ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "I'll Be Seeing You" . . . in Wicked

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "I'll Be Seeing You" . . . in Wicked A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth and Mandy Gonzalez
Seth and Mandy Gonzalez Photo by Robb Johnston

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What a week. I saw Gail (my therapist) on Thursday and was giving her an update on all these stressful issues that we're dealing with (our old landlord, Juli's school, etc.) and ended the session by saying that James and I were going to Dallas for the weekend. I had two performances scheduled at the Water Tower Theater, and James was going to visit his grandmother who's been sick for a while. Gail was relieved to hear we were [AUDIO-LEFT]traveling because she felt we needed some time to ourselves and a little vacation. I walked out of her office, hearing her voice in my head saying that no matter what, we needed to have a weekend of peace and relaxation, and the second I closed the door, James called to tell me his grandmother had died. Thanks, Gail, for a putting a curse on us!

The good part was that his grandmother lived in Dallas, so it was perfect that we were traveling down here. He was very close to his grandmother and, at one point, they traveled the country together on a train. And, by the way, they didn't have enough money for a sleeping car, so they slept every night in a seat that leaned back slightly. And, she was in her sixties at the time! I would have spent that trip doing non-stop complaining, but James said they had a great time. The funeral was graveside, and the family wanted James to sing. I offered to play for him, but where's the power source in a cemetery to hook up a sassy electric piano? Turns out, a friend of the family was able to supply us with a pump organ. Have you ever seen one of them? They're usually being played by a plump elderly woman in a flowered hat. You literally pump the pedals to push air through it. I looked crazy doing it and felt like I was the church organist at a revival meeting in a Southern tent. Regardless, the music made the service very nice, and I wrote some specialty lyrics to the song "I'll Be Seeing You" specifically about James' grandma that had the mourners actually laughing. It sounds inappropriate, but it made the service very warm and moving. As a matter of fact, we found out that the funeral director told the family that it was the best service she's officiated at (!), and if James and I didn't live in NYC, she'd hire us to perform all the time. We were honored yet couldn't stop making jokes that we could have a long-term gig doing the "Funeral Circuit." Is that the last bastion of the "Orpheum Circuit"? All About June and the Funeral Circuit - Give me a grave and I know I can work it!

On Wednesday I got to interview beltress Mandy Gonzalez at my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show. She told us that while she was playing Nina in In the Heights Off-Broadway, she was offered the role of Elphaba. On the national tour. She had what we call a "luxury problem" and had to choose between doing a role she's always wanted to do on tour or originating a role Off-Broadway. She obviously decided to take In the Heights and mentally had to let her dream of doing Wicked go. It's one of those great stories where once you let something go, it comes back even better: AKA she got to originate the role of Nina on Broadway and was then offered the lead in Broadway's Wicked. I went to her final In the Heights performance, and I knew she was leaving to do Wicked but kept it a secret as directed. That's right, I kept it a secret. Imagine how shocked I was during her curtain call when the In the Heights band started playing the theme to Wicked, and Lin-Manuel Miranda came out in a green shirt and a black witch's hat. Why did I have to keep a secret if he was allowed to be in witch's drag and re-orchestrate bow music? Of course, my sister and niece loved that the curtain call had a tip o' the hat to Mandy playing Elphaba. Um…not that they knew beforehand. I mean, I didn't tell them… That is to say…all right! I admit it: My version of keeping a secret is exactly like my sister's. Example: When my sister was pregnant, she followed a Jewish custom to not tell anyone until the three-month mark. She said she'd only tell a few people. Cut to: When she finally got to three months, there was no one left to tell. Seriously.

I asked Mandy if she knew that Dance of The Vampires was going to be a major bomb. Turns out, she didn't. She remembers her first night on Broadway, starring opposite Michael Crawford. Like most first previews, the audience was cheering wildly. She came backstage thinking, "How exhilarating! We're a hit!" Her agent then came to her dressing room and walked in saying, "Well, I'm glad you have a few weeks to fix the problems." Mandy was completely miffed; "What? But we're obviously a hit!!??"

Lynne Wintersteller, Seth and George Dvorsky
photo by Robb Johnston

At the Chatterbox, I interviewed George Dvorsky and Lynne Wintersteller, two people whose voices I love. I never knew that George was also a dancer. He toured in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas as a dancing football player and also understudied the solo dancer (who became a Broadway director/choreographer: Jeff Calhoun). George said that one night on tour, the guys were doing an entrance on the ramp that covered the pit, and he tripped and fell in! Luckily, it was covered in netting, but it was so bouncy that he couldn't get up. Suddenly the stage manager came to get him…by walking across the netting! Of course, it started to break because of their combined weights and luckily, someone from the stage pulled him up. George was so mortified that he hung his head in shame as he was being escorted off the stage. But, unfortunately, his head hanging down made the audience more terrified because it looked like he had broken his neck! PS, as all this was happening, the show never stopped. I don't know if it's a tribute to that old adage "The show must go on" or a re-creation of no one calling the police as Kitty Genovese was being murdered.

Lynne is not only a beautiful singer, but a great comic as well. And she loves to laugh. However, she wanted me to clarify a story I told in a previous column: I wrote that during Closer Than Ever, she was about to enter the stage to sing, "Stop! All right, that's it, that's the one that does it…," and on the beat before she entered, Brent Barrett took a water bottle and sprayed water in the center of both of her boobs. Turns out, it was not Brent who made her look like she was lactating, it was Richard Muenz. I want to make sure the proper person is given credit…I mean, written up to Equity. PS, Lynne said that she spent the rest of that show trying to spray him back, and he constantly had his hands covering his crotch while saying, "You're not getting anywhere near here." Very mature.

Speaking of mature, she and George were cackling talking about all the times they had laughed onstage. When they both starred in 110 in the Shade, they were supposed to sing their duet sitting at the edge of the stage. In the rehearsal room, this meant being as close to the mirrors as possible. Since George is over six feet, he'd look crazy with his legs cramped up together, and he and Lynne would constantly start laughing during their song. This continued throughout tech rehearsals, and they said the first night they didn't laugh was literally the first preview. And they were only able to do it by looking completely away from each other throughout the whole song. I'm sure the audience thought it was a brilliant directorial choice to have two people singing to each other while gazing to opposite sides of the stage.

Speaking of even more mature, I also interviewed Marilyn Maye who is performing this week at Feinstein's and is about to turn 82. And, she has the nerve to still sound amazing!!! She was also, as usual, hilarious. First of all, my dad (who's 79) was sitting in the front row, and she kept "flirting" with him. At one point, he took out his hearing aid, and it looked like he was brandishing it as some sort of bizarre mating ritual. She glared at the hearing aid in his hand and said, "That is not turning me on." We were then talking about all the famous people she's met (she's done "The Tonight Show" 75 times), and I asked her if she ever met La Streisand. Turns out, she had met her, and it involved Marilyn's usual sass. And, as you read, you should know that the story depends on Marilyn's non-plussed line reading. Back in the sixties, she was friends with Johnny Desmond who replaced Sydney Chaplin in Funny Girl. One night during the show, Marilyn was sitting in Johnny's dressing room and Barbra walked by. Johnny called her in and said, "This is Marilyn who I was telling you about." Barbra looked at her and said, "So…I hear that you sing." Marilyn looked right back and said, "I heard that you sing, too."

The delicious part about my recent journey to Dallas is that my 12-hour round trip to Orlando paid off. Remember? James told me to fly there and back in one day so I could get enough miles to earn Continental Elite Status like him. Well, on the morning of our horrifyingly early 6:15 AM flight (!), we found out that we both got upgraded to first class! Ah…it was fantastic. However, the night before our flight home, I got an email telling me I was upgraded to first class. Unfortunately, James wasn't! Suddenly, I had a tortuous dilemma: Dare I stay in first class without him? Should I give him my upgrade instead? Should I refuse it and stay with him in coach? Not surprisingly, James insisted I stay in first class, and he got himself a delicious exit row seat. Phew. For five devastating minutes, I knew exactly how Meryl Streep felt in "Sophie's Choice." All right, this week I have the fabulous composing team of Flaherty and Ahrens (Ragtime, Once On This Island) at my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show. If you're in New York, come by the Times Square Information Center on Wednesday at noon, and no matter where you are, peace out!

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Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. 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 has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. 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 posted many video deconstructions.

Seth with Marilyn Maye
Seth with Marilyn Maye Photo by Robb Johnston
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