ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Kerry, Anthony and Sideburns

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Kerry, Anthony and Sideburns First of all, my hair.
Kerry Butler stars in Xanadu.
Kerry Butler stars in Xanadu. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Joe Mantello wants us all to grow our hair out until rehearsals begin for The Ritz. We're going to have our hair cut into 70's styles, and the more hair we have to work with, the better. It feels bizarre to have crazily long sideburns. I don't know if I look like a Village Person or a Yeshiva student.

Attention: YouTube should come with a warning that it can cause addict-like behavior, especially in those with a weakened obsessive-resistance system. I go onto YouTube "for a second" or "just to see one thing," and I'm invariably on it long enough to see Les Miz twice. Oh, yeah, speaking of which, I was gabbing with Sarah Uriarte Berry about the days when we both did Les Miz (mid-nineties) and how we were there when it was the long version. Three hours and fifteen minutes. I was a piano sub on a lot of shows back then, and one of them (An Inspector Calls) was literally over when Les Miz began its intermission. Of course, we all got paid extra because once a show is over three hours, it's required to pay overtime and give Red Bull to the audience.

Near the end of the initial run, they shaved off 15 minutes to make the show a tight three hours. And by "tight," I mean that is still one lo-o-ong revolution. The worst part back then was that I was a sub on Keyboard Two, not One. So while Key One (sassy abbreviation) would be playing that Les Miz fast eight-note phrase at the beginning of "One Day More," my hands would barely move playing 79 measures of whole notes. Essentially, once I finished my first piano lesson book (John Thompson's "Teaching Little Fingers to Play") I was ready to play Les Miz.

Back to YouTube, someone posted the Annie concert we did on the Rosie Boat! It's so glorious to watch Andrea sing "Maybe" and fun to watch us dance "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile." Or, in my case, as the awkwardly-shoved-in boy orphan, "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Weird Painter's Smock Over Black Dress Jeans."

The problem on YouTube is, once you're watching one video, they have a list of videos on the side of the screen that you might be interested in. And then when you go to one of them, there's a new list on the side. It's like a never-ending gobstopper. Although, the trance wears off once I get to one of those useless videos that are just immobile photos of a star with a recording playing in the background. I don't need anyone to help me play a CD and stare at a picture. See my diary entry at age 13 describing a full day of listening to my Evita album while obsessing over Patti's photo on first page of included lyrics (left profile, hands clasped, amazing lace front wig). This week I did an interview for my Sirius radio show with the ultra nice and brilliantly talented Kerry Butler. Back in the day, Kerry and I performed in a kids' nightclub called Youngstars when we were super young (she was super superyoung). At the end of the show, all the kids in the show got to wear the T-shirt of the Broadway show they were in at the time, so there'd be kids doing the finale in T-shirts that said Annie, Peter Pan, Evita . . . even I Remember Mama (!), and years, later, Kerry and I are still devastated that our T-shirts were blanker than Sofia Coppola's face throughout "Godfather: Part III."

There are so many Annie audition devastations out there, but Kerry's tops the list. She actually has two that need to be told. First, she auditioned to be a replacement orphan on Broadway and actually got to the final callbacks! She was in Catholic Elementary School, and her principal made a loudspeaker announcement on the day of her last audition asking the students to pray for her. One student named Joey Mazzarino heard the announcement while he was sitting in class and thought, "Pray that someone gets a part in a show? That's ridiculous!" He refused … and Kerry got cut. She was devastated years later when Joey revealed to her that he boycotted helping her out with a little prayer … especially since she wound up marrying him! No wonder she didn't take his last name.

The real doozy of a story happened a little later. She went to the audition for the Annie movie and, again, got to the final callbacks! That night there were a few messages on her family's answering machine. Could one of them be "the" message? Her mom pushed play, and suddenly they heard what they had been waiting for: "This is a message telling you that you've been cast in the 'Annie' movie. Congratulations!" Kerry remembers jumping up and down screaming. But then wait! There was another message: "Um…that last message was a mistake. Sorry."

Can you believe that!? She got to have ten seconds of joy followed by an eternity of heartache. I was plunged into a depression when I heard that story … and then more so when she told me that she didn't save the messages. How much fun would that be to actually hear? I'm sure that Kerry was devastated that she didn't get cast until she actually saw the movie — she then probably had a feeling similar to the "devastated" passengers who couldn't book a ticket on the initial voyage of the Titanic.

Kerry's done so many shows it's mind-boggling. We talked about her playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and I asked her what happens if the contraption that helps the Beast do his transformation back into the Prince doesn't work. Due to the non-disclosure agreement she signed that said all she's ever allowed to reveal about the special effects in the show is that they're "Disney Magic" (oy!), she clammed up … except to tell me that on opening night in Toronto it malfunctioned. The orchestra, however, still played the transformation music, and the Beast (Chuck Wagner) filled the time by doing a modern interpretive dance. Kerry was filled with hilarity/mortified at the awkwardness … but then doubly mortified when the Isadora Duncan transformation ended and the audience applauded! Canada, have you no shame?

I told her how fierce I thought her roller skating is in Xanadu, and she told me she's notoriously uncoordinated. She was Penny Pingleton in Hairspray and revealed that after the Tony Awards Marissa Jaret Winokur told her that she TiVo'd the Tonys and watched their performance of "You Can't Stop the Beat" and she loved how crazily klutzy Kerry looked. Kerry was horrified to admit that "You Can't Stop the Beat" was the one number in the show where she thought she was making Penny look like an amazing dancer. She thought Penny's journey in the show was from klutz to cool and culminated in her amazing dancing during the finale. Ouch. That may have been her subtext during the number, but her text was clankstress.

In terms of the roller skating in Xanadu, she flat out told the director (Chris Ashley) that she wouldn't be acting til the end of the rehearsal period. So much of her comedy is physical, and she said that she needed to spend her rehearsal time becoming comfortable with what her body was doing on those 80's skates. She told me that she'd come home from rehearsal almost every day and cry. Thank goodness Chris let her mark the first three weeks of rehearsal because I saw the show, and her skating is roller disco-perfect and her performance hysterical.

On Thursday Anthony Rapp came to the Chatterbox, fresh off the heels of his triumphant return to Rent. I asked him about all those Rent-heads out there and if there was any inappropriateness. He said that the only indecent proposals he ever got in fan mail were when he was on Broadway playing Charlie Brown. Disgusting? You decide. Actually, I will. Yes. He also said that he's talking to a producer about doing a show with music based on his fabulous book "Without You"! Yay!

Of course, we had to talk about his teen film hit "Adventures in Babysitting." He screen tested for it, but the producers felt that due to the success of the Molly Ringwald teen films, his blond hair would remind audiences too much of Anthony Michael Hall. So he screen tested a second time, and this time they dyed his hair red … with permanent dye! If he hadn't gotten the film, I'm sure watching the red hair color grow out wouldn't be a devastating daily reminder of the film he didn't book.

I asked him how cool the premiere was and how popular he became in his high school because he was one of the stars of a Hollywood feature film. He told me that (a) nobody in his school cared, (b) there was no premiere and (c) he went to see it in his local Cineplex and had to buy his ticket. Ow, ow and yowtch.

This week I'm excited to see some Fringe shows (especially the laugh-out-loud Kelly Kinsella's Life Under Broadway, which I saw last year at the Ars Nova and loved) and also slightly terrified to have my costume fitting for The Ritz at William Ivey Long's studio. I finally have to put on that towel. Did they have love handles in the 70's? *

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)