ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Laura, Peter and Turkey Sheds

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Laura, Peter and Turkey Sheds A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Peter Gallagher
Peter Gallagher

This was an annoying week for two reasons!

Here goes: James, Juli and I finally found an apartment that had everything we wanted (duplex on the ground floor of a brownstone with a back yard), and it was cheap. And we found out that there was no one else looking at it. We put in an application…and got ixnayed!!!! The realtor told us that she had no idea why the landlord rejected us. James and I both make enough money and have good credit. It's so hilarious because it's an apartment I've seen on Craigslist for weeks, and I refused to look at it because the ads seemed desperate. There was a post about it literally every day, and the price kept dropping and dropping. I essentially went to go look at it because I felt bad for it. It was like asking someone out just to make them feel better and then having them dump you. What chutzpah! I've had it.

Then I joined the throngs of blind consumers and bought an iPhone. If you don't know, you first have to go to the Mac store and get a time to come back to actually buy the iPhone. When you do come back, they have you wait in a beautiful, air-conditioned lounge until your phone is ready. Oh, I'm sorry, they actually make you wait outside with no shade in crazy scorching heat for a full half hour! After that, you get the privilege of waiting on another line inside the store. Then, when you finally get the phone, you realize that because you're an adult male, your fingers are actually too fat to type on its little tiny screen. It's a nightmare! You think you're typing one thing and something crazy comes out on the screen. Right after I got it, I emailed Amanda Lipitz, the producer of the MTV Legally Blonde reality show, and told her I was going to have some contestants from the show on my Chatterbox and wondered if she wanted to come onstage and chat about the show. I got back an email from her, asking me, "What's omtahe?" That's right, "omtahe" is what came out when I typed "onstage." I've had it! I either get rid of the iPhone or put my fingers on a diet.

This week I also had an audition for the new musical version of the film "The Front." Right after I sang and read, the director, John Caird (Les Miz), came up to talk to me. I was ready for some British-style direction. You know like, "I want to see 40 percent more Falstaff with a smidgeon of Lear. And then haul out ye olde Lady Macbeth." Instead, he told me that he was talking about me with someone recently, and he knew my name must be an anagram. Then when he saw it in print, he immediately realized it was an anagram for "Turkey Sheds." I was super-impressed. How can he see a name and immediately form an anagram? I then realized I have a similar talent in that I can see the name of a person and immediately know if they're Jewish. He essentially has the British version of that skill. When I questioned what a turkey shed was, John Caird offered up "perhaps turkey sheds are where composers go to write bad Broadway shows." I piped up with, "I guess that's where Andrew Lloyd Webber lives!" I was then mortified because I couldn't remember if they had ever done a show together (they did: Song and Dance) and I was annoyed with myself because making an ALW joke is as cheap as doing a "why do men leave the toilet seats up" routine. And, because I love all of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals. And, by "all of," I mean 80 percent of them. I won't qualify which ones are in the 20 percent, but let's just say that the "frequently played songs" list on my iPod doesn't include By Jeeves. Anyhoo, I was totally intimidated having a one-to-one with John Caird but not as much as I was trying out for a Coen Brothers movie! That's right! I had two high-powered auditions within two weeks. The problem was that the scene I was auditioning with began with the character crying. It's one thing to build up to crying, but it's so hard to go from chatting with the casting director: "Hi! Nice to meet you! Yes…The Ritz was totally fun!" to body-heaving sobs. I kept trying to think of tricks to get myself to cry. I remembered my friend Jack Plotnick told me about an actor he knew who brought a bag of cut up onions to an audition, put them in his back pocket and during the audition scene surreptitiously put some onion juice in his eyes. Unfortunately, it didn't make him cry, but it did make his eyes sear with pain. We're both obsessed wondering what the casting director thought was going on when he saw this guy start acting the scene, casually bring his hand to his eyes and then start screaming in pain for no reason.

This week I also did some work with the Broadway Artist Alliance, which is a like a mini-intensive camp for theatre kids. They get trained for a week and then present an audition for tons of casting people and agents. These kids were really good! I was so impressed with them/completely annoyed that we had nothing like it when I was a kid. Besides the master classes the kids get, they also get a Chatterbox, and I interviewed Laura Benanti for them. Laura was, of course, beautiful and hilarious, but she noted that our dry humor was not working on some of the ten-year-olds. Keep up, kids, keep up! How dare you not get my Elaine Stritch joke? I was referring to her active alcoholism in the fifties. Anybody? Anybody under 12? Nobody? Someone asked Laura what her strangest experience was onstage, and she said that when she was playing Cinderella in Into the Woods, someone in the audience had Tourette syndrome. I actually have two friends with Tourette's but still had to hear the story because apparently the guy was only triggered when Laura sang. She gave us an amazing demonstration of what it was like by singing "I wish" followed by a gruff "F*** Sh** A**." She then said that during that performance she was talking about it backstage and asking how the other actors were dealing with it and they were like, "Laura. You're crazy. We don't hear anything." She decided she had been imagining it, re-entered with "He's a very nice prince" and was rewarded with a "Son-of-a-b**** Mother******."

At the Chatterbox, I interviewed three former contestants from the Legally Blonde reality show: Autumn Hurlbert, Celina Carvajal and Lauren Zakrin. We discussed the mortifying Autumn throwing-up episode. As I stated before, the show tried to make it look like Autumn couldn't take the judges' criticism and that's what made her sick, but in reality, it was yogurt that had been left out all day, put in the fridge and then put out again. I told her that I couldn't believe they followed her into the bathroom and filmed her throwing up in the stall, but she said that the shot of her legs in the stall was a fake! They actually got a producer to crouch in the stall over a toilet and hoped the audience would think it was Autumn's gams. Tricky! Lauren said that she was actually relieved when they ixnayed her from the competition because the whole thing was such a difficult experience. So, when they did her farewell interview, she was totally at peace throughout it. Of course, that looked too boring for TV, so they began to ask her questions about missing her family, etc. (she's 18) and when she finally started crying, then re-asked her the same questions they had asked before — she gave the same answers, but this time she had tears in her eyes. Why couldn't they have tried that tactic on me before my Coen Brothers movie audition?!?! Celina "regaled" us with the horrifying story that happened to her during Cats. She was still a teenager on tour with the show and was promoted from swing to the role of Demeter. To celebrate, she got fake nails put on. While she was onstage, she had to grab the hands of another dancer and wound up pulling off two of her fake nails…andthe real ones underneath!!!!!!! BUT she kept going with the show! What is it with dancers being able to endure crazy pain!? Hmm…although the audience for Cats has to endure that endless opera scene on the boat in the second half of the show… so I guess both performer and audience members can push their pain threshold to the limit during that show.

On Sirius, I interviewed Peter Gallagher, who is one of the nicest guys I've ever worked with (he was Nicky Arnstein in my Actors Fund version of Funny Girl) and one of the cutest! He grew up in Yonkers, and his first high school musical was The Pajama Game with Babe played by his classmate… Laura Branigan! He was so intimidated by her that he couldn't get any sound out during his one little solo. The theatre teacher made someone else sing it with him because he sounded so timid. His solo became a unison duet. Then, while still in high school, he saw his first Broadway show, which was Hello, Dolly! starring Pearl Bailey, and in the chorus was…Morgan Freeman! Ironically, Morgan was just starring with him in The Country Girl! As they say, "what goes around comes around." Actually, that saying makes no sense in this case. How about a new one: "What was in the audience is then onstage….with ensemble members graduating to leads." It's sorta catchy, isn't it? Silence.

Peter majored in economics but finally after doing summer stock and loving it and realizing that economics is as interesting as that opera scene in Cats, he decided to pursue theatre and gave himself six years to make it. He remembers going to the open call for Grease in 1977 and being number two-thousand- and-something. They asked for something from the fifties, and he sang "Put Your Head on My Shoulder." The late, sweet Vinnie Liff was the casting director, and after Peter sang, he looked up and said, "That was beautiful." Peter said that his knees buckled, his eyes filled with tears and he thought "Thank you God. That's all I need to keep going for the next six years." He wound up not having to test his resolve, because he then tried out for the Hair revival and got called back six times along with a bunch of newcomers: Ellen Foley, Charlayne Woodard and Annie Golden! He finally got the offer to be the understudy for Claude and to be a singer/dancer in the ensemble. After a few days of rehearsal, he was still the understudy for Claude, but the slash was removed and he was just a singer. Peter told me that he comes from a long line of coal miners (seriously!), not dancers.

He also sang the solo in "Electric Blues" …in a sequined unitard. I was horrified at that image, but was immediately interested again when he informed me that he took it all off for the nude scene. Nude scene? Now we're talking. I know cameras existed in the seventies, so please forward all photos to www.SethRudetsky.com. While Hair was in previews, he got offered the role of Danny Zuko in the bus and truck of Grease. He told Vinnie Liff that he already had a job on Broadway and Vinnie asked him if he had ever seen the country. Peter thought about how fun that would be, and about how he had never played a lead. He finally approached the director, Tom O'Horgan, and asked if he could leave to do Danny Zuko. Tom looked at him and said, "You want to go on the road? In a bus and truck? And leave a Broadway show? Before it's even opened?" Peter responded with a resounding, "Yes!" He told me that none of it would have happened if he had an agent at the time. The agent would have told him not to take Grease, or the agent would have asked the Hair people and been told no way. But because Peter asked himself, Tom listened and said he'd speak to the "guys" (Galt MacDermott, Michael Butler and Jim Rado), who all said it was fine. Tom then offered him a chance to go on for Claude, and Peter said no way. They had never rehearsed the understudies, and he thought he would die of a heart attack if he had to go on. He wound up doing Grease on the road and then on Broadway. PS, Broadway's Greaseat one time also sported Richard Gere as an understudy! Walter Bobbie (the original Roger) told me that even when Richard went on for the nerd (Eugene) he got crazy fan letters. S-E-X-Y.

Peter then got cast as the young lover in A Doll's Life, (the musical version of A Doll's House) where, at one point, he had to play a little phrase on the violin in a scene. He practiced and practiced and when he finally tried it out during rehearsal, he realized practice didn't make perfect. Right after Peter played, the conductor, Paul Gemignani, snatched the bow out of his hand and left the room. He returned and gave the bow back to Peter who tried the phrase again and this time produced the soothing sound of silence. Paul had put soap on the bow, so Peter could mime playing and not ruin the show. Ironically, the show wound up being one of the biggest flops on Broadway, so Peter could have played his screechy solo, and it probably wouldn't have made the run any shorter (one weekend).

Peter's back in LA, but hopefully he'll come back to Broadway soon in a musical. Till then, you can hear his sultry voice on his solo CD: http://www.amazon.com/7-Days-Memphis-Peter-Gallagher/dp/B000BHNLXA. All right everyone, I'm signing off. I'm gearing up for my big Obama benefit that's coming up Aug. 11: (e-mail sparesomechangenyc@gmail.com. for tickets). Hopefully, I'll return next week, writing to you from my new apartment with my new slender fingers madly typing on my iPhone. If not, I'll see you omtahe!

*

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway" and the novel "Broadway Nights." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and hosts the BC/EFA benefit weekly interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama every Thursday at 6 PM. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

"Broadway Artist Alliance kids with me and Laura Benanti acting 'wacky.'"
"Broadway Artist Alliance kids with me and Laura Benanti acting 'wacky.'"