ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Learn All About Brian d'Arcy James' Childhood Starring Role as a Maypole!

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Learn All About Brian d'Arcy James' Childhood Starring Role as a Maypole!
 
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

I'm on my way to the West Coast! James, Juli and I are flying to L.A. because I'm doing two back-to-back shows Aug. 4; at 7 PM I'm reading from my new book "The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek" at the Barnes and Noble at the Grove and then at 8:30 I'm doing Deconstructing Broadway at Largo! My reading of "Theater Geek" will feature Dan Bucatinsky, Kevin Chamberlin, Jack Plotnick, Barrett Foa and Roger Bart! The Barnes and Noble event is deliciously free, and for my Largo Deconstructing show, you can buy tix here.

I've been inviting all my L.A. friends to Largo, and Sarah Silverman wrote me back and said she'd be out of town. I was going to send the requisite sad face emoji, but instead I just wrote "Jewish sad face." She wrote back "Is there any other kind?" Hi-lar! Speaking of funny Jews, I had a funny (half) Jew come over last week to rehearse. The very dry Matthew Broderick stopped by to go over the music we're going to be doing at our show in Provincetown. Since he and his wife (Sarah Jessica Parker) are doing the show together, we thought we'd do a song from How To Succeed… in which they starred opposite each other on Broadway. We decided to haul out "Been A Long Day" with the role of Smitty played by me! We made a video of us rehearsing, which you can watch at SethTV.com.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick
Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I love Matthew's wry/dry delivery, and whenever I pitch him doing something in our show or repeat a joke he's told, I always try to do it like him. I can tell he doesn't quite know how to take my recreation of his voice/line readings and while we were eating dinner on Friday, I repeated a hilarious comment he had made using my version of his signature delivery/vocal placement and he said, "By the way, your imitation of me…is noted." Even that was dry! We were talking about Juli being an artist and Matthew mentioned that he almost went to the high school of art and design. Turns out, he used to draw! Who knew? And his other choice was music and art. Not to go as an artist, but as a cellist! I thought about all the people who did band and orchestra when they were kids and said we should do a concert with all Broadway people playing the instruments they played in high school. I then realized it's already been done twice on Broadway called a John Doyle production.

Back to The Producers: we were talking about him singing "Trouble" from The Music Man and all those words and he "fondly" recalled the night he forgot the lyrics to "That Face" from The Producers. Matthew said he started the song and around two minutes in, forgot the words. He completely stopped. He then got it together and re-started... and forgot the words again! Finally, Patrick Brady, the conductor, reached up from the pit and handed him the sheet music! Patrick quickly brought the orchestra back in but Matthew again had to stop and said, "Wait. I don't know where you're beginning from!" OMG. The whole thing sounds like a nightmare but nothing tops the Leslie Uggams "June Is Busting Out All Over" nonsense lyric debacle caught on tape. I was just watching the "Chatterbox" I did with her where she reveals why she sang 97 percent of those lyrics horrifically wrong and her explanation is so funny! First watch the debacle plus her explanation, and then watch the lyrics broken down. Brilliant! On Thursday's "Chatterbox," I had Brian d'Arcy James. He had played King George in the workshop of Hamilton and planned on doing it Off-Broadway. He had also played the lead in Something Rotten but that show was slated to go out of town while Hamilton was running Off-Broadway and he didn't want to leave NYC. Then he found out that Something Rotten was going to skip its out-of-town tryout and come directly to Broadway! During the run of Hamilton. He told the powers-that-be at Hamilton that he wanted to do Something Rotten, which would mean that he couldn't do the whole run of Hamilton because the dates would conflict. Amazingly, they let have the incredible experience of opening the show Off-Broadway and then let him leave to do Something Rotten! Yay Jeffrey Seller and friends! That's so much nicer than the Janet Metz debacle I'm still devastated over: She originated the role of Cordelia, the kosher caterer, in Falsettoland Off-Broadway. A few years later, the show moved to Broadway and they asked her to recreate her role.

Brian d'Arcy James
Brian d'Arcy James Photo by Joan Marcus

Well, she had just been cast as the narrator in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which was in Toronto. The good news was that Falsettos would be opening on Broadway while Joseph would be rehearsing. In other words, she could do Joseph rehearsal during the day and Falsettos at night! The Broadway producers agreed she could fly in every day after rehearsal and do the show, and if she was late, they would just put her understudy on. Yay! She'd get to bring the role she created to Broadway. Well, Garth Drabinsky was the producer of Joseph and he wouldn't let her leave at night to do Falsettos. Mind you, it wouldn't conflict with rehearsals, but he still wouldn't allow it. So, Falsettos opened on Broadway without her and Janet the horrible part is that all those early weeks of Joseph rehearsals focused on numbers she wasn't in. In other words, she'd show up to rehearsal and not do anything the entire day. I'm still devastated and I'm going to "Secret" it, Oprah-style, that when the show is revived this spring she finally gets to play that part! PS. She can still hit those crazy high notes. Watch the "Obsessed" we did together where I made her belt the end of the opening number! Amazing!

I complimented Brian on the amazing section of Something Rotten where he and Christian Borle have a verbal face-off/tap challenge where everything they syllable they say is matched with tap steps. I asked him if he ever dance trained, and he told us that his grandma was a dancer and suggested he take class. He continually said "no" but finally started taking tap class when he was in high school. The class was him and eight-year-old girls. Remember, he was in high school. With eight-year-olds. That, however, wasn't the reason he quit. It was two other experiences; first, one of his father's friends saw Brian at the dance studio, and this was the conversation.

FATHER'S FRIEND: Brian! Are you here picking up your younger sister?
BRIAN: No.
FATHER'S FRIEND: Well, are you picking up your older sister?
BRIAN: No.
FATHER'S FRIEND: Then why are you here?
BRIAN: I'm taking dance class.

Silence. And complete confusion/miffed-ness on his father's friend's face. It lasted so long it may possibly still be there today. The final straw was when the spring concert came. Brian's teacher told him she was "so excited" because the big production number was going to feature Brian as a maypole in an Uncle Sam costume. He would stand in the center while the eight-year-olds ran around him holding on to ribbons attached to his hat. That was it. He immediately quit. It was the maypole/Uncle Sam outfit. I then asked him if it was because he "hated America." He "yes and"d me and responded that it was a combination of that and the fact that he licked a donut. Brava pop culture reference! He followed it by saying that his "apology tour" wasn't selling that well.

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We kept talking about dance and he told us a hilarious story; he was in the ensemble of the 1994 revival of Carousel (understudying Eddie Korbich who was Mr. Snow) and Brian said that all the guys were supposed to do a big double tour en l'air during "June Is Busting Out All Over" (yes, callback to Leslie Uggams). Brian practiced non-stop but could only do a single tour. He was in the back so it didn't matter and that's what he did for the entire run. He left the show before the run ended and for his final night, he wanted to do something special. He saw fellow ensemble member Taye Diggs backstage and excitedly told him he was going to attempt a double tour for his last show. Brian told us that Taye touched his shoulder and with incredible concern in his eyes said, very directly, "Why don't you just do one really good one?" As Matthew Broderick said years later, Tayes advice was "noted."

Just so you know, before the tour, there were eight counts where all the guys did this very awkward step where they circled around themselves rocking back and forth with their elbows up. Then they did the tour. Well, the reason Taye was so concerned that Brian not try anything new was because he knew what was about to happen. Turns out, Rocker Verastique, a brilliant dancer in the ensemble, decided to pull a prank on Brian for his last show. Right when that awkward step began, the entire ensemble stopped dancing. Literally nobody moved. Except for Brian doing his little circle around himself with his elbows and knees lifted high. When he was halfway around he suddenly realized he was the only one moving onstage. It was too late to stop his momentum and that night his tour en l'air became a dance solo. Brian then understood why Taye implored him to make it "one really good one". Brian was completely mortified. Afterwards, he recalled that he was in the male dressing room and people were trying to get him to laugh about it. Brian remembers saying, through gritted teeth, "In around five minutes I'll probably find this very funny, but for right now... don't look at me!" The other hilarious dance moment in his history also has to do with Carousel. There was another male ensemble dance moment where all the guys did a big barrel turn in unison. That's where you hoist yourself in the air, spin and lift both legs on the way around. Brian said there was a souvenir program from the show with photos from the cast and one enormous one featured all the men doing the barrel turn. All of their legs are high in the air…except for Brian who had already landed. Devastating!

Well, if you're following my travel itinerary you'll know that I fly back to NYC on Wednesday, have one day home and then fly to Provincetown on Friday for a show at the Art House with the amazing Norm Lewis! Come see me obsess about his velvet voice! PtownArtHouse.com. OK, I'm going to try to be productive on the rest of this flight and work on my next young adult book. So, peace out and see you on the West or East Coast.

(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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