Onstage & Backstage: How Did I End Up on the Double D List?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: How Did I End Up on the Double D List?
 
In this week's look at Seth Rudetsky's life, readers learn behind-the-scene stories of the first-ever Elsie Fest, as well as history of the cult favorite musical Grease.

My traveling will soon begin; this Saturday I go to NJPAC and do a Sondheim celebration with Judy Kuhn, James Monroe Iglehart, Tony Yazbeck, Len Cariou and Vanessa Williams. Then Oct. 10 I'm at the Madison on Fire Island with Andrea Martin where she's promoting "Andrea Martin's Lady Parts" and I'm promoting "Theater Geek." We're being interviewed by Christine Pedi and doing sections from Andrea's hilarious show. On Oct. 25 I'm in Scottsdale, AZ, doing Deconstructing Broadway and Oct. 30 I'm in San Francisco at the Nourse doing a show with Darren Criss! All details and links at sethtv.com/see-me-live/calendar.

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But first, New York: I had the original Connie Wong, Baayork Lee on "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM interview show. Like her character in A Chorus Line says, she began her Broadway career at age five in The King And I! A few years later, however, she got too big and they replaced her. She remembers walking to the subway to go back to her apartment in Chinatown and turning around. She looked back at Broadway, put her fist in the air and yelled, "I'll be back!" She was eight years old. She did indeed come back doing many shows including Promises, Promises and being one of the three featured dancers in "Turkey Lurkey." If you've never seen my full deconstruction of that Michael Bennett brilliance, watch this:

Speaking of "Turkey Lurkey," Baayork is restaging that with the blonde in the purple dress from that number, Margo Sappington, and it's one of the many numbers being featured in the National Asian Artists Project big show Oct. 5 at the Skirball Center. It's basically every hit Broadway song ever with an enormous cast. Get tix at naaproject.org. On Thursday, I interviewed original Danny Zuko, Barry Bostwick, at the "Chatterbox" and even though I did the 1994 Grease revival, I told him I love the original version of "Summer Nights." Yes, the movie version is fun but it's very pop, whereas the original Broadway was much more rock 'n' roll. Here he is with original Sandy, Carole Demas! This was before widespread use of body mics so all the solos were done holding microphones. I love it!

However, I had to admit to him that as much I love the original "Summer Nights," I also feel that "You're The One That I Want" is much more satisfying than the original Grease finale: "All Choked Up." He immediately admitted that "All Choked Up" clanked and he tried everything to make it work and finally settled on ripping his shirt off during the number. I guess when ya got it, expose it. He remembered auditioning for Danny Zuko and said it was one of those horrible auditions where during the callback, every boy up for Danny and every girl up for Sandy were auditioning on the stage together! The Dannys were paired up with Sandys and had to do the drive-in scene. Turns out, that's when he spontaneously come up with the classic bit that's in the show (and film) where Danny wants to give Sandy his ring but it's too tight…so he wipes his finger through his greasy hair to loosen it up.

I don't think he gets any cash for having that bit added to the script but he did tell us this: While Grease was in rehearsals, the producers told the cast the show still needed $10,000 and asked if they wanted to chip in an investment. If they put in the money, they'd all get a percentage of the profits. When Barry told me, I was so excited to hear how much money they've all made since the 70's but Barry instead said that everyone in the show was a struggling actor and they couldn't scrape together the money. Yay? I'm sure they're all fine with missing out on making a percentage of a musical that became the longest-running Broadway show after it opened, was made into a film, revived twice on Broadway and still plays all over the world. The $400 per week Equity salary they made for the short time they played their respective roles more then makes up for it. Not since Henry Winkler told me that he was offered the role of Danny Zuko in the film and turned it down. He then added that's why John Travolta now owns a plane and he doesn't.

Game night
Game night

Last week began with two events on the same night. When James and I put together the benefit in June for You Gotta Believe and C.O.A.C (to help older foster kids get adopted) we raised a lot of money with auction items on Charity Buzz. One of them was a game night with stars from "Smash" and it finally happened last Monday. Mike and Mary Murphy bid a lot of money to come over and play games with "Smash" stars Ann Harada and Megan Hilty, "Smash" composer Marc Shaiman and "Smash" glorified extra: me. We had such a great time! Mike and Mary were so nice and a lot of fun…and brought me stunning orchids! We started with "Celebrity," where you have teams of three and you give clues to your teammates to help them guess the names of various celebrities. Marc Shaiman and I were on the same team and I'm not saying we completely wiped the floor of the other team but…let's just say we did very well. We ended the night playing "Apples To Apples," which is a game that I love. Apparently not everyone feels the same way. I'm not saying Marc hated it, but these are the photos he sent me the next day.

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The game night began at 7 and at 9 PM I hightailed it down to the Edison Ballroom because Ars Nova was saluting producer Jill Furman, Lin-Manuel Miranda and his director Tommy Kail. I was asked to be in the song near the end of the show where producer Jeffrey Seller would tell the audience that since Lin was in the audience and therefore unavailable to play Hamilton tonight, it gave him a chance to see other actors who could possibly play the role one day. They came up with a medley from Hamilton that featured the cast and an array of people playing the title role who could possibly do it one day (Joshua Henry) and those who would never be cast (Steven Pasquale) as well as those were shockingly inappropriate (Bridget Everett, Laura Osnes, Dan Lauria and me!).

Backstage before the event
Backstage before the event

I was really excited to do it but very nervous. Usually I obsess about shows I love and memorize the cast album. Well, when I was asked to do this there wasn't a cast album! They sent me the track from the yet-to-be-released album and the sheet music and I listened to it obsessively. I was asked to do the song "Say No To This," which is when Hamilton describes having an affair with a woman that basically derails his career. Not only was I scared I wouldn't be able to learn that section of the song relatively fast but I'd also be singing in front of Lin! And by "singing" I also mean "rapping." Not since the rapping Grandma has someone been so un-hip. It was, however, really cool to do because I was singing it opposite Jasmine Cephas Jones, who plays the part in the show. When I first rehearsed it, I felt like I was doing "Music Minus One." If ya don't know, classical musicians can get recordings of the orchestra part of concertos and then play along with them. So, it's the full orchestra minus the part they're doing. When we did the song it was like listening to track from the album they sent me but Lin's voice was taken out and I was singing it. So exciting!

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But I also felt like I was living the actors' nightmare: you know, when you're asked to go on in a role and you have no idea of the lines. It reminded me of a dream I had where I was backstage at the Gershwin and they told me I had to go on in Wicked. By the way, not for the roles of Fiyero or the Wizard. In my dream I had to go on for Elphaba. PS, I started out "Defying Gravity" timid but ended it sounding amazing. Anyhoo, all the guest Hamiltons and the cast ran it one last time upstairs at the Edison when I got there on Monday and it went pretty well. Then we lined up in the wings: Laura Osnes and I, who had to learn songs, were nervous. Dan Lauria, who just had to do an improvised monologue, was not. Suddenly, it began, we all came out one by one and, somehow, it went so well. The coolest part was when we came out, it had the Hamilton logo with each person's name over it. It was such a great New York event!

Seth and Darren Criss
Seth and Darren Criss

Speaking of great New York events, on the following Sunday was Elsie Fest. That's the outdoor concert with Broadway folks created by Darren Criss. He asked me to do a set of my deconstructions and I was, as per usual, nervous. Not because I was scared I'd forget my material like Hamilton but because Darren had written us an email reminding us that it was an outdoor festival and people might wind up milling around and/or talking up a storm while people were performing. Well, cut to, the audience really was there to see the acts and they were amazing! The stage faced out towards the Hudson River which was so beautiful to look at throughout the performance, and my set went great. There were a ton of people in the audience, and I totally felt like I was a rock star doing a rock concert. Of course, I've never really been to a rock concert so I most closely identified to Barbra Streisand as Esther Hoffman singing "Woman in the Moon" during "A Star Is Born." Without the Jewfro.

The Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market was on the same day as Elsie Fest, and it was a great event. So many booths and so many great things to spend money on! They auctioned off a chance to co-host with me on SiriusXM along with my books and VIP Gypsy of the Year tickets (I'm hosting again this year). Three people were bidding and it got up to around $6,000. Instead of prolonging it, I told Tom Viola I'd co-host with all three and we wound up raising $18,000 for BC/EFA! And I brought tons of my books to my booth and sold out of them all. The amazing part was when I showed up at the auction with the big sign from my booth that advertised "My Awesome Awful Popularity Plan," Gavin Creel grabbed it and ran to the area where the Times Square camera was filming. He held it up and the camera put the image up on a giant screen. Yes, the lettering was backwards but so is Hebrew so I thought of it as shout-out to the Jewish Holidays. That triumphant moment, however, was followed by me lugging home that enormous sign. I had Juli take a picture of me pathetically walking up Columbus Avenue…note the garbage next to me. PS you can order "Theater Geek" right here. And speaking of books, my brand volume of "Seth's Broadway Diary" is now available for pre-order at DressCirclePublishing.com. Volume One came out last October and now I just finished editing Volume Two. There are so many hilarious interviews and stories in it that I forgot about. Here's one about the time I filmed "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List" with Kristin Chenoweth.

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We met on Wednesday at Don't Tell Mama, and I taught Kathy "You Made Me Love You" alongside the fabulous Kristin Chenoweth. And by "alongside" I mean with me completely in the background. Essentially, being on "My Life on the D-List" put me on the D-list. Seriously. At one point, I was literally like Lisa Kudrow in "The Comeback" when she tries desperately to edge up from her place in the back during a photo shoot. As Kathy and Kristin were chatting, I started chiming in comments from my seat at the piano. Of course, they were both in the middle of the room, so I had to stand to get nearer to them. I was then asked immediately by the director not. to get off the piano bench. Then, we took a break from filming and a make-up artist ran up to Kristin and adjusted her face while another one flanked Kathy. I looked around and finally said, "Um… I seem to be the only person without anyone fixing my make-up." There was muttering into various headsets, and finally someone walked up to me. Not a make-up artist, mind you, but just literally a person. My make-up was then "adjusted." Not with a re-touch of powder, under-eye concealer or even some generic lip balm. No, the make-up artist (AKA crew member) simply blotted my face. Pat, pat, pat. Let me continue: Not with a brush, not with a make-up pad, but literally with a paper towel. You can watch my appearance here…A) Kathy is hilarious. B) Note the outside shots showing L.A. ... yet we filmed at NYC's Don't Tell Mama.

Happy Fall and 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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