Onstage & Backstage: How Did I End Up Performing For Judd Apatow and Meeting One of My Idols in LA?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: How Did I End Up Performing For Judd Apatow and Meeting One of My Idols in LA?
 
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Judd Apatow
Judd Apatow
Brenda Braxton
Brenda Braxton

Ok. You know how I'm always like, "Greetings from United flight blah blah" or "Hi, from Jet Blue flight something something…"? Well, today I don't even know the flight number I'm on…because I'm on a private corporate jet.

Seriously!! Here's the deal: One of the most amazing aspects of my job is discovering who listens to my show. The head of SiriusXM recently told me that Ron Meyer was a big fan of my show. I Googled him and found out he was one of the founders of CAA and ran Universal Pictures for years and is now the vice chairman of NBC Universal. Anyhoo, long story short, I emailed him, and he took me out to an amazing brunch in NYC. We were chatting and he casually offered to fly me, James and Juli to LA on the company jet whenever we wanted. AH!

Needless to say, I've never flown on one before. Here's how it goes down: We didn't go to the big three (JFK, La Guardia or Newark), we went to Teterboro airport in Jersey. There are a few private jet companies and we went to the one called Landmark. The security line was really short…because there wasn't any! Once you're booked, you're on a list to get into the airport and that's all there is to do! We walked in, handed our luggage to a porter and he immediately walked us to the plane. Of course, we all posed on the stairs up to the plane and then got on. It's so nice! There are comfortable seats all around the plane (some that faced backwards so there was a four-seater, Amtrak-style) plus a couch (!). There's also a flight attendant who is more like a hostess/concierge/chef. There were also tons of snacks sitting out that we basically ate for the entire flight. All right, I ate the entire flight. Delish! Luxury flight to California this week and flying home next week in coach. I guess it "keeps me real."

Before I write about my L.A. experiences, here's what happened in NYC! I had the great and ageless Brenda Braxton on "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM show. Brenda and I met at Candlewood summer stock in 1989 (!) when she was playing Deena Jones in Dreamgirls. Her 19-year-old brother C.C. was played by 19-year-old Billy Porter! Brenda worked on the original Dreamgirls as a dance captain and swing. I'm obsessed with that show and asked her for some stories; she remembers the time she showed up for rehearsal with the other dance captain and they were both wearing sassy high heels. Michael Bennett didn't like the way "Steppin' To The Bad Side" was looking so he asked the two ladies to demonstrate all the steps. That number is danced by the whole ensemble dressed as men wearing suits and shoes. Of course, the two ladies didn't want to say, "Give us five minutes to put on our flats" so they just went onstage and danced the whole thing in their crazy high heels. Afterwards, Michael Peters told the cast, "If those two ladies can dance this number in those heels, you all have no excuse!" Brava! Brenda worked on my Actors Fund concert of Dreamgirls as co-director and choreographer where she recreated those steps. Watch Norm Lewis, Darius de Haas, Bobby Daye and Billy Porter work it!

Along those same lines, when they were staging the Vegas sequence with the three Dreamgirls, the ladies told the guys that it was too difficult to do the steps going up and down the stairs. They ended by sighing that men wouldn't understand the difficulty because men don't wear high heels. That did it; Michael Bennett, Michael Peters and Bob Avian snatched a pair of heels, put them on and did the dance full out. That shut the traps of all three Dreamgirls and the choreography stayed.

Brenda also remembered rehearsing The Hot Mikado at 890 Studios in NYC and someone told her they were auditions for a show on another floor that she might be right for. Why would she be right for it, you ask? Well, the audition notice said they were looking for a "Brenda Braxton type." Literally. So, Brenda went down during her lunch break, poked her head in the audition room, sang…and got the gig. The show became Smokey Joe's Café and it led to her getting a Tony nomination! I'm still obsessed with why they were looking for her type instead of simply calling and casting her. Did they think she had passed away? Rude! She was so great in the show. Watch my favorite number, "I'm a Woman"! Brenda's performing at the Metropolitan Room May 3, so get thee!

Back to L.A.; We landed at Van Nuys airport and my friend Jack Plotnick picked us up. I was in a rush because a week ago I saw a tweet that Judd Apatow was doing a show at Largo, which is a really cool venue in L.A. I had met him last year after I performed with Patti LuPone at the Broad in Santa Monica, and we've kept in touch. I looked at the date of his show and saw that it was on the Thursday we were landing in L.A. I decided to have some chutzpah and emailed Judd to ask if he needed another act. He said yes (!), and I sent my sound cues to the tech director. So, when Jack picked us up, we immediately went to Largo so I could tech my cues. The tech went great and we rushed through dinner so I could make it to the theatre by 8. By now, James and Juli were getting super tired. Not only was it 11 PM New York time, but James had been woken up by our doggie Mandy (as usual) around 4:30 and never went back to sleep. So he'd been awake since 1:30 AM L.A. time. We rushed through dinner and got to Largo at 8 PM. Nobody was in the venue. Turns out, the show was not scheduled for 8, it was beginning at 8:30-ish and, out of three people in the show, I was the third person! I knew I wouldn't be on for hours and would spend my time backstage with incredible anxiety thinking about how tired James and Juli were, so I sent them home immediately to go to sleep.

Randy Newman
Randy Newman Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Then I was waiting backstage with Judd and his other guest…Randy Newman! Judd kept mentioning famous people who were coming to the show and I began to get nervous. The show began and Randy Newman brought down the house doing his hit songs and then an encore. Right afterwards Judd went out. He was, of course, hilarious. He told so many funny stories including ones about hanging out with the Obamas, the time he was hired to write a Rolling Stones film as well as when he chickened out of doing a salute to Mel Brooks. (He told his wife that he was intimidated and nervous he might bomb. Instead of saying "You'll be great!" she said "Don't go on!") He was also so funny talking about the L.A. water shortage: "I'm so concerned with saving water and constantly neverous I'm not doing enough. If I brush my teeth and leave the water on for just a few seconds I feel horrible. So much guilt! (Pause) Meanwhile, Brett Ratner is f****** some girl in the shower for three hours." Hi-lar!

Anyhoo, by now 90 minutes of the show had passed. I was so crazily tired backstage. And I was completely intimidated by the famous folk in the audience and mad at myself that I asked Judd to do the show. I was way too exhausted and furthermore nobody knew who I was, so I felt like a weird booby prize after two world-famous people. Regardless, Judd finished his set, introduced me and I went out. I talked about how jetlagged I was but then told them I had no right to complain when Chita Rivera is in her 80's and starring on Broadway. I then deconstructed her…and it went so great! This is a version of what I did. I then did bits on The Osmond's singing "Fiddler on the Roof" (for real) and then told everyone that Backstage.com ranked me as one of the top ten Broadway Twitter personalities. They described my tweets as a combo of Broadway stuff mixed with social justice. I told the audience that my big causes are getting animals adopted (PS there's a brand new amazing mobile app from The NY Center for Animal Care and Control. It's like Match.com. Download it here!) and foster care (Sign our petition). I then told everyone, however, that the biggest issues I see facing the world right now is a lack of vibrato in pop music. I wound up doing an entire section from Deconstructing Broadway where I break down the straight tone and vibrato of Gavin Creel, Frances Ruffelle and Whitney Houston and I ended with a section of the riffs of Billy Porter, Shoshana Bean and me as an 11-year-old.

My closing number was a deconstruction of Betty Buckley singing "The Writing On The Wall" followed by a blackout.  First of all, the whole set was a prime example of "Dr. Theater." I was sitting backstage with my eyes closed because I was so, so tired. As soon as I got onstage, that spotlight was like a dose of caffeine and I was wi-i-i-i-i-de awake! After the show, I got to hang out with Albert Brooks and his wife. One of my all-time favorite movies is "Broadcast News" so it was amazing to meet him. He told me that I had to do this show on Broadway with an orchestra, ensemble and guest stars. I told him that I had done that with Broadway 101 for the Actors Fund a few years ago and he inspired me to get it produced for Broadway. Then John C. Reilly came up to me and told me he told his wife my performance was vacumn-sealed because there wasn't one uneccesary word! Wowza!

Finally, I saw Norman Lear. I cannot tell you how much I love him. He created some of my favorite TV shows ever ("All In The Family," "Maude," "Good Times," "The Jeffersons") and he founded one of my all-time favorite liberal groups: People for the American Way. He was so nice to me after the show and took a pic with me and Albert Brooks. But then the next day he tweeted something that was so incredibly over the top, it literally brought tears to my eyes! He posted the pic of me, Albert and him and wrote, "Albert Brooks and me after having enjoyed one of the most hilarious and original performers of all time." AH!! How amazing is that!?!?!?!

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All right…we're now on our way back to JFK (two hour delay!). This week I'll be appearing with Andrea Martin in the Easter Bonnet competition. If you don't have tickets, get them ASAP. It's one of the most amazing Broadway shows of the year. Get thee to BroadwayCares.org. There's a show Monday at 4:30 and Tuesday at 2 PM. This weekend I'll be in San Francisco with Vanessa Williams and we just announced the amazing line up coming to Provincetown with me this summer: Rosie O'Donnell, Laura Osnes, Norm Lewis, Kerry Butler, Sutton Foster, Audra McDonald, Sam Harris, Will Swenson, Lea DeLaria, Jane Krakowski, Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley (!) and David Burtka and Neil Patrick Harris (!). So fun! Details and tix at PtownArtHouse.com. 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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