I did a little tiny reading of Terrence McNally's The Ritz at the Roundabout. And by "reading," I mean we literally just read it. The Ritz is a 1970's play about a man on the run from the mob who hides out in a gay bathhouse. The Roundabout reading starred Kevin Chamberlin as the man on the run, Brooks Ashmanskas as the bathhouse slut and Rosie Perez as Googie Gomez, the Latin singer who can't sing. When I was first called to do it, I went from completely thrilled to terrified that I was being asked to read stage directions. No matter what, we all know that job is thankless. Your lines consist of "Lights up" and "he exits" and "end of Act One." I knew that I would have tried to add subtext and been boycotted from reading Act Two.
Thankfully the director, Joe Mantello, got someone else for the stage directions and cast me in multiple roles. I don't want to overly impress you, but I ran the gamut from "patron" to "snobby patron" to "patron." I had up to and including five lines. But, it was very cool to be asked to do it. I felt like a true theatre insider! Speaking of which, Michael Riedel mentioned me in his column about the Grease reality show and said I was the only theatre insider who was watching. I was actually very excited to be called a theatre insider in print! But, I would like to say, for the record, there is at least one more. Three weeks ago I got a frantic cell phone call from a one Mr. Jonathan Groff from Spring Awakening. He had neglected to TiVO that week's episode and seemed more devastated from that than from the aftermath of when his character whips Lea Michele with a switch. I had the episode still on my TV and quickly made him a VCR copy. My point is, there were at least two theatre insiders watching the Grease show — three, if you count Kathleen Marshall.
On to Monday. I went to my mom's house for the first Seder with James (my new boyfriend) and David Friedman. David is a brilliant composer/lyricist ("Help Is On the Way") and a raconteur extraordinaire. He told me a story of when he conducted a Broadway show, and the sound designer put the leading lady on a "limiter" — meaning that the sound level never got above a certain level during the Act One finale. During intermission she called the sound guy to her room and complained that she was belting her brains out, but never got the big sound she wanted. He said that he had put her on a limiter so she didn't overpower the chorus. She screamed, "I don't give a (bleep) about the (bleeping) chorus!" . . . and, unfortunately, didn't realize her body mic was still on. So her comment was broadcast to the dressing rooms of the boys and girls chorus. I'm sure it was very comfortable on and offstage from them on. The lesson? Always turn off your mic during intermission! And, while I'm on the subject, always make sure your cell phone is really hung up before you start dishing the person you were just talking to! Just an fyi … and sorry, Mom.
Tuesday was the second Seder night, which I spent with my family, my boyfriend, Paul Castree and his boyfriend (company manager Stephen Spadarro). Paul and I did Forever Plaid together, and one night during "Mathilde," he completely forgot the lyrics. Instead of "Mathilde…come and sing along now, Mathilde…help me sing this song now," he sang, "Mathilde…sing it everybody (subtext: Uh-oh! Must make it rhyme.), Mathilde…uh-dee, uh-dee, uh-dee!" It sounds crazy, but because he totally committed to it, it sort of worked.
On Wednesday, James and I saw a matinee of Curtains. I called Debra Monk that Monday to do my Chatterbox, and she sounded awful and said she was really sick. I was expecting to see an understudy on Wednesday and instead I got Debra, slaying 'em in the aisles. As my friend Peter Flynn says, chalk it up to "Dr. Theatre." Brava! I was totally obsessed with Patty Goble, who plays the no-talent star in Curtains, who has the lead in the musical within the musical. She's hilarious! That's the kind of show I would see over and over again just to see that first number where she stinks up the stage.
Wednesday night, James, Stephen and I saw the brilliant Betty Buckley at Feinstein's. Attention producers: Bring her back to Broadway…ASAP! After the show, we hung out in her Feinstein's suite, and she told us that when she first did 1776, she didn't know anything about anything and, for some reason, thought she needed to wear dark make-up onstage. Also, even though Betty was a blonde, she was in a crazy dark wig. Well, it was the first preview, and she was doing her first moment in the show, which is when she suddenly turns and her face appears in a window. Most of the rest of the cast were older men, and she is supposed to look youthful and fresh-faced and innocent. Well, she said that when she showed her face, the audience wasn't thinking "youthful" and "fresh-faced." Instead, they were thinking, "That's what happened to Baby Jane!" Suffice it to say, the producers got her a lighter wig and fixed her makeup the next night to prevent any premature audience heart attacks.
Thursday was my Chatterbox with Jason Danieley. He and his wife are the couple with the most mispronounced names. For the record, his last name is pronounced like the name Daniel with an "ee" at the end. And, her first name is pronounced Marin, not "Marion," and her last name is Mazzie, like May-Zee, not Ma-zzie. I'm still miffed as to why ker-nel is spelled "colonel" and Shar-day is spelled "Sade," but that is irrelevant at this moment.
Jason talked about doing The Full Monty on Broadway and one devastating night. Normally, at the moment when the cast finally takes it all off, the audience is blinded by a giant Full Monty sign so they really can't see any "business." Well, the actors realized as the song went on that the computer was off and the light cues were one ahead, so instead of the blinding light during the nudity, the cue would be what's on during the bows — that is, full stage lights! Jason remembers being mortified throughout, and when I interviewed Patrick Wilson he remembered the horrible moment of knowing he was going to be nude in full light and right before the final disrobe, uncomfortably locking eyes with a 12-year-old girl in the third row . . . and then demonstrating to her what the words "Full Monty" meant. Horrifying.
Jason also talked about the brilliant performance of Kathleen Freeman and how the whole time she was doing the show, not only was she in her eighties, but she was going through radiation for lung cancer. He said that no one in the cast knew, they just thought that offstage she had less energy than onstage. I used to sub in the pit and I can vouch that in every scene, she was always at full sass! I don't remember her ever missing a performance or laugh line.
This weekend was dedicated to getting ready for my Actors' Fund show, Seth's Broadway 101. I had the hilarious Charles Busch at my apartment and Andrea McArdle. Why has she never been the lead in Mamma Mia!? She'd sound amazing! She told me that all the original Annie orphans are having a 30-year reunion. Did you hear that? Thirty years! Mark your calendars: Winter 2037. Thirty year reunion of Spring Awakening.
Andrea also said that "Maybe" had to be in a high key because she didn't wear a body mic . . . but she doesn't understand how the littlest orphan could have her head in Annie's lap and be soothed to sleep when the phrase "Maybe far a-waaaaaaay" ended with Andrea belting a high D. Lullaby? Or double dose of Red Bull?
I'm now starting my big week of rehearsals leading up to Broadway 101 and hoping that the dancing I'm doing will counteract the delicious bowl of Waffle Crisps I'm eating . . . and yes, I'm busted, because it's so not Kosher for Passover . . . but c'mon, fellow Israelites, I'm stressed! OK. Let me end by thanking everybody who wrote to tell me that "Gilligan's Island" did indeed become a musical. I put that in the column as a joke and turns out, it was true. How about this hilarious joke: Grease reality contestant Derek is moving in with me as my concubine. Will that now become true? I will inform you next week.
(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 his show, Seth's Broadway 101, will be presented April 16. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)