Onstage & Backstage: Howard McGillin's Scary Safari, Patina Miller's Pippin Medley and Kyle Dean Massey Is Fiyero – Without a Tooth

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Howard McGillin's Scary Safari, Patina Miller's Pippin Medley and Kyle Dean Massey Is Fiyero – Without a Tooth A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Andrea Martin
Andrea Martin Photo by Joan Marcus

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Greetings from many thousands of feet in the air. I'm on a United flight to Canada, and the good news is I've been upgraded to first class. The bad news is the plane is basically the size of my first studio apartment. Sadly, I got on and discovered it's not one of the spacious first class areas where the seat or "pod" you're sitting in turns into a spacious full bed after you're served a three-course meal. No, being in this first class basically means a seat slightly wider than my hips and unlimited Diet Coke. But, I've said it before and I'll say it again: My Personal Shopper Is The Worst (see this link for an explanation.)

I'm on my way to Edmonton, Canada, where I'll be doing a show with Andrea Martin. Right now, she's in the middle of a short stint playing Berthe again in the national tour of Pippin, but she's taking off the weekend to perform Andrea Martin; Final Days! Everything Must Go! Before I focus on that, let's bring it back to the good ol' U.S. of A. Last weekend, I flew back a day early from San Antonio, where the Woodlawn Theatre was hosting the regional premiere of James' play Unbroken Circle. Of course, all I do is proudly maintain how I never read reviews, but I not only couldn't resist reading this one about Unbroken Circle, I also have to quote it: "Once I was done wiping away my tears and finally catching a breath, all I could say was WOW." It ends with saying that Unbroken Circle "should not be missed for any reason at all." I'm quoting it, firstly, because I'm so proud of James, and I totally agree with that review. The second reason I'm quoting is because my friend Tim sent me an email with his version of the rest of the quote: "Once I was done wiping away my tears and finally catching a breath, all I could say was WOW." He continues with, "And then I vomited and passed out. When I came to, I realized I had not, indeed, seen Unbroken Circle nor any other play for that matter. I was actually at Six Flags Over Texas riding their new Death Drop rollercoaster." James was literally doubled-over laughing when I read that to him.

Anyhoo, I flew home a day early from San An because I put together a big gala for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and I had to host and music direct! It starred four great ladies: Faith Prince, Laura Benanti, Patina Miller and Andrea McArdle and one handsome dude, Howard McGillin. Speaking of Howard, he has changed my travel plans. How, you ask? Well, I was offered a gig being part of the entertainment on an actual African safari, and Howard just got back from a one and gave me some details. At first, it sounded amazing; his tent was actually luxurious and featured a full working shower! Every day he had meals cooked for him and the other people in his small group, and they'd go on safaris and see tons of animals up close.

Howard McGillin
Howard McGillin

Then he described another place he stayed in Africa while on this trip. It was a stunning hotel in the middle of the  savanna or whatever they call it, and Howard and Richard (his husband) had their own deck with a bath where they could sit outside and look at nature. The area leading from their room to the deck didn't have an actual door. It simply had a curtain so you could feel at one with nature. That's right, they had a room that was separated from wild animals with the sturdiness of a piece of fabric. Well, in the middle of one night, Richard suddenly heard heavy breathing directly outside the curtain. Let me make it clearer/more terrifying; there was the heavy breathing of an animal outside the curtain. Richard approached the curtain but didn't part it. Instead, he crept back to bed and went to sleep.

The next morning the huffing/puffing was gone, and they were chatting with the people who ran the hotel. There was lots of smiling as the staff informed Howard and Richard that, right outside their curtain, using their bath as a watering hole, was a lion. A lion. Not Bert Lahr, an actual lion. What was separating the lion from the delicious and tasty flesh of Howard and Richard? A curtain. Not to worry, they told Howard and Richard — yes, the lion could smell them (!!!!), but a hotel is not natural to the savanna, so the lions don't how to enter a room and kill them.

OK. Here's the thing. My dog didn't know at first how to knock a box of dog treats off a counter and eat what's inside, but she learned. What dreamland is everyone in Africa living in? All a lion has to do is hit the curtain with its paw, and it would have immediate access to a delicious double meal; one with two Tony nominations and one with great LSAT scores. I have since not confirmed any travel plans to that area of the world. Speaking of Howard, here's a great video about the Playbill Cruise with me, Howard, Patti LuPone and Norm Lewis. Watch!

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Despite Howard's near-death experience, the show at NJPAC was fantastic. They were raising money for their student arts program, and the whole show opened with a medley sung by four teenage girls who sounded amazing. They were all belting crazy high notes and had amazing placement on a medley arranged by Janeece Freeman. I was super impressed and booked them immediately for my SiriusXM show! Howard sang some West Side Story beautifully and, of course, some Phantom, Andrea McArdle sang from Les Miz (the show we did together on Broadway) and Annie (the show I'm still devastated we never did together on Broadway), Patina sang a sassy "Sing Happy" plus a really cool Pippin medley and Juli, who is never star-struck, was so obsessed with Patina's performance it rendered her almost unable to speak to her after the show. Faith sang some of her Tony Award-winning "Adelaide's Lament" plus some Little Shop of Horrors (the show she was originally offered in its first production but couldn't take because she had another job that wouldn't release her from her contract), and Laura sang "I Could Have Danced All Night" plus what she called her "Inappropriate Medley," featuring the "Thong Song" and "Proud Mary." Seriously. The crowd went wild for everything! Also, we had great hair and makeup people, and they were nice to give Juli a sassy makeover. Take a gander!

Kyle Dean Massey
Kyle Dean Massey Photo by Joan Marcus

On my Chatterbox talk show, I interviewed Kyle Dean Massey, who's currently playing the title role in Pippin on Broadway. Here's good news for those of you trying out for the myriad of performing arts colleges out there; Kyle tried out for many theatre conservatories and was rejected from them all. So, just know that you too can be starring on Broadway one day even if you get a slew of rejection letters (or are they now emails? All my references are from the '80s). At one point, when I was subbing in various orchestras on Broadway at the same time, I could wind up playing Victor/Victoria, How to Succeed... and Grease all in one week. Kyle had a very similar experience, but much cooler.

It all began when he almost turned down an audition. He was in Wicked and heard they were auditioning for the role of the son in Next to Normal. He didn't feel like going in because he knew his friend Aaron Tveit was going to play it on Broadway. But, when he called Aaron, he was told that Catch Me If You Can was going to have its out-of-town try-out in Seattle, and Aaron was only going to do the first month of Next to Normal and then take a leave. So, Kyle auditioned and got the gig! He wound up playing the role the whole time Aaron was in Seattle. Aaron returned, and Kyle went back to Wicked. But then Aaron got a TV show and had to miss around four shows a week. So, because David Stone produced both Wicked and Next to Normal, he worked out a system where Aaron played the son for four shows while Kyle did Wicked. Then Kyle would take off from Wicked and do four shows in Next to Normal while Aaron was filming. Kyle was an understudy in Wicked at the time, so he said there were certain weeks where he'd do the ensemble in Wicked, play the son in Next to Normal and go on for Fiyero as well. Not since "Sybil"! (Yes, I've now gone from 80's to 70's references. And, furthermore, the story of Sybil's so-called multiple personalities was apparently a scam thought up by her psychiatrist.) See. Here he is in Next To Normal with Alice Ripley and Brian d'Arcy James!

Kyle also told us that when he was out of town playing Fiyero, he wound up losing a front tooth. First of all, I'm obsessed that he continued to play the role for a whole week while missing his tooth. I guess Fiyero was considered the hottest guy in Oz simply based on his personality. Kyle also said that before he could get his tooth replaced, he had to do publicity photos for Wicked! So, to this day, whenever he plays the role, the giant photo outside the Gershwin Theatre is of Kyle in full Fiyero costume with his lips completely clamped shut.

And, finally, my new book is almost out! "Seth's Broadway Diary," which is a compilation of my Playbill columns (!) is coming out Oct. 22, and there's going to be a big book release/signing show that same day. Details soon, but til then, why don't you pre-order a copy!? You can get it here! Peace out and enjoy the fall weather!

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