ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Matt, Mary and a Brady

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Matt, Mary and a Brady
 
I just spent my first week post-Ritz. I was prepared to be completely devastated, but I haven't been. I think it's because I've been super busy since the show closed… or because I've pushed down all my feelings and will have a complete breakdown 30 years from now, "Prince of Tides"-style.
Matthew Morrison
Matthew Morrison Photo by Aubrey Reuben

OK, so here's all the fun things I did this week to escape my feelings. Monday night I played piano for the amazing Andréa Burns at the GLBT Center in the Village. It was a part of an evening where they thanked all the Center's major donors. PS, I love the Center. They have great programs for parents/kids, great lectures, help for teens grappling with their sexuality and a variety of fun clubs. Although, I'll never forget the time I decided to join a book club at the Center many years ago. I got to the meeting early and noticed there were already some people there, but I was too shy to speak. I walked around the room, gazing at some of the photos on the wall while everyone was catching up with each other. Obviously, everyone in this book club knew each other well because they were talking about some personal stuff. Finally, I meandered over to the group and sat down because it was around two minutes before the book club was about to begin. Suddenly, I felt someone grabbing my right hand…then my left. What the-?

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…" That's right! I got to the book club so early, I had actually crashed an Alanon meeting! I was mortified that people thought I would show up for the last seven minutes of a 12-step meeting and that I spent it walking around the room, casually looking at pictures while people were sharing their innermost feelings.

Tuesday I interviewed the cute Matthew Morrison for Sirius. He told me that when he was a teen, he spent a few years in a gang. I was horrified/about to call for security until he told me some more details like (a) he's from Orange County and (b) they spent their time spraying graffiti and break dancing. Gang? They sound about as scary as the kids in Big, the musical.

He went to NYU for a while and while he was there, got cast in a fake boy band that was featured on Letterman. Their name was Fresh Step (as in the kitty litter), and they supposedly sang the theme song to the movie "Talk to the Hand." The sad part is, people thought they were real. Although, is O-town much different? The choreographer was A.C. Ciulla, who was doing Footloose. Matt auditioned and got his first Broadway show. He then got cast in the ensemble of Hairspray as an understudy for the role of Link. James Carpinello was playing the role but wound up getting a film job so Matt was offered the part for the Seattle tryout. They told him that there was no guarantee he would do it on Broadway. I asked him if knowing that he was being evaluated the whole time he was in Seattle stressed him out, and he told me that it actually gave him incentive to work super-hard. He did a great job in Seattle and, combined with Marissa Jaret Winokur pushing for him to continue to play opposite her, he got the gig on Broadway… and an Outer Critics nomination!

The next Broadway show he was asked to audition for was The Light in the Piazza and he said a resounding…no. He heard that score and decided that it was way too operatic for him…plus the role was for an Italian, and he has blond hair! They kept coming back to him asking him to audition, and he kept telling them to "peace out." Finally, he decided to give it a try. I asked what the audition was like, and he said he had to sing in Italian, and he also remembers Bart Sher , the director, asking him to run around the room like a young guy in love. Thank goodness I've never had an audition like that. It would consist of me muttering that my doctor told me not to run because of my knees and then awkwardly taking the orthodics out of my shoes. Of course, he got the role of Fabrizio but told me that he wasn't expecting a Tony nomination. He only wound up getting the Outer Critics nomination during Hairspray, so he didn't want to get his hopes up again. On the morning of the Tony Award nomination announcement, he woke up to watch NY-1, trying not to expect anything, and heard Spamalot's Michael McGrath's name. He knew the nominations were in alphabetical order and told his roommate that he didn't get nominated. Then he realized that McGrath is not after Morrison (it's hard to think alphabetically at 8:20 AM) and decided to rewind the TV. Sure enough, he got nominated! He happened to be talking to his roommate right when his name was called. Attention upcoming nominees. The rule is: when watching to see if you're nominated for a Tony, keep your trap shut 'til your category is completely over. Or else you'll have to ride the roller coaster of depression to elation mixed with humiliation for not knowing the alphabet. After Piazza, Matt went out to L.A. In the summer Lincoln Center called and asked if Matt was interested in playing Cable in the upcoming revival of South Pacific, but he told them that he wanted to focus on TV/film work (he was recently in "Dan in Real Life"). Months passed and Lincoln Center called again to gauge his interest and Matt was still in LA… but the writers' strike was happening. AKA, get me my old dressing room at the Vivian Beaumont ASAP… I'm in!

I know that Matt did a lot of dancing in Footloose and Hairspray, and I asked him if he missed it…and turns out, he does! He said he's dying to do a role where he can sing, act and dance! I was so happy to hear that. Whenever I talk to people that started as dancers, they're always like Catherine Zeta-Jones ("I've hung up my dancing shoes"). Hmm…maybe Matt can end "Younger Than Springtime" in a full split.

Thursday I got to interview Barry Williams at the Chatterbox. He's doing a show called Growing up 70's and, because he had a 7 PM curtain, we only had a half-hour to talk. That didn't stop me from immediately launching into a "why, when, how" about the "Brady Bunch Variety Hour"? He said that Sid and Marty Kroft (Sigmund and the Sea Monsters? Witchipoo? Anybody?) wanted to do a "Donny and Marie" show with a pool instead of an ice skating rink. Let me say that they achieved the pool part. Barry said that they told him that since he and Florence Henderson were the only ones who could actually sing and dance, they would be heavily featured. It didn't quite turn out that way, which you'd know if you've seen one of the two DVDs available. Unfortunately, there's also Tony Randall reading (in rhythm) a poem by Dame Edith Sitwell. Said poem is read over a score by 20th-century composer, William Walton. Maureen McCormick sings a pathos-ridden "If I Could Save Time in a Bottle," and there's also a funky version of "Tangerine" sung by Ann B. Davis and Rip Taylor dressed as giant ducks. And, much, much horribly more. Around a year before the variety hour, Florence Henderson called Barry and told him that she heard that they were looking for a Pippin for the national tour. He flew to New York and saw the show and was blown away. He grew up in California, and the only musicals he saw were very old school, so he was shocked and delighted at how hot the sex scenes were in Pippin. Thinking back, I realized that Greg was pretty tame on "The Brady Bunch," and probably Barry had been yearning to play the kind of over-the-top sexuality he witnessed between Alice and Sam the butcher. He said that he auditioned with the song "Corner of the Sky" and had learned the little bit of choreography that happened during the chorus. On "Rivers belong where they can ramble," you're supposed to move your hands like a winding river, and during "eagles belong where they can fly," Pippin spreads his arms like a soaring bird. After he sang, Barry said that Fosse came down the aisle and gave him the best direction he ever got. Fosse approached him wearing his signature black shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a cigarette dangling from his lips and said, "Nice job, kid, but you're giving me a Cessna. Give me a 747." Barry got the gig, loved doing it, but left the show because he got what was supposed to be a great job offer. That job was "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour."

This week I also went to see the Actors Fund performance of Mary Poppins. First of all, the set is amazing…but that didn't stop me from refusing to clap along with the audience when the house was revealed. Here's my rule: I refuse to clap for anything that can't acknowledge my applause. FYI, I thought Ashley Brown was fantastic. She was super funny and sounded great. She literally ended one song on a crazy high D! I'm estimating that was the note because the only way I could test it was by trying to sing it quietly in my seat (I have a crazy high falsetto) and usually if I can hit it, it's a C, if I can squeak it it's a C sharp, and it's a D if it causes Mariah Carey-style vocal damage. Ashley also did some sassy dancing throughout the show. It was so great to see a leading lady act, sing and dance. Hmm…perhaps that's the role Matthew Morrison has been waiting for.

Finally, Saturday night I did lots of holiday parties. First James, his daughter Juli and I ran down to Don't Tell Mama to meet my L.A. friends, Steve Rabiner and Marco Pennette. I first met Marco when I was playing for "The Jerry Lewis Telethon" for his friend Tia Riebling, who was playing Rizzo in the nineties revival of Grease! He had just created the show "Caroline in the City," and he wound up hiring me to write a song for David Hyde Pierce who played an IRS employee who auditions for Cats. Now, Marco is the show runner for "Ugly Betty," and he told me that he loved working with Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman on the musical episode. How dare he replace my composing skills with that of a team of multiple Tony and Oscar winners!

Then James, Juli and I dashed up to the West 60's to go to the holiday party of my old comedy partner, Maria Bostick. We did a show in the mid-nineties called "Dial M for Marjorie" that I fantasize about doing again one day. One of my favorite sections was when she's auditioning for the musical version of "Lolita" called Oh, Lo.

AUDITIONER: OK, right off the bat, let me ask you some questions. They're just formalities. Are you willing to go out of town?
MARJORIE: Yes, I am.
AUDITIONER: Can you operate a tractor trailer?
MARJORIE: Yes, I can.

Then, we got Juli a babysitter and hightailed it to Brooklyn to visit my agent, Richard Fisher. We got off the train with Chris Sieber and his partner, Kevin Burrows. Chris just got finished doing a seven-week workshop of Shrek. Seven-week workshop? Isn't that an oxymoron? That's like a three-hour first act! Ooh, speaking of Les Miz, I've got to see it again before it closes because I'm obsessed with Judy Kuhn. Anyhoo, after Brooklyn, we hightailed all the way up to the Columbia area to visit our friends Michael Klimzak and Phil Fabry who are in town briefly because they've just started working at a brand-new musical theatre school in Korea. Michael is one of the funniest people I know and used to list "imitating my mother" under his special skills.

OK, this week is the always-exciting Gypsy of the Year Competition, and then we all head down to Texas for a week. Yes, I'm going to Texas. I'm sure I won't stick out like a Jewish sore thumb. I'll write next week's column from Houston, y'all!

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(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. His first novel is titled "Broadway Nights.")

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