ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Michele Lee, Jason Danieley, Farah Alvin — and Shaw

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Michele Lee, Jason Danieley, Farah Alvin — and Shaw A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Madeleine Martin
Madeleine Martin Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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Happy fall everybody! I'm writing this while looking at the beautiful fall flower bouquet that AMFAR sent me after I did last week's benefit with Cheyenne Jackson in Bucks County. I forgot to mention that in the middle of Cheyenne's show, we did an auction. Cheyenne was too shy to hawk, so I opened up my signature big trap. We were auctioning off four house seats to Xanadu, plus dinner for four at Sardi's, plus signed posters and CD's. Well, turns out, it was supposed to be one package, but I was a moron and thought they were all separate! I auctioned off the four tickets for $2,000, then the dinner for $1,000, the signed stuff for $500 and then four more tickets were offered and we got another $2,000! Turns out my idiocy paid off.

Monday I spent all afternoon at The Players Club rehearsing for my New York debut with a British accent. David Staller, who runs Project Shaw, cast me as Theodotus, the King's tutor, in Ceasar and Cleopatra. Project Shaw's goal is to present a reading of every single play that George Bernard Shaw ever wrote and while I'd much prefer Project Lloyd Webber, I was still very honored to be asked to be a part of it. And the audience for the show was sold out! If I'd have known that George Bernard Shaw was such a draw, I would have booked him at my one of my Chatterboxes. I don't know how David does it, but the cast was star-studded and amazing. Daphe Rubin-Vega was a brava as Cleopatra's arrogant maid with the impossible to say name: Ftatateeta. And Daniel Reichard from Jersey Boys was hilarious as the dapper Venetian rug salesman. Then there was the great Brian Murray playing Caesar and young Broadway star Madeleine Martin as Cleopatra. Madeleine is 15 (!) and plays the young girl in August: Osage County. She was really quirky and funny as Cleopatra and totally nice offstage. I got a photo of the group warm-up right before the show. Daphne made everybody hold hands and throw their arms up while saying Pshaw. It made no sense but it was funny.

Tuesday night I saw Equus. During the whole show I was obsessing about what would happen if I was cast as one of the horses because they all wear skin tight shirts tucked into their pants. How could I keep my stomach sucked in for two acts? Can a horse wear a mumu? As soon as I walked in and saw the rows of seats on the stage I glared and said something to James about everybody jumping on the "Spring Awakening sitting on stage" bandwagon. I then shook my head and muttered "how unoriginal." That night I spoke with sister Nancy on the phone and she remembered that she saw Equus in the '70s while wearing a corduroy jacket and denim skirt. She said that she was lucky because she got to sit in one of the seats onstage. That's right. They had the onstage seating 30 years ago. Shockingly, I judged something without knowing all the information, something I never do. And by "never" I mean "every hour on the hour."

Wednesday I did another "Sirius Live On Broadway" interview at the Times Square Information Center. This time it was with two of the stars of Spring Awakening. But first I had a special appearance by Jason Danieley who has a new CD called "Jason Danieley and The Frontier Heroes" which is basically him recreating what he did as a child, aka, his whole family would sit around, grab an instrument and sing. Conversely, my whole family would sit around, grab a resentment and fight. All right, that last comment was more for comedy's sake. Actually, we also did a lot of music-making. Some of it was great (driving in the car singing Pete Seeger and The Weavers) and some of it was a terrible, terrible mistake (the duet version of "What I Did For Love" my sister and I performed at my Bar Mitzvah reception). Anyhoo, since I had just seen Equus I had to ask Jason about being nude in The Fully Monty. In the final scene, the guys in the show would totally drop everything and, at that moment, a light would come up from behind them that pretty much blinded the audience so nobody's "business" was seen. Unfortunately, one night, as they were doing the number, all the guys felt warmer onstage. They realized they felt warmer because the lights were different. They then realized that the lights were different because the computer that controlled the lights was off and was actually one cue ahead. Meaning that when they finally revealed their various Harry Potters, the lights would be on the curtain call setting…in other words, at full brightness! I remember talking to Patrick Wilson about this and he said right before he took it off, he locked eyes with an 11-year-old girl in the fourth row. She now looks like a 41-year-old woman. After we chatted, Jason sang a beautiful song from the album and made way for Emma Hunton, who plays Ilse, and Gerard Canonico, who plays Moritz, in Spring Awakening. They were both in Les Miz (She was Young Cosette on tour and he was Gavroche on Broadway). I asked him about doing Gavroche's death in Act Two and he said that once as he got shot, a woman in the audience called out, "No! Not the boy!" Emma said that after she did Les Miz she auditioned for a local show singing "On My Own." After she sang, the casting person said she sounded like Britney Spears (lip-synchy?) and that if Emma kept using that pop sound, she'd never get anywhere in the business. And by "never get anywhere in the business" she meant "go straight to Broadway in a show that uses a pop sound."

After the interview, I did a game show segment where people from the audience were contestants and Gerard and Emma played as a team for another audience member. Let me say that they may be on Broadway, but the fact that they are 19 and 17 has limited their knowledge of musical theatre. Ouch. They were clanking and finally I decided to throw a question I knew they'd know. I played a phrase from Les Miz (when the locket crone sings, "Come here my dear…let's see this trinket you wear") and I asked, "Who sings this phrase?" Both Emma and Gerard stared blankly and then one of the other contestants buzzed. Her answer: Anita. I thought it was so hilariously wrong that I awarded her the winner. I then gave Gerard and Emma a free copy of my book, "The Q Guide to Broadway," and begged them to pass it around the cast. After that, they both sang a duet of "Suddenly Seymour" and then performed "I Don't Do Sadness/Blue Wind" from Spring Awakening and I forgave them.

Wednesday I put on a show through Hearts and Voices at Cardinal Cooke Hospital with Alison Bender, Matthew Lutz and Lindsay Lavin (my intern!). Hearts and Voices (now run by Lifebeat) is a great organization that brings music to hospitalized people with AIDS. I've been doing shows for them for around 15 years and I love it. So many times I've brought singers with me who are in a bad mood about something and by the end of the show, they're so happy. A lot of times, performers lose the joy of singing because it becomes about looking for a job, or keeping their job, and there's something so nice about performing for people who are there just to enjoy the music. They're not there to deny you a call back because you sound too pop. And what's great is that the patients don't care what's on your resume, they just care if you connect with them and sound great. They gave the same reaction to my sassy intern as they gave Audra MacDonald. If you or anyone you know wants to volunteer, go to http://www.lifebeat.org/what_we_do/hearts_and_voices.htm.

I just realized that I had so many interviews last week, I forgot to write about the wonderful Michele Lee whom I had at the Chatterbox! Her first Broadway show was Bravo Giovanni and her co-star was the opera singer, Cesare Siepi. Michele said that whenever he was playing a scene with her, Cesare would look only at her forehead. Finally, Michele asked him why he said all of his lines while looking at her forehead. He said, "If I looked in your eyes…I'd forget my lines." It sounded charming til I remembered that he was 20 years older than her. She got the part of Rosemary in How to Succeed in Business… because the original Rosemary got pregnant with twins. Everyone said that it was going to be difficult to play opposite Robert Morse because he was so unpredictable but she loved it. Michele said that he'd run all around the stage and change his blocking constantly, but all she mainly had to do was sit in a chair and look on adoringly, which was easy because that's what she was feeling! She remembered filming the movie, but told us that, at the time, Europeans didn't like musicals. So they filmed one version with the songs, and then they'd film the exact same scene again, but leave out the music! How the hell would the scene end?

SMITTY: Rosemary, what are you thinking about?
ROSEMARY: I'd be so happy to keep his dinner warm.
SMITTY: Oh. OK, see ya.
ROSEMARY: See ya.
Fade to black

Finally, I brought up Seesaw. That's the show that was out of town in Detroit and in trouble. They fired the director and brought in Michael Bennett who fired many of the cast members, including the lead, Lainie Kazan. Michele got the lead and Ken Howard kept his role as her love interest. She said it was a nightmare for him because he would rehearse an all-new version of the show during the day, but at night he'd have to do the same show, but with the old lines and songs. What a headache. As for Lainie Kazan, Michele said that it was very difficult. They had been friends since they both did Bravo Giovanni together and then they lived down the hall from one another! They became estranged for many years, and then, ten years ago, they were both at a New Year's Eve party at Lee Grant's house. OK, get that old-school Hollywood image in your head. Michele said that she and Lainie were standing on opposite sides of a buffet table when "Auld Lang Syne" began to play. They both burst into tears and ran to hug each other. Now, they're best friends and, she suddenly remembered, Lainie's coming over to her house this Thursday to watch the vice-presidential debate! It sounded like such a fun girls' night I wanted to be invited…especially since Michele said they'd be joined by Donna Mills!

I also saw the new Off-Broadway show called The Marvelous Wonderettes which is about a close harmony girl group in the late '50s, and then ten years later. I can't wait for the CD because the singing is great. One of my favorite singers, Farah Alvin, is in the show and she goes from singing crazy high soprano to belting up a storm. A few years, I did a salute to Neil Sedaka with the Actors Fund and Farah sang "Solitaire." She totally brought down the house and Neil thought she was incredible. I just put up a video of her singing it on my website, www.SethRudetsky.com. Pay special attention to the final note (an F!) and spot how the camera view gets obscured at the end because the crowd is giving her a standing ovation. Speaking of my website, a while ago I wrote that I posted a deconstruction of Gavin Creel singing "Going Down" from Hair and it wasn't there. (I got as many emails complaining about that as I did last week when I mistook Clytemnestra for Cassandra. I'm glad there are so many Greek scholars out there that have my email address. You've all inspired me to re-read "The Iliad." And by "re-read," I mean "throw out".)

Regardless, I finally posted the deconstruction of Gavin which begins with my retort to a email I got from someone asking me why I was so obsessed with vibrato. She said that vibrato comes from proper vocal placement, and straight tone is more impressive. After my state of shock wore off, I started filming and literally demonstrated the difference between straight tone and vibrato with the help of my trusty violin! That's right, when I haul out the props, you know I'm serious. This week I got an email from someone asking me why I like belting so much. Don't make me haul out a viola, people. I'll do it.

Saturday night, I went to Birdland to see one of my favorite belters, with vibrato, Betty Buckley! The place was packed and her song choices were great, especially the devastating pairing of the Brazilian songs "Dindi" and "How Insensitive." You can get that on her new CD, "Quintessence" (BettyBuckley.com). She started the show by announcing that she would not be singing anything from Broadway. The announcement was met with stunned silence and then one person applauded. But then she cheered everybody up by saying she's going to be doing her all-Broadway show at Feinstein's in February! Brava! Richard Jay-Alexander is going to direct it for her and he was backstage after the show with me and James. Jim Caruso (who runs Broadway at Birdland and books all those amazing acts) came backstage too and asked Betty to take a picture for a project the cast of [title of show] is doing to keep their show running. They posted a closing notice for later this month but aren't going lying down. They've recruited their legions of fans to do tons of projects to keep the show running. One of the main projects they have is a petition to get the show on "Ellen," which would be perfect because Hunter and Jeff literally sing a song in the show with lyrics about being on "Ellen"! The petition is at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/221/petition-to-get-title-of-show-on-ellen. Sign it! I don't know what this latest [title of show] project is, but it involved Betty holding up a sign with her name on it. After taking Betty's picture, Jim took a picture of Betty, me with Betty's sign and Richard Jay. All right, that's it for me. This week will feature cast members from Hairspray at my free Sirius on Broadway show on Wednesday at noon at the Times Square Information Center. And for you fellow Jews out there, it's the New Year… L'shana Tovah! And for you fellow Jewish Broadway lovers, L'Shoshana Bean Tovah Feldshuh!

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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" 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.sethrudetsky.com.)

Seth with Betty Buckley and Richard Jay-Alexander
Seth with Betty Buckley and Richard Jay-Alexander Photo by Jim Caruso
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