ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Mitzvah, Memorial and Mom

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Mitzvah, Memorial and Mom A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Christopher Jackson and Eliana Berman
Christopher Jackson and Eliana Berman

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Greetings from the American Airlines 9:55 AM flight to Dallas.

It's 10:30 AM and those people on the ground look like ants! Wait. They are ants. We haven't taken off yet. The right engine won't start, so we were towed (!) back to the gate and the mechanics are working right now to fix it. That gives me plenty of time to write my column and think of horrific images featuring the right engine failing mid-flight.

Here's a recap of last week: My older sister Nancy and her family came to visit. They're from Norfolk, and my niece Eliana wanted to celebrate her bat mitzvah in New York. Both of my nieces were obsessed with Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods and Eliana begged me to ask Denis Jones, the choreographer on the TV show, for a private dance class as one of her bat mitzvah presents. I texted Denis and right away he said yes. He wrote back, "I assume she'll be shaking her 12-year-old junk" to which I readily agreed. He knew she'd want to learn the section from "Positive," where Elle Woods tries to win back her man by "shaking her junk." Yes, I know it sounds inappropriate for a bat mitzvah present, but biblical scholars have taught that it actually dates back to an ancient Jewish tradition where Ruth got Isaac back from the clutches of the harlot Esther by shaking her junk. Of course, Jewish-style "shaking your junk" is roughly translated as "complaining."

Anyhoo, we met at Ripley-Grier studios and Eliana was incredibly excited but a nervous wreck because she's never taken a dance class. Denis was amazing. So supportive and helpful. We loved the fact that instead of saying "you're doing it wrong," he would say, "If I were to be nitpicky, I would say that your right hip needs to move at the same time as your hand." I learned the dance, too, and turns out, Eliana was super-coordinated and I was the clunker in the group. Nancy glared at me in my ill-fitting sweat pants and told me perhaps I was in the wrong room because the Jenny Craig weigh-in was down the hall. Speaking of which, she also busted me for writing non-stop about my eating issues and said, "Your column reads like someone's food diary from OA. Where's the actual Broadway?" Point taken.

Eliana Berman and Denis Jones

Eliana's next request was to see In the Heights. Hers for the second time, mine for the ninth (!). The show is still fantastic. Both Eliana and Nancy are obsessed with Chris Jackson and as soon as he came onstage, there was non-stop poking of each other and saying "there he is" and a starry-eyed love staring. Of course, Nancy and I both have the same sense of humor, so when Chris started singing, she whispered to me, "Seth! How do I get this thing off?," and I looked over to see her frantically trying to twist her wedding ring off. After the show, we went backstage. I was so excited to see Cloris Leachman standing onstage because she had just seen the show. She was congratulating everyone and telling them how much she loved it. I had just interviewed her on the radio, so to prove how famous I was in front of my family, I strolled up to her in front of Nancy and Eliana and said, "Hi, Cloris! I just interviewed you on the radio!" to which she replied, incredulously, "You did???" I quickly backtracked to Nancy and Eliana. We said hi to everyone in the cast and finally, Chris came over to us. It was time to ask for Eliana's final gift request: for Chris to sing a section of "Home" to her. I asked Chris if he would do it, and for some reason he was surprised. Shockingly, it's the first time someone requested that of him for a bat mitzvah present. He started from Eliana's favorite section, Then can I say…I couldn't get my mind off you all day…, which he sang right to her as she avoided his eyes and blushed uncontrollably…and I videotaped it all! Chris has just started recording his own CD, and I told him I was excited for the release party. Nancy asked, "Do you need a 48-year-old married woman and a bat mitzvah girl in your audience?" and he immediately answered, "Yes!" Eliana left in a state of delirium, and we exited the theatre and walked right into the crazy storm that hit Tuesday night. We took shelter underneath the Billy Elliot marquee with tons of other theatregoers. While we were there, Nancy ran into a friend from her hometown and started chatting. I wound up running into some fans of my radio show and signed some autographs as Nancy explained to her friend they know me because I have a show on Sirius/XM. PS, to understand this dialogue better, know that my show airs daily from 2-8 PM. In other words, six hours day. NANCY'S FRIEND: Wait! I also have Sirius/XM! What channel is he on?
NANCY: The Broadway channel.
NANCY"S FRIEND: OMG! That's my number one pre-set! I have it on all the time! (Pause.) When is he on?

Interesting. I guess she has it on the other 18 hours of the day?

The whole week began at a very sad, moving and, quite frankly, hilarious event: the memorial for actor T. Scott Cunningham. T. Scott was only in his late forties when he passed away a few months ago, and his partner, the super-smart, super funny actor Harry Bouvy put together a memorial at the Vineyard Theatre where T. Scott had performed many times. After hearing everyone speak, you got such a clear picture of what a fantastic life T. Scott had…full of theatre, travel, incredibly funny moments and love. His roommate from college spoke first… none other than Tony Award winner Joe Mantello. It was Joe's idea that they room together. They didn't know each other when they got to the North Carolina School of the Arts, but they both were assigned roommates who were not their style…AKA, as Joe put it, "dreaded techies." Joe finagled it so the techies could room together and he and T. Scott could move to his room. Joe said they became best friends and finally, after many nights of bearing their souls, they admitted to each other that even though "up until this point we'd both been totally straight…we might…possibly….(long pause)…be bisexual." Joe talked about what a fantastic actor T. Scott was and how happy they both were when Joe, making his Broadway debut as director, cast T. Scott in his Broadway debut, Love! Valor! Compassion! Joe told us that T. Scott was fantastic in everything he saw him in. Joe then paused and said, "Full disclosure….I did not see him in Mamma Mia!" So many people spoke, and every one showed us a beautiful glimmer of T. Scott's life. Someone talked about the time that T. Scott was working with a famous performer and came offstage, ranting, "She used up all the acting in the room!" I'm obsessed with that line. It's such a creative way to look at that kind of situation. His partner Harry talked about all the amazing women that T. Scott played opposite and how, for some reason, all of the ladies hit it big right after working with him. The list includes Amy Ryan, Jane Kaczmarek, Marin Ireland, Hope Davis, Julie White and Allison Janney. Harry said that it got to the point where T. Scott loved going to the first read-through of a new show, sitting down next to the leading actress and saying, "Get ready for your career to skyrocket!" It was a beautiful memorial and it's obvious T. Scott touched so many lives and will be terribly missed.

On Wednesday at my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show, I interviewed Malcolm Gets, whom I first met in 1996 when I wrote a funny song for David Hyde Pierce's appearance on "Caroline in the City." Malcolm talked about how much his life changed from that show. Before his sitcom, he was the epitome of the struggling New York actor. I remember Judy Blazer telling me that she had to lend him money once for the subway. This was in the days of the dollar fare! He told us that when he got cast on the show, he had just graduated from the Yale Drama School and was around $75,000 in debt. After his first year on the TV show, he got a call from Yale asking if he made a mistake on the recent check he sent. The woman thought Malcolm added too many zeros because, in one year, he went from paying the bare minimum to paying the whole thing off in one check. Yowza! Speaking of which, I just got a letter from Sallie Mae and had a panic attack that I never paid off my Oberlin student loan. I tentatively opened it and found out that I had overpaid my student loan! I got a delicious check for $6. PS, what took them ten years to discover it? I'm sure they would have been very accommodating if I took ten years to remember I owed them money. Also, what's with calling themselves Sallie Mae? Why do loan companies have sweet Southern names? Is it to make us more willing to pay them because we're supposed to think of them as kindly old ladies from a small town in Georgia? "Oh, I have to make sure I pay sweet li'l Sallie Mae Wilkins her money. She's always offering me mint juleps and huckleberry pie after church." Why don't they just call themselves "Student Loan Recovery Fund" and leave the homespun names to the real housewives of Atlanta? And when did this column become my stand-up act?

Malcolm also said that while he was filming the recent "Grey Gardens" movie with Jessica Lange, Drew Barrymore stayed in character all day. Whenever they weren't filming, she still called him Gould and he had to call her Edie. I'm the same way. I make everyone involved in Seth's Broadway 101 call me Seth offstage as well. PS, has she always been like that for all of her films? And, in the early nineties, did people at the craft services table have to call her "Ivy" or the formal "Poison Ivy"?

The good news is that my agent called me about an audition for the "Sex and the City" film sequel. The bad news is, the audition was for my mother! That's right. She's become the go-to for sassy, older Jewish ladies. My mom went in and was thrilled that the audition was improv, which she thinks is one of her so-called "special skills." I then got another call from my agent telling me that she got a callback. What the-? Last time I was the one with the audition and callback for the "Sex and the City" movie (and ironically lost the role to Malcolm Gets)! How dare she trump me? I knew she became an insider when she went from saying, "The callback will be at Bernard Telsey's office" to "I met Bernie. He's very nice." It all evened out at the end because I wasn't cast in the first film and she wasn't cast in the sequel. Quite frankly, I didn't want to see my mom in a film with the word "sex" in the title.

And now, a little about Seth's Broadway 101. It's going so great that Ars Nova asked if we'd do an additional performance! So, next Sunday we're doing a show at 7:30 PM and then one at 9:30. I love the show so much I could do it every two hours every day. It would be great to extend it to Labor Day weekend, but I'm performing in Provincetown then for four nights. For tickets to 101 or my Provincetown Deconstructing, go to SethRudetsky.com. Peace out! *

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.

Announcer Julie James, Seth Rudetsky and Malcolm Gets
Announcer Julie James, Seth Rudetsky and Malcolm Gets
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