ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: More Luxury Problems

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: More Luxury Problems Okay, remember when I talked about having "luxury problems" a few weeks ago? Well, apparently I'm still sitting in the lap of luxury.
Ashton Kutcher
Ashton Kutcher

In mid-July, I auditioned for a film starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. Cut to a few days ago when I found out that I got the part! My first feature film! And, it's my signature line limit: two! Plus, I'd be playing those lines opposite Ashton Kutcher, which could easily have led to an impromptu make-out session. Yes, I know he's married, but can't I harass him sexually and then claim I was "punking" him? Regardless, the question is moot because the movie films on a Tuesday and Wednesday during previews, and the powers that be won't let me take off those shows.

My mother tried to help me plead my case: "Why won't they let you take off? You have such a small part!" Truthfully, I don't even know how I could do a contemporary movie with my crazy seventies hairstyle. A girl named Camille, who only knows me from my Sirius radio show, came to my Chatterbox this week, and when I walked in, her mom told me that she exclaimed, "He looks like John Travolta!" I don't think she meant "Pulp Fiction" John, I think she meant Tony Manero John. Hmm.... maybe I could get a gig if they do a sequel to "Stayin' Alive" ("Barely Alive: Still Kickin'"?)

Anyhoo, I'm writing this column from my Studio 54 dressing room. We are in the middle of "ten out of twelve" rehearsals, meaning we have to keep twelve hours free and work for ten of those hours. It's essentially X-treme Tech. There's that old chestnut that goes, "If Hitler were alive today, I would make him be in a musical during its out-of-town tryout." I will amend that to say that he should be in the middle of tech rehearsal for said musical. People, it's brutal! We have an opening scene that consists of around 15 lines. We teched that mother for hours! Caroline Aaron, who plays Vivian, told me that beginnings and ends of acts take forever to tech. She did The Sisters Rosensweig and said that Act One ended with one of the sisters opening up a present and saying a line. It took one whole day of tech to do it!

The beginning of The Ritz is the one scene that's not in a bathhouse. It's an Italian deathbed scene, and Joe Mantello put me in it as one of the mourners. I play the hunky Italian Stallion in a pair of tight jeans. Oh, I'm sorry, I mean I play an Italian grandmother in a shapeless black dress and veil! That's right, I'm debuting on Broadway in old lady drag. And, my religious Jewish Mother will be so proud to hear me say my first lines on Broadway: "Hail Mary, full of Grace..." Just in time for Rosh Hashanah.

One of the reasons we had to tech it for so long is getting me on and off stage in my "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" wheelchair. I think I've now been relegated to a walker. I want the kind that Jackie Hoffman talks about in her act: "One day I accepted a delivery for my elderly neighbor because she was out and about. It was a walker attached to a commode. I was mind boggled. If this lady needs a walker attached to a commode, how was she able to be 'out and about'?" The sound cues by our celebrated sound designer Tony Meola are so cool! Every cue is a delicious seventies classic: "Love to Love Ya, Baby," "Macho Man" and my favorite, "Mama Told Me Not To Come," where the amazing Scott Pask Bathhouse set is revealed and all the guys flock on. I feel like I'm in a musical whenever we run it, it's so fun! I'm wearing an amazing seventies pants suit with a belt, and when I walked by the always-dry Joe Mantello, he greeted me with "Hey, Sally Jesse." Then, I had to get into my next costume. I saw what looked like a hand towel, and suddenly realized that the white swatch of fabric was the towel I was supposed to wear around my waist! The other boys in the cast have waists that begin with a 2 (28, 29. etc.). I haven't been in the twenties since I was in my teens. I was horrified, but finally decided to bite the bullet and put it on. Though skimpy, it got around my middle. David Turner is in the cast, and we spend the whole time backstage gabbing and laughing. I showed him my "costume" and asked him, "Do you think I can get away with this? With my fatness?" He said that that was a horribly phrased question, because if he says yes, he's essentially saying that my fatness is sufficiently masked, and if he says no, it means that my fatness does not allow me to "get away with it." True 'dat. My dresser turned me around and assured me that I looked good, and then Brooks Ashmanskas walked by and complimented my upper body. Hmm, I thought . . . maybe all that working out paid off! I felt a surge of confidence as I came onstage and walked around the bathhouse strewn with Adonises in skimpy towels: Why was I so scared? I still got it!

I arrived the next day, and my dresser told me that it's been requested that I wear a bathrobe. I guess I do still got it: and by "it," I mean a slew of love handles. Whatever! I have the "character" track. I decided to own the bathrobe and "make it my own." I tucked one side of the bathrobe in my belt, which gives me an amazing slit down the side. I showed it to William Ivey Long, and we both decided it looks like the dress Lucille Ball wore when she made a special appearance at the Oscars. Anybody?

Speaking of David Turner, he had a five-minute break to go to the bathroom, which was ruined by Ryan Idol walking in and using the next urinal. Suddenly, David's bodily function was unable to function. Suffice it to say, his bladder was suddenly more shy than Carol Burnett was during Once Upon a Mattress.

By the way, with all my complaining about my two lines, I've literally said both wrong in rehearsal. Instead of "Careful, Googie," I said, "Watch it, Googie," and instead of "We're busy," I said, "We're resting." Maybe I need to downsize to one line.

This week my friend Jack Plotnick is visiting me. He's here to do an East Coast version of his amazing acting workshops. First of all, if you can ever attend one of his classes, high thee! Secondly, if you have an audition coming up, get to his website (jackplotnick.com) and read his section about affirmations. All you have to do is release your need — like "I release my need to impress" or "I release my need to be funny." It sounds kinda stupid and new age-y, but it really works! I released my need to have six-pack abs, and now look at me! They're nowhere to be seen.

Jack is also here because we're both doing the Actors Fund benefit of Celebrity Autobiographies. It's an L.A.-based show that was on Bravo last year where a bunch of actors get up and read sections of autobiographies. It's all real, and every excerpt is an amazing combination of narcissism and unawareness. I'm reading Star Jones' autobiography, where she describes her first long-term relationship. "He was an actor. He had no money. He was, it turns out, ten years younger than me." Sounds healthy. She also talks about where they had their first date. He picked the bar, and she describes it with no irony or hint of foreboding. "[It was a] wild place. Full of gays, straights, and even transvestites." Well, I guess I've had first dates in places like that, but, um....it's a little more appropriate for me. Anyhoo, go to Actorsfund.org if you wanna come...it's funny!

This week I interviewed Broadway's hottest couple, Jenny Powers and Matt Cavenaugh. Jenny is playing Rizzo in Grease, a role she first created in high school. Wouldn't it be great if we could all play our high school roles on Broadway? I'm still waiting for the next revival of Fiddler on the Roof, so I can show the world my Rabbi. Anyhoo, she fessed up that she was a pageant girl on the advice of Kate Shindle (Miss America '98 and currently in Legally Blonde). I kept dishing that line that pageant girls give: "It's not a beauty pageant, it's a scholarship contest." Really? I didn't have to sign up for my student loan in a bikini. Regardless, Jenny's pageant wins did actually wind up paying for her last two years at Northwestern. When she moved to NYC, she was asked to audition for the oldest sister in Little Women, but she didn't want to be pigeon holed as the pretty soprano ingénue, so she said no. They then offered her the part. It was like a live-action version of "The 'God why don't you love me, oh you do, I'll see you later Blues."

Essentially, "We'll deign to give you an audition. Wait, you don't want the part? Then it's yours!" She said Maureen McGovern, who played Marmee, was wonderful. Maureen would fly to different places in the world to do concerts on her day off, come back to the show on three hours sleep and still sound amazing. Maureen has had a lot of ups and downs in her career. After her first big single ("There's Got to Be a Morning After") won the Oscar, she couldn't get work and had to work as a secretary! Can you imagine? When I interviewed her, I asked, jokingly, if she disguised herself as "Maureen Schwartz." She said I was right! She would answer the phone with "Glenda Schwartz, can I help you?" Turns out, I'm psychic. But only if it relates to Broadway. It's true! I had a bad feeling about Bobbi Boland, and I was right.

Matt talked about doing Urban Cowboy and told me that even though he doesn't read reviews, he knew what they said because the day after it opened, he would walk in a room, and suddenly people would make a distinctive lack of eye contact. The show was going to close right after it opened, and at the last performance, the cast came onstage because they were going to end with some songs that were cut out of town. Suddenly, the producer came onstage and announced that she was gonna keep it open! Oy! Whose blood pressure can take such ups and downs? Speaking of ups and downs, Matt did Grey Gardens Off-Broadway and was psyched when he heard it was moving to Broadway. But then found out that he had to re-audition for his part! What's up with that? I said he should have told them to watch a bootleg of his performance on YouTube.

Jenny said that her final callback for Grease was a nachtmare. It was Kathleen Marshall, the British producer David Ian, and since Jim Jacobs was on vacation, he sent someone in his stead. While Jenny was singing "There Are Worse Things I Could Do," Jim Jacobs' replacement's cell phone went off! And kept ringing! She was so thrown — she thought that she blew her audition. I asked her if David Ian said, "You're...not Rizzo." Wouldn't that be an awful way to find out news? Ooh, speaking of the Grease reality show, turns out the blonde host (not Billy Bush) just got cast in the London Rent; yes, Denise Van Outen will be Maureen. And Joanne is "Top Chef" star Padma Lakshmi. . .

Okay, kids. Friday is the first preview! Can't wait! And Happy New Year!*

(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, "Broadway Nights," is due in the fall.)

Matt Cavenaugh and Jenny Powers
Matt Cavenaugh and Jenny Powers Photo by Aubrey Reuben