ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: My Great Big Disastrous New Musical; Plus a Passover Gypsy

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: My Great Big Disastrous New Musical; Plus a Passover Gypsy
 
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Jack Plotnick
Jack Plotnick

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Well, the big news is, I'm finally putting up a show I've been wanting to write for almost 20 years! Only Make Believe is a great charity that I do benefits for every year and they asked me to do one in May. I decided to use it as an opportunity that would force me to write what I've been talking about since the days when I was playing for Forever Plaid (1993!). Drew Geraci and I have always been obsessed with 1970s disaster movies like "The Poseidon Adventure," "Towering Inferno," "Earthquake," "Airport '77," etc. So, along with my hilarious friend Jack [AUDIO-LEFT]Plotnick, we're writing 1970s Disaster Movie Musical, which not only features all of the disasters that happen in the above mentioned films, but there are also African killer bees (from that "brilliant" movie "The Swarm"). And the score is all amazing 1970s songs. It's being directed and choreographed by Denis Jones, who did a great job on The Actors Fund benefit concert of They're Playing Our Song last summer. In charge of music are Steve Marzullo and Jess Vargas, who have done tons of Actors Fund benefits for me. I'm basing this whole experiment on Charles Busch, who first got a performance date and was then forced to write Vampire Lesbians of Sodom so he'd have something to perform. We picked the date and then wrote the script. So far, it's pretty hilarious. There's a nun, an aging couple, a disaster expert, a diabetic 11-year-old boy and many more characters based on all those '70s classics. It's on May 23. Dena Hammerstein, who runs Only Make Believe, has a son who owns the hip, downtown club called The Box (at 189 Chrystie Street). Though I'm not cool enough to gain admission to it on a normal night, he is graciously allowing us to use it for the show which is perfect because the performance area sort of looks like the inside of a luxury cruise ship! For tickets, call (646) 336-1500.

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The good news, weather-wise is that it's warm…ish. We finally started working on our garden in the backyard. We put down new soil, tilled it, put bamboo up on the backyard walls, secured fencing so the dogs don't eat the plants and laid down white gravel to brighten everything up. Now, go back and read the last two sentences and substitute "James" for "we." My job was watching him do it.

This week I'm headed to Florida! I'm in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, which apparently are very close to each other. First, I will hit the Broward Center and then I perform for two nights at the Kravis Center.  I'm bringing my mom with me on the trip. Her obsession on airplanes lately is getting into the First Class bathroom. "Why shouldn't I be allowed in? I'm almost 80!" First of all, what does age have to do with it? Next time, buy a first class ticket. And secondly, does she think the First Class bathroom is extra special with a full bath and bidet? It's the same 2-by-3 box as the one at the back of the plane. She's the Rosa Parks of Continental Airlines, without the valid cause.

Speaking of my mom, this week I'm heading out to Long Island for the seder and I'm prepared for all the old chestnuts we haul out during the Haggadah reading. Every time we get to the name "Nahor" I say, "Who you calling Na-whore?" My sister's friend Mike added a quip that I'm keeping. When he read the section that begins with, "Verily I am a man of 90," he added, "…though I look 60." Brava on biblical Match.com.

Rachel Shukert

Speaking of Passover, last week I got to play Moses in Everything's Coming Up Moses which is a telling of the Passover story through the story and songs of Gypsy. Rachel Shukert wrote it all and it's really brilliant writing. I did it last year and it's easy to know who the real Gypsy fans are by how they react to certain lines. The first line they all loved was right at the very beginning. Aaron tells me to stop making the Hebrew slaves think they're going to escape one day. I say, "You just don't get it. Anyone who stays in Egypt is dead!" That was followed by the first knowing laugh. I continued with, "If I die, it won't be from slaving, it'll be from fighting to get up and get out!" Then I sang:

Some Hebrews can get a thrill
hauling stones up a sandy hill.
That's perfect for some Hebrews
who don't know they're alive!

Some Hebrews can thrive and bloom
Digging pits for some Pharaoh's tomb.
That's peachy for some Hebrews
For four centuries or five!

Later on I go into:

I had a dream!
A wonderful dream, Aaron.
All about God in a bush that was burning,
That's all it took for the wheels to start turning...

Then, I bring it home with:

Goodbye! To Desert Sinai!
Good riddance to all the rocks that I had to carry,
All the bricks that I had to cart,
All the mummies I had to bury,
Hey, Red Sea! Get ready to part!

Matt Cavenaugh was Pharaoh but I don't think Pharaoh looked like Matt did in jeans. Hubba hubba. He got a big laugh in the stripper number which was re-done to be about three Jews touting the value of a career. Just like you could tell who the true Gypsy fans were from certain laughs, you could tell who the Super Jews were from other laughs. He first lyric was, "You can sing Aleinu, 'til they shout Dayenu!" and it brought down the Shul (AKA 92 Street Y). Bob Morris, who writes for the New York Times and wrote and starred in Assisted Loving, played God. At the very end, when all the Jews have left for the Promised Land, but Moses is on Mt. Nebo, I tell him my dream. "An enormous billboard with a picture of your face and mine. Well, actually, just of mine. Yours was hidden." He's supposed to say, "Naturally." But in rehearsal he wanted to add, "And it'll stay hidden 'til I get the chin done," but he opted out. My favorite line was right after that. "The Billboard said, 'Holy Moses…and his almighty God. Next year…in Jerusalem." L'chaim!

Donna Murphy (right) and Megan Reinking in The People in the Picture.
photo by Joan Marcus

This week, I saw The People in the Picture at the Roundabout's Studio 54. There was added poignancy for me because I went to high school with Leora Brayer (who was part of the theatre gang) and her 9-year-old daughter is making her Broadway debut in the show! And Leora was sitting right in front of me watching the matinee when I was there. I felt very proud…and old. During intermission I ran into Iris Rainer Dart, who wrote the script and lyrics (and the novel and film "Beaches"). The show is about Holocaust survivors and she told me that both little girls in the show are grandchildren of survivors. Amazing. In the show, Donna Murphy has to go back and forth from playing an old lady to very young woman. I saw her backstage and told her that she's doing the white Color Purple. (Remember how LaChanze was 14 and then 80?) I ran into Chip Zien, who's part of the comedy duo in the show, and, for some reason, we started talking about Little Shop of Horrors. He told me that he worked with Howard Ashman on Real Life Funnies (based on the Village Voice comic strip by Stan Mack). Chip and Howard had a falling out and one day he got a call saying that if he apologized to Howard, he would be cast as the lead in a new musical. Chip went to the audition, apologized and waited for the offer. Soon, his good friend Lee Wilkof called him from L.A. and asked what he knew about Little Shop of Horrors because they wanted him to audition. Chip said, "Well, I don't know how to tell you this, but I think I have the role already." Lee told him that they had offered to fly him in for the audition so he was going to do anyway. Cut to: Lee got the part! I guess the moral is, don't apologize 'til you get something in writing. Chip gave me the follow-up which is he went to see the show in previews, didn't like it and was thankful he was saved from doing a show that was going to be a flop. I guess he only considers show that run for 2,210 performances a hit. (It ran for 2,209.)

The follow-up to the follow-up is that now Chip has a weekend house in Connecticut. He and his wife swim for exercise and recently, while they were swimming, they saw a canoe coming towards them. His wife kept saying, "I think it's going to hit us" and the canoe kept getting closer. Finally, it came right up to them, and hit Chip on the head! Chip came up from the water and glared at the guy in the canoe… and it was Alan Menken! Chip was like, "What is going on?" Alan said, "I just got this and I don't know how to steer it." Oy! Too many unathletic Jews in one lake. P.S., I guess now Alan is the one who has to apologize at the next audition.

My Playbill Obsessed! video this week featured Fred Lassen who's worked in the music departments of many Broadway shows, but we first met up back in the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. We recreate two moments from our pit musicians days and I haul out the dance steps. Here it is:

O.K., everyone, next week I'll have plenty of material about Florida, the elderly, Jewish people and all of the above wrapped into one — my mother!

(Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)

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