific, got to the show by riding his scooter. No, not a motorized scooter, a "put one foot on it while the other frantically pushes against the sidewalk" scooter. I busted him for having the same mode of transportation as Juli, who's 8. I asked him if it was the same brand as hers ("Hannah Montana"), and he claimed that his is the adult version called a "Razor" and it goes incredibly fast. I said that I've seen scooters in action and it probably goes the speed of the warm-down I do after my jog, and he challenged me to a race. I suddenly realized that we were in the middle of an interview show and promptly asked him and the cast to sing the opening medley from their show. I listened intently while internally debating which was more annoying: a scooter, a Segway or a Jazzy. So far, I've come to no conclusion.

Then I interviewed Mitchell Jarvis, Wesley Taylor and Lauren Molina from Rock of Ages. Lauren played Johanna in the last revival of Sweeney Todd (directed by John Doyle), where the actors were also the band (she played cello). She said that when she first saw the model of the set, she asked where the music stands were. Turns out, the actors had to memorize all of the instrumental parts! All I can say is, I played Grease on Broadway for years and one time my music fell while I was playing, and I completely had no idea what was coming. The actors were forced to memorize their music in a terrifying kamikaze-style. First, they would play through a song and do the staging. Then, they'd run-through the song again, but this time John Doyle would walk around and arbitrarily take people's music off their stands! Ahh! Too soon! How can you have everything memorized that quickly? Do you focus on singing it correctly? Playing the right notes? It's like a scary version of musical chairs/duck, duck, goose/"Sophie's Choice."

The Rock of Ages cast has been doing a web series about their backstage life on Broadway, and you can watch the episodes at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yI60Nvv2yMQ

On Thursday at the Chatterbox, I interviewed Steve Rosen, who plays Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls and is one of the co-founders of Don't Quit your Night Job. You can watch all of those star-studded videos at www.dontquitnyc.com. Steve began his early life as an actor because his parents sent him to French Woods: a sleep-away theatre camp when he was seven! Seven! I'm too scared to go to sleep-away camp now. That's like having the mean kids at school around all day long, instead of getting to escape them at 3 PM. But then again, who are the mean kids at theatre camp? Elaine Stritch? Anyhoo, the first part he was cast in was as one of the children in The King and I. I guess the adult roles went to a 12-year-old. Steve said he was supposed to run out onstage in his costume which was essentially a grass skirt, kneel and then run off. Well, when he got up, his skirt got caught and wound up coming off, so he was standing in his underwear. He didn't run off the stage crying, but instead started doing a dance, becoming a seven-year-old version of a vaudevillian/Catskills entertainer. I asked him if he auditioned for anything while he was studying at NYU, and he said that he went in for Forbidden Broadway. Steve is so funny, and I told him he must have been hilarious at his audition. I asked him to tell me his audition song, knowing it must have been a brava. Steve said that he sang "Willkommen." I waited to hear the punch line. I finally asked him what his spin was on the song. Did he do it as four different Broadway stars? Did he change the lyrics to be about the musicals that were running at the time. No, turns out, he sang it as is. Suffice it to say, I wasn't the only one miffed by his choice. After he sang it at the audition, the director asked him to do it again…but make it funny. He didn't. That reminds me, I do volunteer shows for Lifebeat, which means that I bring singers to hospitalized patients with AIDS. For many years, I worked in the prison ward of a hospital where all the patients were prisoners. One week I promised them a couple of belters and a great comic singer. Cut to: The show began, and everyone was doing their best songs, and a certain actor whose name I won't reveal sang his big comic song. Halfway through the show, one of the prisoners raised his hand and innocently asked, "When do we get to hear the funny song?" Ouch. Then followed a quandary: Do I say, "Um….you've actually heard the funny song" or do I lie and say, "He couldn't be here this week."

Steve had a friend from camp named Mona, who worked for Tara Rubin Casting. She got him a job as a reader for the national tour of The Producers, which means that when actors come in and have to read a scene, Steve read all the other roles. He said it was amazing getting to act out all of these great scenes in front of Susan Stroman and Mel Brooks and getting to play opposite all of these actors that he'd only seen onstage. That led to him being the reader for the Spamalot auditions. At that point, he had already been cast as the role of Joe Pesci in Jersey Boys, which was just about to begin its out-of-town try out in La Jolla. At his first day reading for Spamalot, he was thrilled that he made Mike Nichols laugh a few times, and at the end of the day Mike walked up to him and told him that he was funny! After a few days, Tara told Steve to sing a song so Mike could hear him. That night, he got a hysterical phone call from Mona: "You are about to get a call from your agent because they're going to offer you Spamalot!!" His agent called and told Steve that he was offered ensemble but a while later, someone dropped out and Steve was moved up to Sir Bedevere. His role wasn't very big and when they were in Chicago, Steve was told that the one song he was featured in ("Burn Her") was being cut. He didn't have a diva fit, but his face/attitude made it known that he was devastated/angry etc... While he was in his dressing room, Michael McGrath came in and told him that he felt bad the song was cut, but Steve needed to do some damage control. Michael said that Steve's actions showed that he felt the size of his role onstage was more important than making sure the show was good. Michael indicated that if he didn't, he could be fired! PS, I was having a total anxiety attack hearing this story. Steve was mortified and apologized to everybody in the cast and then was told that Mike Nichols wanted to meet with him an hour before rehearsal. Steve was positive he was going to be fired, but instead Mike Nichols told him that Michael McGrath gave him great advice, and it's a good thing he apologized or things might not have turned out so well (my anxiety attack tripled at this point). Mike Nichols told Steve that his job from now on was "not to be funny." (Sounds like a job for my hospital-singing friend). Nichols said that Steve was there to set everybody else up to be funny. It sounds horrible, but Steve said that having that kind of role was actually a great learning experience in how comedy works. Another thing about Mike Nichols is that he doesn't like people to do the same comedy bits every night. After a while he wants you to get rid of your signature bits or, as he calls it, "kill your babies." It prevents the show from becoming stale and leads to finding new bits. New bits? Hmm…all I can say is "Brava," "A-mahzing" and "Anyhoo."

Okay, this week I start rehearsals for my second time doing the musical version of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, now entitled Radio Girl. I've been told that my part was expanded…aka from six lines to seven. And, this weekend I fly down to Charlotte, NC, to do my Deconstructing Broadway show and an audition Master Class at the Northwest School of the Arts. Get tickets at (704) 293-4423 or go to http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/see-me-live/ for deets. Peace out!

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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" 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.sethrudetsky.com.)

Wesley Taylor, Lauren Molina, Mitchell Jarvis and Seth Rudetsky
Wesley Taylor, Lauren Molina, Mitchell Jarvis and Seth Rudetsky