Onstage & Backstage: "Hello, Gorgeous!" Meeting Barbra Streisand and The Stories Behind A Chorus Line

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: "Hello, Gorgeous!" Meeting Barbra Streisand and The Stories Behind A Chorus Line A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
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San Francisco, here I come! Literally. I'm on a United flight bound for the West Coast and the Hotel Nikko. I'm doing my Deconstructing Broadway at Feinstein's and then doing it again next Friday night at Shea's in Buffalo. By the time you read this, I'll be back in New York with horrific jet lag from the taking the red eye Sunday night, but you can still come see me in Buffalo! Tix here.

This was a momentous week for me! First let me begin with "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM radio talk show. I decided to have an hour dedicated to the LaGuardia High School, or Performing Arts High School or, as Irene Cara fans call it, the "Fame" school. I had Priscilla Lopez, who made the school famous with the song "Nothing" from A Chorus Line. First of all, she assured me the whole song is true. What she didn't say is that before she was dying to be a serious actress, she wanted to major in dance. While she was in junior high school, she went to take classes with a teacher who was a bigwig in the dance department, thinking it would give her an "in." The teacher was super harsh, and Priscilla said that she's is the type of person who doesn't have the "I'll show you" attitude after someone says she stinks. She simply thinks she stinks. So, when the teacher yelled, "Don't come back next week unless you're serious about dance!" she simply didn't come back and, instead, auditioned for P.A. as an acting major. Of course, once she was in A Chorus Line, the dancer teacher came to the show and assured her "I always knew you had potential." Uh-huh.

Priscilla Lopez
Priscilla Lopez

As for the real-life Mr. Carp, the reason Priscilla told him she felt "nothing" was not to be contrary, but to be honest. She didn't know how to conjure up feelings while she was acting and wanted "Mr. Carp" to teach her. She thought the other 14-year-olds were pretending to be feeling something, but she thought it was better to be honest and show her teacher that she wanted to learn how to be a better actress. Instead, he basically announced she wasn't good enough for the school, and immediately all the students then turned on her and she was the class pariah. Of course, there was the one time they had to mime doing a simply everyday task and, because she was a dancer, she was very comfortable being physical and incredibly accurate as she mimed sewing something. After she did the excersize, Mr. Carp asked the class what they thought and, as usual, they said she wasn't believable. He then told Priscilla that he felt her sewing looked very realistic and suddenly all the kids agreed. It was basically a "Lord of the Flies" mob mentality.

Laura Dean
Laura Dean

During her evaluation that first year, he told Priscilla she wasn't right for the class and asked her what high school she'd have to go to if she left P.A. She started crying and told him she'd have to go to Girls High, which had a horrific reputation. Well, because he knew Girls High was incredibly dangerous, he let her stay. Priscilla now admits she was totally lying and wouldn't have had to go to Girls High! A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. If you've never seen her perform the number, here she is in the original

I then spoke with Laura Dean, who not only went to P.A. but was also one of the stars of the film "Fame." Laura began in the business with my dream job: performing in the original production of Annie! She was at Goodspeed in the summer of 1976 as an orphan as well as the Annie understudy. However, even though she was the same age as Andrea McArdle, she was much more physically developed. One day the director gave notes in front of the entire cast and told her, "Laura! Do something about your t*ts! They're bouncing all over the place." I can't even imagine how mortified she was. When the show came to Broadway, all the orphans had to re-audition and at the end of the day, they were split into two groups. All the girls who did the Goodspead production were on one side of the stage and she was told to go with the group on the other side. Her group then got a, "Thank you. That's all we need." No one told her she wasn't cast or why. Just a total fade out. I'm not saying she was traumatized up until today, but it reminds of when Harvey Fierstein met with John Lovitz, who used to play him on "SNL" and yell, "I just wanna be loved! Is that so wrong?" I remember year later they saw each other and John wanted to know if Harvey was upset. Harvey said, "I forgave you... yesterday."

Laura played Lisa, the dance major who's kicked out of the program and then almost commits suicide in front of a subway train. Laura said that in the original script, her character actually did committ suicide! But the studio told the scriptwriters that they could not have a lead character die. Phew! During all of her dance scenes, she's busted by the dance teacher for not trying hard enough. The teacher keeps yelling "Where's the sweat Lisa?" Turns out, there was no air conditioning where they filmed and Laura was actually covered in sweat! They had tons of leotards and tights that she had to keep changing into after every take because they'd all be soaked! Even thought Laura a great singer (she was amazing playing Mrs. Walker on Broadway in The Who's Tommy) she had not been written into the big final song because her character had originally not been alive to do it. Alan Parker, the director, told her repeatedly that she would not be in the final song. Well, Laura is one of those people who walks around singing and one day, she was in the bathroom of the church on 46th St. where they filmed the school scenes. She was singing as usual and, since it was co-ed, a guy heard her. He told her she had a great voice and she quipped, "Hmph! Alan Parker doesn't think so. He's not letting me sing in the film." Well, the guy who heard her singing was the right person to impress because it was Michael Gore, who wrote the score! He wound up using her to record the demo for the entire finale and then giving her the first solo. Laura is the one who sings the beginning of "I Sing The Body Electric" and sounds amazing on the high note. Watch

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I wound up not recording "Seth Speaks" in my usual studio because someone else needed it. Normally, I would have been very annoyed I had to move, but the person who needed it was... Barbra Streisand! She was coming to SiriusXM for an interview to promote her new CD "Partners." Her longtime producer Jay Landers was in charge of the interview and I knew the whole thing would have tons of security, etc. so I didn't even try to get in to see it. Well, as I was about to take the elevator up to SiriusXM, I heard my name called. It was Jay Landers! I asked how he knew who I was, and he told me that he watches my videos! AH! I was so thrilled he had seen me do my deconstructions. Especially since I've done so many of Barbra! Then James piped up and asked if he ever showed any to Barbra. He said yes! Ah!!!

James asked what Barbra's reaction was and Jay said she asked, "How does he know that?" HOLY COW! Barbra has seen me deconstruct her. I, of course, started crying, because it's such a dream come true. I went upstairs to do my show, and the head of talent booking approached me and told me that Barbra passed by a poster of Josh Groban with my name underneath listed as the interviewer and Barbra said, "Seth Rudetsky? People tell me that he talks about me all the time on the Broadway channel." Yes, I do!

Finally, my "Fame" show finished recording, and I was actually able to watch Barbra be interviewed (through severely thick glass). Someone asked her how she met James Brolin and she said it was sort of a set-up and, based on what she knew about him, she showed up expecting to see this man with a head full of thick hair. When she got there, he actually had a very short crew cut. Barbra touched his head and asked, "Who f*cked up your hair?" He loved that she was so honest and they've now been married for years! After the interview, her director, Richard Jay-Alexander ran up to me and told me to stay put. He then grabbed me, took me over to Barbra and introduced me, face-to-face! She shook my hand (!) and said, "Seth Rudetsky? You know... people play you for me!" And I've been in a swoon ever since. It really was amazing.

If you've never seen one of my Barbra deconstructs, here's one of my faves. While you watch that, I'm going to make more Barbra deconstructions so more people can "show me to her." 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.)

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