Marco! Polo. No, I'm not in a swimming pool playing that incredibly frustrating game, I'm actually in Marco Polo Airport! It's the big Venice airport and I'm on my way back home. I've spent a little more than a week in Europe, and boy is my wallet tired. First, let me write about the rFamily cruise. We were on the Norwegian Jade and it stopped in all different places in Greece. James is gung-ho to do anything and loves exploring and experiencing the city as a native does. After one of my many "I guess this place is nice" comments, James finally looked at me and said, "You're not actually interested in seeing [AUDIO-LEFT]things. All you want is a lounge chair, a book and a latte." Gasp. I couldn't even deny it. It was like he saw into my soul, and my soul is a lazy a**. I remember when I was doing A Chorus Line in Paris years ago and I called my mom to tell her I was bored. "How can you be bored in Paris?!?" she shrieked over the transatlantic connection. But apparently I found a way. I realized that I am only truly happy on vacation when I'm sitting somewhere nice, drinking a delish latte and reading a book. After James spelled it out, I had a flashback to when I was Juli's age.
One elementary school summer, my parents took me to Montauk to stay at a hotel called The Royal Atlantic, which is right on the beach. The clearest/happiest memory I have is of me sitting on the deck, drinking a diet black cherry soda (pre-coffee addiction) and reading Stephen King's "Carrie." My tastes haven't changed. P.S. Why "Carrie," you ask? Because I had just finished John Saul's "Suffer the Children." If the book was terrifying, I had a copy.
Back to Greece. The entertainment staff for this cruise was super small, since rFamily hadn't chartered the whole ship. So, the performers were me, Michael Lee Scott, James and Anne Steele…who's also the girlfriend of the co-founder of rFamily, Kelli Carpenter. Essentially, we could all fit in the palm of my hand. For the first show, I thought it would be fun if we made it like a piano bar with requests made in advance. So, before "sail away" (as they call it in the cruise business), rFamily sent an email asking the guest for songs they wanted to hear and why. We got fun requests with some sweet reasons attached to them. One Australian couple had just gotten married and decided to take their honeymoon on the rFamily cruise because, months before, they had met Anne Steele at Don't Tell Mama and she told them about the cruise. They wanted to hear one of Anne Steele's signature songs, "Gravity," and if you've never seen her sing it, take a gander!
I did a little chat before each song with the passenger who requested it, and at one point I went over to the two dads who asked for "Good Morning, Baltimore." I told the audience that they sent an email telling us that Hairspray is their son's favorite show. At that moment, I called over their young son who was in the back of the room. I stood next to him with my microphone asked him, "What's your favorite show?" With no hesitation, he replied "Shrek." It's always fun to be mortified by a ten-year-old. Our first stop was Corfu, Greece, which I liked because when we got off the boat, it seemed like an actual city, not something built just for the cruise-ship passengers. We went to a olive oil soap factory that was the first in Europe, and is probably the last one still around over there. Apparently, the advent of laundry detergent put the olive-oil soap-making business out of business. The man who owns it is a direct descendant of the man who founded it and he showed us how olive oil soap is made. He said that it's often mixed with palm oil and there is an American company that used to import olive/palm soap. When they started making other stuff, consumers didn't remember the name of the company. But consumers knew the name of the special soap so the company started calling themselves that name: Palmolive. Who knew?
That night I did Deconstructing Broadway and, thankfully, it was a hit. As a matter of fact, since rFamily is always trying to recruit new passengers, Anne Steele saw a gay couple on the cruise who didn't know anything about us. She invited them to the show so they could see what our entertainment is like. They were both major travelers, and even though one of the men was only in his 40s, he had been on 50 (!) cruises. After my performance, he told Anne it was the first show he's seen on a cruise that he hasn't walked out on! As I've always said, if I can make just one person not walk out, then my job as a performer is done.
The next day we stopped in Santorini, the city whose name constantly reminds me of "Project Runway" designer Santino. The area is a lot of islands that were formed by an enormous volcanic explosion. People also think that perhaps the ancient city of Atlantis was lost there during another explosion. The city is at the top of an enormous cliff that you can walk up to or take a cable car. I was so hot waiting for the cable car that I bought a hat which either makes me look mysterious/sexy or nerdy/tip o' the hat to my grandfather. (See the photo…now look away.) Regardless, all of the rFamily guests met at a great restaurant on the very top called Argo's. Delish…for adults. But not for ten-year-olds. After course-after-course of hummus, calamari and olives, we decided Juli should actually eat something so we left to get some food on the cruise. We bid everyone adieu, took the cable car down and were on the boat in 20 minutes. We had briefly considered walking down the mountain/cliff but decided to take the cable car because it was faster. Little did we know how lucky we were. We found out the next day that by the time all the rFamily people left the restaurant, the cable cars had crazily long lines because every cruise passenger in Santorini decided to go back to the boat at the same time. The rFamily people were nervous that they'd miss the cruise if they waited for the cable car so they all walked down the mountain. First of all, imagine people walking down a steep mountain while wearing completely inappropriate shoes. Next, add in the factor that there are donkeys that use the trail all day long. And there are no donkey pooper-scooper laws in Santorini. So, from what we were told, it was non-stop passengers awkwardly trying to walk in sandals and completely wiping out every two minutes. That's right: you were either walking directly in donkey dung or you were falling in it. And speaking of which, the donkeys themselves were constantly pushing their way through the crowds of people as they ran up or down the mountain. Anne, who always has a smile on her face, told us that after 15 minutes of tripping constantly — and encountering donkeys and dung — she literally started chanting, "I hate my life." I haven't hauled that out since I was 14!
The next day we went to Mykonos, and we noticed that women in Greece are not like Americans, i.e., they have no shame about their bodies aging. James, Juli and I saw what looked like a casting call for Madame Armfeldt, and they were all wearing skimpy bikinis! They were showing more skin than I do at the beach, and let me just say that the casting call also specified the Madame Armfeldts could be any size. That's right…I've finally seen a size 16 string bikini. Anne told us that she spent a whole summer there working in a piano bar. They gave her housing, a good salary and all she had to do was sing a few hours a night. She would wake up late and spend the whole day on the beach, then go a belt a few tunes. Delicious! She informed us that most women on Greek beaches rarely wear tops. Va-va-voom. It's so common that stores sell full and half bikinis. You can just buy the bottom half if you want. I actually want a three-piece.
We were finally at the end of the week and James, Michael Lee and Anne starred in a little show I put together especially for the cruise. I knew what songs James and Anne were going to sing, and I loosely linked them all together with a story I wrote. Of course, adult ADD-style, I wrote it the night before, but thankfully it went over great. I decided to make it Greek-themed, so Michael Lee played the brother of Aphrodite, named Aphro-sassy. His Greek God power was putting people in relationships that are wrong for them. Anne played JodieFosterus, who Aphro-sassy puts in a relationship with Homer's brother, Homo (played by James). The story barely made sense, but it worked and everyone's favorite line was about JodieFosterus. Michael Lee as the narrator intoned: "JodieFosterus was stuck. Stuck in her bad relationship and stuck in a dead-end day job at a hummus factory and a night job carving those little washing stones for the shower. That's right, she had days of hummus and nights of pumice." By the end of the show, Anne was paired off with Kelli and James was paired off with me. P.S., I played the brother of Persephone: PerSethone. Juli came up with that joke, which shows the level of humor I was going for. After the cruise, we went to Venice for two days and I loved it. That city is gorgeous! Literally, wherever you look, it's stunning. There are no cars, so you can walk in the street, there's coffee everywhere, and you are constantly near a beautiful canal. Our only issue was, they don't give extra food to Americans who are used to overeating. First example, we went out to lunch and Juli ordered old school spaghetti. The waitress sprinkled some parmesan cheese on it, and when Juli asked for a little more, the waitress told us in no uncertain terms that she'd have to charge us. I first thought that perhaps there was a cheese shortage in Italy, but cut to: a little later, we went to an outdoor café. James got a bottle of water, but asked if he could use a few sugar packets that were sitting out (he knew I'd want some later because I always over-sugar my coffee). When James went to take the packets, the woman shook her head with a decisive "no." Cheese and sugar shortage? Finally, today at Marco Polo Airport I got some gnocchi at a little food place. The woman serving the food put some tomato sauce on the gnocchi and I asked for a little more. The good news is she did give it to me. But I haven't seen that much reluctance to do something since Mary Tyler Moore flung that food into her shopping cart during the opening credits of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
This week I head back to Provincetown to do my show at the Art House starting on Thursday. And then, over the weekend, I'll be interviewing/playing for the fabulous Christine Ebersole! Go to www.PtownArtHouse.com for details. And tune into "Seth Speaks" this Sunday at 5 PM on Sirius/XM Stars 107 to hear one of my fave Broadway singers, Lindsay Mendez and one my fave "SNL" alums: Rachel Dratch. Peace out and Ciao!
(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 be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)