ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Heidi, Carey, Howie, Cheyenne, Bebe, Brenda, Derek and Ashley

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Heidi, Carey, Howie, Cheyenne, Bebe, Brenda, Derek and Ashley I was working it this week in Times Square. And I mean legit work, not Donna Summer "Bad Girls"-style work.
Cheyenne Jackson sings for Seth
Cheyenne Jackson sings for Seth Photo by Lindsay Lavin

This week was the launch of the new weekly interviews I'm doing through Sirius Radio and the Broadway League. The Times Square Information Center has a new concierge service that hooks up reservations in restaurants, parking ...and Broadway show tickets. And, every Wednesday at noon I'm doing interviews with stars of current Broadway shows. I go through their careers, show clips of the shows they're in and at the end of the hour, they belt out a song. In order to promote the Wednesday series, I did an interview every day last week. It was so fun! Here's a recap:

Monday was the cast of [title of show]. I asked Heidi Blickenstaff about her Broadway debut. She did the national tour of The Full Monty playing Susan Hershey/understudying Vicki Nichols (played by Andrea Burns). Unfortunately, 9/11 happened, and the whole tour was canceled after just a little bit of time on the road. But then Heidi got an offer to do the show on Broadway! She was psyched that she only had three weeks to wait. A few days later, she got a call from Nancy Harrington, the stage manager, and Heidi thought it was to set up her first rehearsal. Nancy said, "How would you like to save a Broadway show?" Huh? Turns out, Emily Skinner (who was playing Vicki) was out and so were some other female cast members. There were so few women in that show that they literally ran out of people to play roles. And, the woman who understudied Vicki was the only one who could go on for another role, so there was nobody available who could play Vicki. Heidi had gone on for the part a few times on tour but never had an actual rehearsal. Did she remember it enough to play it on Broadway? Did she have enough time to review? It was 5 PM! Of course, Heidi said yes and called her friend Ryan Perry to come see the show so she'd have a witness. It was all such a whirlwind that she didn't meet Marcus Neville, who was playing her husband, 'til she was onstage… kissing him! Heidi was used to doing the tour in big theatres, so her performance was geared towards that. After the show, Nancy, the stage manager, thanked her profusely for saving the show and then said, "Sister, you gotta dial it down." Apparently, the Eugene O'Neill Theatre isn't a 3,000-seat sports arena.

The devastating news is [title of show] just announced their closing date for Oct.12. Wah! But just as I heard that announcement, I checked my mail at Sirius radio and saw this in my inbox:

Dear Seth, After hearing you obsess over [title of show], I finally stuck it in my Amazon shopping cart when I ordered my last haul. OMG — that album is so hilarious. I always enjoyed what you played on Sirius of it — love, love the straightforward 4 part harmonies and the clever lyrics. But to hear 'Die Vampire Die' and 'Filling Out the Form' for the first time was a snort-laugh out loud experience. I think 'Die Vampire Die' is just as uplifting as the Rice Krispies treats sentiment in that other song, albeit with some hysterical lyrics. (Je suis whore!). Sorry to babble - but wanted to say thanks for obsessing over good stuff like this, it makes us all better listeners and more appreciative as an audience.-Tasha in Washington State So, [title of show] may be ending it's Broadway run, but it will always live on! But while it's still on Broadway, see it! Don't be like me who kept waiting to see Lily Tomlin's show, never did, and was then devastated for 20 years whenever people would talk about it ('til I finally saw the revival).

I was standing online at Starbucks around a year ago and made some sassy comment, which I usually do in public to random people around me. Half the time I get a "I don't know you, crazy person" look, and the other half I get a friendly nod. Well, this time I got a friendly nod from the lady in back of me, we started talking and soon I found out she was in Mamma Mia!. That was how I first met Carey Anderson. Now she's starring in Avenue Q as Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut, and I interviewed her, and her co-star, Howie Michael Smith, on Tuesday at noon. Carey grew up in the Midwest and did lots of sports, totally like my childhood, just without the Midwest and sports part. She got the Mamma Mia! tour as the understudy for Sophie (the daughter who's getting married). After she did the tour for a while, they asked her to come audition for the Broadway show…along with the girl she was understudying! The "fun" part was they both flew to New York together on the same plane…side-by-side. They auditioned at the same time and then flew back to the tour together. PLANE FLIGHT CONVERSATION:
POSSIBLE SOPHIE 1: How'd it go?
POSSIBLE SOPHIE 2: Really well. What about you?
POSSIBLE SOPHIE 1: Really well, too.
POSSIBLE SOPHIE 2: That's great.
POSSIBLE SOPHIE 1: Good for you!
POSSIBLE SOPHIE 1 and 2: So…yeah…
*Total silence for rest of plane ride.

Cut to: Carey's agent got the news that Carey got the gig…but decided not to tell her before the show that night. I guess she didn't want her to be in a good mood for that performance??? Finally, at midnight, her agent called and told her she got it. Carey was thrilled…and half-awake. The crazy part is, she had her wedding planned for a Saturday, and they wanted her to begin in the show that same week! So, she literally made her Broadway debut on a Wednesday and got married that Saturday! She said she's glad she has pictures because she remembers nothing.

Carey's devastating audition story was when she tried out for a non-Equity Grease tour and was told her eyes were too small. Then the auditioner took out Carey's 8x10, pointed to the eyes in the photo and circled them to prove the point. Knowing how expensive 8x10s are, they kindly handed her picture back on her way out of the audition…with the eyes circled in pen. I guess she could use that at another audition. "Hi! Um, before I sing, I just quickly want to point out that my eyes are small. I had them both circled on the 8x10 I gave you just to give 'ya a heads up."

Howie Michael Smith was working as a singing waiter in New York and hating his job. One night he couldn't take it and left his shift, crying. When he got home, he had a message on his machine telling him that he got Avenue Q on Broadway! He went in the next day and sat through the wait-staff meeting where they were all degraded by the management, and then got to drop the delicious bomb that this was his last shift because he was going to Broadway! That same thing happened to Christine Ebersole with her first Broadway show, but it closed after three weeks, and she came begging for her job back. I asked him for a mortifying moment, and he said the most embarrassing thing to happen onstage was right after the song "You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Makin' Love)." He, as Princeton, said a line to Kate Monster, and Princeton's eye fell off. Ouch. I don't which is more devastating; having your eye fall off, or having both of them circled.

If it's Wednesday, it must be Cheyenne Jackson. He stopped by at noon, gabbed and then sang two songs! He talked about playing Matthew in Altar Boyz from very early on in its inception. He did the really successful run of it at NYMF and was all set to open Off-Broadway when he got offered a Broadway gig understudying Jarrod Emick. He quit Altar Boyz to go to Broadway as an understudy, but then Jared left the show, and Cheyenne got the lead! It was All Shook Up, and I'm still devastated over his lack of a Tony nomination. During our "Sirius Live On Broadway" show, he brought up someone from the audience and sang "Something About You" from Altar Boyz. Gary Adler wrote the music and lyrics, and that song is fantastic. If you don't know the show, Altar Boyz is about a Christian boy band and the chorus to the song ends every time with, "There's something about you, baby…Girl, you make me wanna wait."

Right after the interview, my mom and I saw the matinee of Xanadu. It's my third time seeing it, and it's still great! The cast is so crazily talented, and they sound fantastic. My mother loved it, and after the show I was regaling her with funny Jackie Hoffman stories. I've played a lot of Jackie's shows, and one of my favorite sections she does is when she talks about doing a B'nai B'rith show. Afterwards, an older lady saw her in the elevator. She looked at Jackie and said, "Can I say something?" which, Jackie says, is Jewish for "I'm gonna say something." Amazingly accurate bust.

Thursday was the big press conference, and we had Bebe Neuwirth and Brenda Braxton. I asked Bebe about her childhood and, turns out, she started out as a ballerina. But when she was 13 she saw Ben Vereen in Pippin on Broadway and suddenly knew she was going to grow up and do that style of choreography… aka Fosse. What's amazing is that her first Tony Award was for the Fosse show Sweet Charityand it was presented to her by Ben Vereen! Clytemnestra? (Didn't she predict the future? It's the one thing I remember from AP English, besides being yelled at daily.) Bebe talked about doing the national tour of A Chorus Line very soon after the show opened on Broadway. She understudied and then took over the role of Sheila. Sheila is the one who is "gonna be 30 real soon…and I'm real glad." And, after the "kids" get a break, she asks if the adults can smoke. When Bebe played the role, she was 19! She's like Jonathan Freeman who said, "I was 40 when I was 10." Bebe said that she had the attitude of Sheila down, but she was so young she still had baby fat. When Michael Bennett came to see the show, he wanted her to start wearing a belt as Sheila because he couldn't see her waist! Then, she took over the role of Cassie! You know, the one who's been in the business forever? The one Zack doesn't want to go back to chorus? I'm sure the audience was like, Go back to chorus? Does he mean high school chorus?

Brenda Braxton, the current Velma in Chicago, joined me after Bebe. I asked her about doing Smokey Joe's Café. Turns out, she didn't have an audition for it originally, but heard they were looking for a "Brenda Braxton type." What the-? Isn't she a "Brenda Braxton type?" She happened to be in the rehearsal building where they were having auditions, and her friend who was working on the show got her in. She got the role and did the entire five-year-run of the show. You may ponder how someone does that without getting bored. If you're Brenda Braxton, you'd answer that query in the beautiful brownstone you own. Next question. I asked her about the morning of the Tony nominations. She said that she was sleeping but kept hearing her answering machine clicking, so she knew something was up. She decided to call her mother to find out if she was nominated, but her mom wasn't home. However, the outgoing message was "You have reached the mother of Tony-nominated Brenda Braxton." Her mom works fast!

Friday, I had Ashley Spencer and Derek Keeling, who play Sandy and Danny in Grease, and that night I went to go see it. That theatre was packed! They both sounded and looked great. Ashley began as a ballet dancer and during the finale she did a crazy high battement and then went right into a split! Brava! I was also impressed by Ace Young from "American Idol." He plays Kenickie, and I thought he had a great stage presence. Apparently, so did everyone else because anytime he did anything (sang, danced, blinked), the audience reacted like Paula Abdul at an open bar.

This week I'm doing Project Shaw for my second time. The show is Caesar and Cleopatra (by George Bernard Shaw), and there are some amazing actors in it including Madeleine Martin, Brian Murray and Daphne Rubin-Vega. I'm going to try not to be intimidated by everyone around and hope that Shaw requires my signatures: bad diction and extensive mugging. Get tickets at ProjectShaw.com.

Lin-Manuel Miranda from In the Heights just finished editing the second episode of Legally Brown: The Search for the Next Piragua Guy. In this episode, Hunter Bell (from [title of show]) and I square off in a tense vocal coaching. The whole thing was improv, and there are certain moments where you totally see me start to laugh. I can't help it! It was hilarious…and I'm unprofessional. You must watch it! I have it on my website, www.SethRudetsky.com.

Finally, If you're in NYC this week, come by the Times Square Information Center on Wednesday at noon to see an interview/performance with some of the kids of Spring Awakening. And, I do mean kids… they're all like 19 (aka perfect for Cassie). 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.sethrudetsky.com.)

Bebe Neuwirth and Seth
Bebe Neuwirth and Seth Photo by Lindsay Lavin
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