Onstage & Backstage: Learn How One Cribbage Game Changed Camryn Manheim's Life!

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Learn How One Cribbage Game Changed Camryn Manheim's Life! This week's look at the life of Seth Rudetsky involves a humbling performance in California and an unexpected lesson in how gambling can pay off.

Happy November! I just flew in from San Francisco after a super fun show with Darren Criss at the Nourse. He grew up there, so he was very excited to be performing in his hometown. He had mentioned to me that he was in The Music Man quartet when he was in high school, and two of the other singers were coming to the show. I suggested they join him in re-creating a song from the show, and I'd be the fourth. Well, by the time we got to rehearsing it ("Sincere") we barely had any time left onstage. They started singing the very beginning of the song and immediately forgot their parts. I asked if the guys if they read music, thinking we could all sightread it together. Not really.

How were we going to perform it in two hours with no more rehearsal? Darren asked me to record their separate vocal parts and they could practice before the show. I quickly recorded their separate vocal lines and wished them well...which is passive/aggressive for, "You guys are in over your head, and we're heading for a major disaster." That night I called them onstage, knowing that they would clank...and, turns out, they were amazing. Literally perfect. The only person who didn't know his part? Me! I had no time to look at it before the show, so the number consisted of three parts sung in beautiful harmony, while I leaned forward, squinting at my music and literally sang aroung 75 percent of my part. That translates to three notes on, two notes off. In conclusion, "Doctor, heal thyself." And/or "Music director, thou are a haughty no talent."

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This week on SiriusXM, I dedicated my "Seth Speaks" to the new production of Spring Awakening. Michael Arden directed this revival, and it features deaf and hearing actors. I saw it a few weeks ago, loved it and had so fun talking to a lot of the cast. Wendla is played by Sandra Mae Frank, who's deaf. Before we began, I asked if her name should be pronounced "Sandra" (long A) or "Sandra" (short A). Sandra signed back to her interpretor that it's pronounced with a short A, like sand on the beach. She followed my question by saying she really didn't know! I had forgotten she was deaf and wouldn't neccesarily know the subtlety of vowels!

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While I was talking to her I was struck by the similiraties between being gay and being deaf. First, Sandra was saying that her advice to parents is not to try immediately to get their kids choclear implants. She said that the first thing parents should do is learn how to communicate, and sometimes a child's education is delayed because there is a focus on getting the child to hear. She also said that deaf people have their own culture and basically said that it may feel devastating for a hearing person to lose their hearing, but that doesn't mean someone who is deaf is desperate to hear. It reminded me of parents desperate to make their gay child straight! Also, both she and Ali Stroker (who is in a wheelchair) were both talking about visibility and how important it is for people to see them in everyday settings. Yet again, I saw the parallel with being gay and was reminded of Harvey Milk who told gay people they had to come out because once people realized that many folks they interact with every day are gay, it would be much harder to be prejudiced. Ali talked about how she'll be sent in to audition for a gig that requires a character in a wheelchair but often she'll get cast in another part! It totally reminded me of gay actors who only get seen for gay roles when, in actuality, they can play so many other roles. Basically, everything they said applies to any minority. I loved Viola Davis' speech at the Emmy Awards quoting Harriet Tubman.

She told everyone that the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. How amazing that Michael Arden cast actors in this show who might otherwise have never have had an opportunity to be in a Broadway musical. And how it doesn't seem like he's condescendingly doing them a favor...it actually made the show better. Brava!

Krysta Rodriguez joined the show and talked about her Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis at age 30. But she's doing great and done with her treatment. She's been keeping a brilliant blog about the whole thing, and, for you Broadway fans, she's so fantastic in Spring Awakening. Her monologue in Act Two is so great, and she sounds amazing on "Song of Purple Summer." One of the hardest things for her and the other people in the cast who speak and have to sign is that sign language isn't a literal language. So they're saying/singing something and signing something that's different. I said it's similar to French where adjectives come in different places in a sentence. For instance, we'd say, "I'm in deep trouble" but someone French would say "I'm in trouble deep." And, apparently, so would Madonna. ("Papa don't preach. I'm in trouble deep." Anybody? Personne.).

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Krysta and Ali are both super young, but they feel really old compared to the rest of the cast (because most of the cast is crazily young) so they wrote a hi-lar parody to "16 going on 17" about what old hags they are. My favorite line is:

"Bachelor dandies
drinkers of brandy
What don't I know of those?"

Watch! 

I also had Camryn Manheim, who plays numerous roles in the show and is fantastic. She's such a cool person! I asked her about her big break and she told us that back in the 90's she had written a one-person show called Wake up! I'm Fat! and felt she had hit her theatrical pinnacle because it got produced at the Public Theater. A manager saw it, loved her and wanted to recommend her to David E. Kelly, who was writing a new TV show. Camryn had to get a reel together which basically consisted of her one (1) appearance on "Law & Order." David watched it in L.A. and put the kibosh on Camryn being on his show. The role called for somebody who was streetwise, and it wasn't her. The manager cajoled him to at least take a meeting with her. He reluctantly agreed. Camryn could not believe she was going to L.A. to meet with a big-time TV writer/producer! She knew people who tested for TV shows, and it always included an amazing first class ticket to L.A. and a luxury hotel.

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Cut to, the manager told her she'd have to cover all of her expenses. What the-? Camryn was working Off-Broadway and taking home around $300 per week. She said she couldn't afford it, but all of her friends told her she had to do it. She flew there for her big meeting…and it lasted around five uncomfortable minutes. Camryn was on her way out of the office, devastated she wasted $1,000 on a total bust. As she was about to exit, she saw that he had a cribbage game. She asked if he played. He reluctantly admitted he did, but he basically implied that he was so amazing she shouldn't be thinking about ever playing against him. She countered by telling him that she could smell his fear. He told her that he played for money, and she told him she would play him for the part! After much sass back and forth, he told her the script wasn't finished yet, but when it was, she would be the first to see it. Cut to, a few weeks later it was delivered to her apartment (and she commented how cool it was to have it slipped under her door…very actor-y), and the role that had been described as "streetwise" was now changed to someone "ballsy." AKA, it was re-written to suit her. She auditioned and got it! Did she ever play cribbage with him, you ask? The answer is yes. Who won, you ask? Well, before they played they agreed never to reveal. However, after they played, David sent a note to the entire cast stating, "No one in the cast is allowed to play cribbage. Gambling is illegal in the state of California." So, as Camryn said to us, "You do the math!"

This week I'm going to Asia for the Playbill cruise! I'll write next week from overseas!

(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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