ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Holiday Cheer

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Holiday Cheer
 
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and talk-show host Seth Rudetsky.
Jim Piazza
Jim Piazza

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As you read this, I will be on my way toward having Elite status on Continental Airlines. One needs 25,000 miles to be Elite status which means boarding earlier and getting delicious upgrades, etc. The first in the family to become Elite was Juli (!) because she flew to Texas on every school vacation this year. Then, after James and I went to L.A. for the Make-A-Wish benefit, he became Elite. The only clunker in the family not to have it was me. Last week I mentioned to James that I was just 1,500 miles away from joining and he panicked and informed me that all the miles disappear on December 31st! After that, I'd have to start again from zero. So, I decided to go on a plane trip. Not a trip, people, a plane trip. That's right, I'm flying all the way down to Orlando and then two hours later, flying back up again. So, I get to do the long trip to Newark airport, the wait on the security line, the cramped economy seats and then, not have the vacation. It's essentially all the fun of going to an open call without actually auditioning.

[AUDIO-LEFT] Speaking of fun, this week I went to two parties! On Christmas day, James and I went down to the village to the very New Yorky apartment of Charles Busch. James and I started chatting with Jim Piazza, a playwright who worked a lot with Jimmy Kirkwood (co-author of A Chorus Line and more). Jim Piazza actually traveled all over the country with the notorious Legends and gave us some delish dish which, unfortunately, I can't print. If you don't know, Legends was a play written for two aging divas who are reunited and spend the show being bitchy and having cat fights. It was slated to come to Broadway but never did. Jimmy Kirkwood wrote a book called "Diary of a Mad Playwright," which is all about the ups and downs (mostly downs) on the road traveling with the two stars of the show, Mary Martin and Carol Channing. Jim Piazza said that Carol Channing was a great lady and kind enough to come to Jimmy's memorial but when she was there, she informed him that she "wouldn't read the book." Piazza was with Jimmy Kirkwood on the night that A Chorus Line became the longest running musical. There was a special performance of the show and afterwards Joe Papp came onstage and spoke. He told the creative team beforehand that he wouldn't mention anyone by name except Michael Bennett. Well, in the moment, Joe wound up mentioning some other people and not Jimmy Kirkwood. At the after-party, everyone was drinking and Kirkwood told Piazza he was going to tell off Joe Papp. Piazza tried to dissuade him but Kirkwood stormed up to Papp and said he had a lot of nerve not mentioning him. Joe Papp then said, "I made you tons of money, you have no right to complain." Then, Kirkwood took a swing at him! They both got into it and had to be pulled off each other and right afterwards, Piazza noticed a paparazzo standing nearby. Both he and Kirkwood approached him and Piazza tentatively asked if he saw what just happened. Turns out, he didn't. Kirkwood then said, "I'd be willing to re-stage it right now if you'd like." Seriously! Ever the showman.

James and I had to head out to Connecticut by 7 so we went upstairs to say goodbye to Charles. He was in his kitchen with his partner Eric Myers (who is also my fabulous book agent) and across from them was Joan Rivers. Since we had to catch a train, I popped my head in and told them we're leaving. Joan immediately said, "That's right. Interrupt right in the middle of a riveting story." Busted!!! I hate when that happens to me and I can't believe I did it to one of my comedy idols. I also can't believe she called me on it. What happened to the Christmas spirit? Is it voided because we're both Jews? P.S., my favorite Joan Rivers joke from yesteryear is: "I don't do drugs. Don't do drugs. But every once in a while…if I'm in the mood…I put a little Fresca on a panty shield….perks me right up."

Lucie Arnaz
photo by Aubrey Reuben

James and I went to Connecticut to go to the annual Christmas party thrown by Shawn Moniger and David Friedman. Shawn was a technical director of many of my early comedy shows at Don't Tell Mama and I've known David since the mid-'90s. David is a fantastic conductor and composer/lyricist. He produced Nancy Lamott's first record and all of her subsequent ones. He also wrote many of her signature songs, including the beautiful "Help Is On The Way" which is sung every year at the Easter Bonnet Competition. I found a clip of Nancy singing the gorgeous "I'll Be Here With You" by David. Watch here. At the party, I ran into the lovely Lucie Arnaz and she told me she just recorded a new CD that is dedicated to her Latina roots. I was so star-struck thinking that her father was Desi Arnaz. How cool is that? On the way out, James and I were chatting with her daughter and Lucie was standing on the landing above us. Lucie pointed a camera at us and I smiled, waiting for her to take the picture. Lucie kept repeating "Happy Holidays, Seth" and I remained frozen with a smile on my face. I didn't know what was taking so long for the picture to be taken til I realized that she wasn't pointing a camera at us, she was pointing a video camera at us. By the time I started to wave awkwardly, she turned it off. So now Lucie had a wonderful three-minute video of me with an uncomfortable smile on my face, refusing to move any part of my body.

David is a fantastic conductor who did the original Joseph… and Song and Dance on Broadway as well as the first three big Disney musical films starting with "The Little Mermaid." I love the story he told me about conducting the film "Beauty and the Beast." If you don't know, when you conduct a film, you have the orchestra in front of you, as well as a screen that's playing the movie. On the bottom of the screen is an animated line that goes across the screen, like a fuse. At certain moments, the line starts moving and when it gets to the end, that's the time you have to hit a certain sting in the orchestra. For instance, let's say the orchestra is accompanying Belle getting a new dress. The music plays at a certain tempo but then the fuse will begin moving because they have to hit a chord on the exact moment when she suddenly sees herself in the mirror. The whole opening sequence of "Beauty and the Beast" had tons of those moments so Disney reserved three hours for David to rehearse and get the orchestra to play it correctly. Turns out, he did it in one take. Brava!

I made David tell James my favorite story about David's lawyer, Sandra, who I also use. Sandra happened to be representing a former female porn star a while back. Not for anything porn related, just for something standard. Wherever they went, Sandra would notice men staring at the porn star with a look of recognition on their face. One day, a man approached them and said to Sandra's client, "I'm such a fan! Can I please have your autograph!" As the woman was signing, he turned to Sandra and said, "And I also love yourfilms as well." There was a pause and then Sandra decided to go with it. She replied, "Thank you very much," with a smile. Then she added, "Which of my films are your favorites?" He told her two titles (which cannot be printed here) and then asked her for her autograph. Sandra didn't know what to sign because her regular name was so boring. She suddenly remembered what her hairdresser called the color he was using on her hair the week before. She then got out her pen and signed it Chinchilla Fudge.

After the party, we got a ride home with Robin Vogel who played Cha-Cha in the original Broadway run of Grease. That show ran for eight years and even though there were around seven Danny Zukos during the course of the run, there were just two Cha-chas and she was the second. When the Hollywood movie was being made, they had the whole Broadway cast try-out, though it was obviously a courtesy call. After the audition, Robin was told that she was "too old" for the film. She was 19 years old. May I remind you, Stockard Channing was 33. I guess Robin auditioned on opposite day.

James and I saw the revival of A Little Night Music. I love the story of that show so much because it's about real love, not "I met you today, you're attractive, I love you" (AKA me in my twenties). I also want to give a big brava to Erin Davie and Aaron Lazar, who were terrific in their roles as the Count and Countess. "A Weekend in the Country" remains one of my favorite Act One finales ever. Watch my deconstruction and hear the brilliance of that number, here. On Juli's first day of school vacation, we all went to see Burn the Floor which is filled with tons of hot dancers and is like a live version of Dancing With The Stars where you don't have to close one eye to block out Tom DeLay. When it began, the music sounded great and I turned to James, annoyed, and whispered, "I can't believe I'm here supporting a show with canned music. Why can't they use live musicians? Disgraceful." Literally seconds later, a curtain opened and revealed a full live band. I was B squared AKA Busted on Broadway.

OK, this week I'm seeing Christine Pedi's There's No Bizness like Snow Bizness and I'm recommending seeing either the gorgeously voiced Liz Callaway at the Metropolitan Room or Tony-Award winner Lillias White at the Granite Room for New Year's Eve. See you in 2010!!!!!

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Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls (recorded on Nonesuch Records) and Hair (recorded on Ghostlight Records). 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's written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com starring himself, Jonathan Groff, Andrea Martin and Kristin Chenoweth. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com where he has MANY sassy video deconstructions.

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