The beautiful Hudson River is to my left and I've got ten hours to go. Yes, I'm on Amtrak en route to Montreal and the route is crazily beautiful. I could spend the whole time looking out the window and fantasizing about living in one of the houses that dot the river's edge. Ahhhh.
And now to reach for my iPhone and obsessively check Facebook/Twitter. That's right, "being in the moment" for me lasts exactly that long: a moment. Anyhoo, I'm going up to do a master class in musical theatre auditioning, which is what I also did last week in Durham, NC. I worked with some great students at the Durham School of the Arts, an arts magnet school. What's so great about this school is that they have tons of arts classes but also maintain incredibly high academic standards. This whole myth that you can't have arts and academics makes me crazy! When I was growing up, my school had tons of options for singing, instrument playing and acting. And many, many kids in my high school got amazingly high scores on their SAT's (not me) and perfect GPA's (not me). The arts are being cut in so many schools claiming that kids need more academics, but it's actually hurting children and it's hurting the future of our culture. How is a child going to discover that or he/she is talented at something if they're not exposed to it in the first place? We're losing out on a generation's future brilliant musicians/visual artists/actors etc. because these kids are not being exposed to what could be their life's calling.
Juli goes to a public school in Manhattan and I volunteered to be the chorus teacher because there was none! And chorus had to be after school because they don't have time for it during the day! They don't? How did I have time for orchestra, chorus, special chorus, theatre and chorale? Besides the fact that I almost failed geometry? PS, not joking. I literally got a 50 for two quarters, but that's because I was a terrible student. So many of the high-achieving kids in my school were involved with the arts. How do we bring back the arts to schools?
Anyhoo, because my trip to North Carolina was on a Wednesday, I recorded "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM talk show, on Tuesday. One of my guests was Barbara Baekgard. If you read my column back in March, you may remember her being the woman whose daughter hired the entire cast of Disaster! to celebrate her birthday. We all went over to her stunning apartment and put on a show. Here's one of the videos! I thought the story about how Barbara started her own business would be interesting for my listeners, so I had her come by for an interview. She told us that back in the 80's, she was a stay-at-home mom and her fourth daughter was about to start college. She noticed that all the luggage she saw in stores wasn't very colorful, so she got some material and sassed up her daughter's bags. Soon, Barbara got a phone call from her daughter saying that other girls in her dorm wanted the bags, too. Barbara decided to start a small business with her neighbor. They each put in $250 and Barbara borrowed her share from her husband. Yes, borrowed. She didn't have her own money because, she told us, it was a different time and her husband controlled the household money. It was very "I Love Lucy" AKA Ricky in charge of the couple's bank account. Barbara decided to name the little business after her Mom because, although Barbara didn't grow up with a lot of money, her Mom had amazing taste and always made the house look pretty. She called her mom as a courtesy and asked if she could name her business after her. Of course, her mom said yes.
Actually, not quite. Her Mom first asked her what kind of business it was. (Barbara said, "As if I was going to start a porn company!") When she heard it was for bags, her Mom agreed and thus was born Vera Bradley. Barbara and her friend were both in their mid 40's when they started it (with $500 total) and it's now worth a multi-million dollar company! We celebrated her 75th birthday a few weeks ago, yet she's still heavily involved in the day-to-day aspects of the business. But not the stuff she's not good at. Barbara was very clear when I asked to give some advice for people starting out: Focus on what you're good at and get someone else to do the other stuff. She told us that she's great at design but terrible at math, so she's always had someone else do that for her. Barbara thinks it's a problem that parents usually focus on what doesn't come easily to kids (like getting them math tutors) instead of encouraging and fostering what they're good at (like getting them into an after-school arts program!). Of course, I immediately felt guilty that James and I are always yelling at Juli to do her homework but then got excited when I remembered we're sending her to camp at French Woods this summer. They have incredible facilities for kids to explore tons of art forms (visual, music, rock, theatre, circus) and Juli is so excited to go ever since she saw this amazing video that shows everything they have. By the by, Barbara later said that she had a little business before Vera Bradley. Since she did such a good job wallpapering her house, she was asked to do the wallpaper for other people in her homestate of Indiana. She decided to name her company "Well Hung." That's when I realized Barbara had a lot of nerve being shocked when her mother asked if she was starting a porn company! PS, her husband objected to that name, so she changed it to "Up Your Wall." Barbara also told us that she had a close friend die of breast cancer, so her company started a foundation for research. Every year they have a golf tournament and no matter what they raise, the company donates one million dollars. It's actually happening next week and you can find out more information at VeraBradley.org.
On Thursday, I had Linzi Hateley at Seth's Broadway Chatterbox and I got to feed my obsession for the original production of Carrie. Linzi's a big star in the West End but got her start in Carrie. And she's making her 54 Below debut this Tuesday! Linzi told us that she was 16 and in theatre school when she heard they were looking for awkward girls to play the title role in Carrie. She went in and sang and then she came back for a dance call with the choreographer, Debbie Allen! She danced up a storm (even though Carrie never really dances) and, on her 17th birthday, found out she got the role! She was short and a little overweight and was so happy that, finally, she was more suited for a lead role instead of all the other tall/stunning girls in her school who always got them.
Carrie was originally done for the Royal Shakespeare Company (like Les Miserables) and the mom (portrayed by Piper Laurie in the film) was played by Barbara Cook. Linzi remembered that even though Barbara worked very hard on the role, it was obvious she was not happy with the show — especially when a piece of scenery swung by and almost decapitated her! The director wanted to try different ways to get Linzi covered in blood during the famous prom scene, and since this was the '80's, they used lasers. It definitely didn't work, so then they had the bad kid, played by Gene Anthony Ray (known for playing LeRoy in "Fame") walk up to her and place a bucket of blood over her head — but it wasn't filled with blood. It had two sponges in it and they simply hit her cheeks. It wound up making her look like she applied a heavy dose of blush. I guess that's a good reason to kill her whole school. Finally, they asked if she minded getting a bucket of blood dumped on her, and she told them that's exactly what she wanted. The show in England didn't get great reviews, but audiences came and loved it.
|Photo by Peter Cunningham|
Carrie had a half American/half British cast, so after playing England, they all came to Broadway, except Barbara Cook who asked to leave and was replaced by Betty Buckley. Linzi said that Betty took her under her wing and helped her tremendously. I asked how Betty would imply a moment didn't work and Linzi said she'd flat-out say, "I don't believe you." Brava on the honesty! Linzi thought it was great because it really motivated her and made her think, "Well, watch this! Now you're going to believe me." The story she recalls and Betty has also told me is that at the end of the first preview on Broadway, they both died onstage and the lights went to black. They didn't hear applause. Instead, they heard people start booing in the audience! Literal "boos." Linzi didn't know what to do and looked upstage to Betty for advice. Betty indicated to her that they had to get up and take their bow as directed. A terrified Linzi stood and when the lights came up on the both of them, the boos changed to cheers! Both extremes! Sadly, the show opened on a Thursday and closed on Sunday. Judging from London's ticket sales, the show probably could have found an audience but rumor has it that the lead producer flew back to Europe and closed the bank account. Linzi remembers after the final performance, Betty walked her onstage, with just the ghostlight on, and told her firmly, "None of this is your fault." Linzi felt very comforted by Betty's kindness throughout the run of the show, but that didn't stop her from being terrified of her during this number. This is a video from eight years later at Betty's amazing Carnegie Hall concert for BC/EFA. It's so thrilling! And Linzi's screams are so scary! Speaking of screams, when Linzi got back to England, she was immediately offered the role of Eponine in Les Miserables ("I'm gonna scream, I'm gonna warn 'em here"). She then went on to do many leading roles including the narrator in Joseph, Roxie in Chicago and originating the role of Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins. She later went back to Les Miserables as Eponine's mother, Madame Thenardier! While she was backstage, she noticed the pre-recorded screams that were playing when the current Eponine did the "I'm gonna scream" scene sounded familiar. She mentioned to the sound designer that the current Eponine had similar screams to when she played Eponine, and found out that the recorded screams they've been playing during that scene for the last 25 years are the ones she recorded back then! Brava Carrie training!
This Thursday at 5 PM, I have Zach Braff at "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox" and on Friday I fly to Detroit to do my Broadway @ show with Patti LuPone. I'm excited to do her show again but sad I won't be with James in Dallas. His play, Art and Science opens this weekend! And now, I'm off to "Seth Speaks" to interview Norm Lewis. 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.)