Onstage & Backstage: Joanna Gleason's Haunted Dressing Room and Major "Project Runway" Spoilers

News   Onstage & Backstage: Joanna Gleason's Haunted Dressing Room and Major "Project Runway" Spoilers A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

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The traveling is not over! Right now, I'm on Amtrak going to Hartford, CT to do "Deconstructing Broadway," and this weekend I go to Detroit to do a master class and a show with Chita Rivera at the Berman Theater. Then I get back and hightail it to New Orleans for a show with Cheyenne Jackson and then fly directly to San Antonio to team up with Ana Gasteyer at the Woodlawn Theatre. Info and tickets at SethTV.com.

Yes, every week has travel and, true to my experience, every week also has a travel headache. On Thursday, James and I got Juli off to school then hightailed it out of our apartment to fly down to Virginia. I was asked to do a master class and give the keynote address at the Virginia Theater Conference. Normally I travel alone, but the conference offered James a plane ticket so we were excited to have a chance to travel together. The night before, James was telling people our flight plans and ending with "if the flight isn't cancelled." Why that caveat? Well, the last time I was supposed to fly to Norfolk, VA was for my niece's graduation. The day started with me on the security line at the airport and then the unceremonious announcement that the flight was cancelled. No explanation. I then went from Newark to JFK and then LaGuardia trying to get a flight and wound up back on the Upper West Side while she graduated sans her uncle.

On the morning of our Norfolk flight, we fled the apartment at 7:45 AM instead of 7:30 because we were, shockingly, running late. There were literally thousands of people at this conference so I had plenty of swag packed to hawk: my various books as well as my t-shirt line. This meant three suitcases and a crazily heavy duffel bag. The conference offered to send a car but I told James we'd just hail a cab. By the way, why? Why wouldn't I want a delicious car waiting right outside my apartment to whisk us to the airport? No, I decided firmly for some reason. I'd rather try my luck, hailing a cab during rush hour while hauling way too many bags. And the fun part was, it was pouring rain. Suffice it to say, there was not a cab to be had. We wound up walking down to 72nd Street and trying to hail a cab from there but we only succeeded in getting soaking wet, giving my hair that old-school Jewfro look. We were getting more and more nervous we were going to miss our flight.

Then my cell phone rang. I decided to take one minute away from frantically trying to wave down cabs that were not interested in stopping for us to answer the phone. Automated voice: "Your American Airlines flight to Norfolk has been... cancelled." First of all, James is a psychic. Secondly, that solved the "getting a cab" problem. But what about the "showing up for my job" problem? American re-scheduled me for a flight that got in way too late. I told them I had to be there earlier, and they put me on a Delta flight that landed at 4:30 which would work out for perfectly for my 6 PM keynote address. Yes, we got soaking wet hailing non-existent cabs and my flight was cancelled but that was nothing compared to what I endured next. James and I watch a few shows religiously: "Homeland," "The Amazing Race" and "Project Runway." Last Thursday was the finale of "Project Runway." Finally, we were going to find out who won at New York Fashion Week. I was slightly stressed because we wouldn't be in NYC to watch, but I knew that my keynote would be over with plenty of time to hole up in our room and watch it obsessively. The one thing I didn't count on? The fact that the hotel didn't get Lifetime! We got to the room and I checked their extensive list of channels at least three times and didn't see it listed anywhere. Hm. Maybe it was an old list of channels?

Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Jennifer Ashley Tepper Photo by Matthew Murphy

I suppressed my panic attack while I called the front desk. I don't know what I was hoping the front desk would tell me, but still I asked, "Hi! Do you have Lifetime Television in the rooms?" I was not surprised to hear, "No, we do not, sir." I kept my breathing steady as I asked if there was anywhere, anywhere in the hotel where we could watch. I was told the bar did indeed have Lifetime. AH! I asked if they could assure me it would be turned to that channel at 9 PM sharp. She told me she would check. Five minutes later I got a call back telling me that the bar would indeed have the TV turned to Lifetime by 8:59 PM and they would assure total silence throughout the episode. Ahhhh.

Wouldn't that have been nice? Actually, this is what I was told on the follow-up call: "Sir, I was mistaken. The bar does not carry Lifetime." And there you have it. I had no choice but to do a full Zen acceptance that I would not be watching the finale that night and forced myself to look forward to how much fun it would be to watch the following night on my own television. After some Deepak Chopra acceptance exercises, I went to bed at peace. The next morning I woke up, turned on my phone, checked my email, my Facebook, went to Twitter and randomly saw Delia Ephron's latest tweet. You know Delia, right? The writer of "How To Eat Like A Child" and co-writer of "You've Got Mail." What was the tweet, you ask? "So glad ____ won 'Project Runway'!" AH! There was no way to un-see it! That's right! The winner was revealed to me in 140 characters or less. I have the courtesy to leave it blank for this article in case there are people who haven't watched yet, but apparently that courtesy wasn't extended to Delia's Twitter followers. That night it was really "fun" to watch all 90 minutes with James, knowing who won. You know what, Delia? You've got mail. Here it is: #Unfollow. When I told her, she felt so guilty. So, I guess all is forgiven. …ish.

In honor of Halloween, I recorded a "Seth Speaks" with some apropos guests! First, I had Jennifer Tepper, who wrote the popular "Untold Broadway Stories" (Volume Two is coming soon) and I asked her for some Broadway ghost stories. Turns out, she had a lot! One of my faves involved Joanna Gleason during the run of Into The Woods. Every week, she would put her makeup in one area so the housecleaning staff could dust it easily. Well, a few months into the run, she'd come back after her day off and notice that her two blushes had been moved to the side of the table. This happened every week. Soon, the letter "M" would appear on her mirror. She would wipe it off and the following week it would appear again. She thought someone was playing a joke on her (PS. Why? Doesn't a joke have to be funny?) and didn't worry about it. Years later, she was driven to a TV show by a teamster and they passed the Martin Beck Theater. He told Joanna that his mother used to work there on the cleaning staff. He then told her that she had passed away (!), and he then told her that his Mom's name began with an M! I love it!

My other favorite "ghost story" involves Ira Weitzman, who was one of the producers on My Favorite Year (my first Broadway show!). During tech rehearsals, he kept seeing visions of Jerome Robbins backstage. The odd thing was... Jerome Robbins was alive at the time. So what did that mean? Ira was seeing a vision of Jerome Robbins' future ghost? Well, a little while later, he saw Jerome Robbins. Was his spirit roaming the halls of various theatres while his mortal body was using a Ouija board? No, actually Jerome told him that he had been considering using the Vivian Beaumont for an upcoming show and was recently wandering around backstage often to see if he liked it. So, the scary conclusion is; when Ira Weitzman saw Jerome Robbins backstage he was actually seeing... Jerome Robbins. Quite frankly, if you've heard some of the stories about Jerome Robbins, that is scary! All of these stories are in Jennifer's book which you can get at DressCirclePublishing.com.

Speaking of Dress Circle Publishing, my book, Seth's Broadway Diary, was released this week! Of course, I'm obsessively checking my Amazon ranking and, turns out, the book is number one in Broadway and Musicals! Please keep it there by ordering it. I had a big book release party at Don't Tell Mama with readings/songs from Chip Zien, Kelli O'Hara, Matthew Broderick, Judy Kuhn, Marc Shaiman and Hunter Bell. Playbill made a great compilation video you can watch here! I had each person read some of my fave sections from interviews with them and then sing a classic song (PS, Judy Kuhn singing from Chess is so amazing!) Here's my favorite Hunter section we read:

"Hunter and I judged an all-male beauty pageant called the Broadway Beauty Pagaent. When it came time for questions from the judges, Hunter asked the contestants what he called 'tough questions,' such as 'Tyne, Bernadette or Patti?' I focused solely on the latter and asked one contestant a string of Patti questions which hit him like a machine gun: Evita or Anything Goes? The Old Neighborhood or Noises Off? "Life Goes On" or that TV movie about Lady Bird Johnson? After each option I threw out, Hunter would nod his head and mutter, "Tough questions..." In the middle of our reading when we mentioned another story involving 9 to 5, Hunter told the audience that he saw a woman after the Broadway production who asked him, 'Wasn't Dolly Parton amazing?' Hm. Dolly Parton wasn't in the Broadway production of 9 to 5. Megan Hilty played the role. Naturally, Hunter said, 'Yes! She was amazing!' As he put it, 'Why kill her dream? She just saw Dolly Parton on Broadway!'"

During the photos before the show, photographer Joe Marzullo, asked me to hold Matthew Broderick's shoulder and kick up my heel. He said it was the same shot I did with Matthew when I had him on the "Chatterbox" during The Producers 12 years ago. I had no memory of that pose, but I did it anyway and the next day he sent me the original shot from the early 2000's and, turns out, he was right! I posted the photo on Facebook and asked "Why is this my pose with Matthew Broderick?" Underneath the shot, my friend Tim posted the more pressing question, "Why is this your pose with anybody?" Good point, Tim. Tough questions.

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And finally, on last week's cruise, Andrea McArdle talked about being asked to do the Tony Awards in the early 80's when they had a female star sing a classic song from the last six Tony Award-winning musicals. Andrea mentioned that a lot of the ladies on the Tonys shared the same dressing room that night. Nell Carter was gabbing with the star next to her about her song choice from Ain't Misbehavin'. The first one she did didn't get a big reaction so she changed that and now she was thinking of changing again. Nell got irritated that the woman next to her didn't seem to be interested and literally didn't respond. Nell then found out that the woman she was blabbing to was starring in Children Of A Lesser God and was actually deaf! Yes, it was the late, great Phyllis Frelich! PS, Andrea sounds so amazing in that performance. And I love that the audience applauds in the middle of the song because Andrea's sustained note is so good! Watch, then 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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