ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Nothin' Like a Dame and a Hair-y Surprise

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Nothin' Like a Dame and a Hair-y Surprise
 
A week in the life of musician, music director and talk show host Seth Rudetsky.
Andrea McArdle, Seth Rudetsky and Betty Buckley
Andrea McArdle, Seth Rudetsky and Betty Buckley Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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Hi, everyone. As I write this, I'm gearing up to travel every week for the next month. Tonight [June 22] I'm going to New Jersey's Long Beach Island to do a benefit for the Surflight Summer Theater where I was a music director back in the late '80s. Then on Friday, I fly to San Francisco to do my Deconstructing Broadway show and teach an audition master class. The next weekend, I go to Sag Harbor to do Betty Buckley's Broadway By Request show at the Bay Street Theater and then on July 10 I fly to Seattle to get on the rFamily cruise to Alaska! Details for all of these performances at www.SethRudetsky.com. It's definitely a lot of leaving town but I love traveling and my therapist says I love running away from my feelings. Either way, it's all good!

This week began with a big show I did at New World Stages…the all-new Nothin' Like A Dame. A few months ago, Tim Pinckney from The Actors Fund called me and asked if I'd be interested in doing an intimate evening with some lady Broadway stars. I told him that I did something like it on the last Rosie cruise and it worked great. I made some phone calls (aka sent some emails…anything to avoid intimacy) and got some amazing stars to say yes: Stephanie J. Block, Betty Buckley, Kelli O'Hara, Bebe Neuwirth, Audra MacDonald and Andrea McArdle. Actually, Tim saw Bebe Neuwirth at the Actors Fund and got her to agree and I ran into Audra MacDonald as she was about to get her eyebrows threaded in the West 70s and harassed her into it. Regardless, it was AMAZING! I interviewed them all, showed funny video clips and they all sang up a storm. Kelli O'Hara was first because she was nervous being out late since her baby is essentially crowning. She is so pregnant it's cra-aa-zy. She claimed she didn't have as much diaphragm control but could not have sounded better on her high D's. I asked her about her training because I know when she was in college, she studied with the same voice teacher as Kristin Chenoweth. I just read Kristin's fun autobiography and she wrote about her teacher being harsh sometimes. I asked Kelli if she ever got the brunt of that and she said yes. Once, after she sang, she was told she should go sell ribbon at JC Penney's. How rude! Yet…how specific. She wasn't just told to "get a retail job." Her teacher took the time to pick the chain store and what department. Brava on dramaturging what would hurt the most.

Stephanie J. Block talked about her accident when she was doing the Toronto version of Wicked. They wanted to fly the witch on an actual broom and after running the show in rehearsal they decided to try the new trick one more time. The harness she was in snapped and then they couldn't get her off. Every time they tried to bypass the computer and bring her down manually, it would take her up again. Finally, it malfunctioned so badly that it began to bang her against a lighting pole! The amazing news is that the doctors said she needed eight weeks of physical therapy to heal from her injuries…and she was back in two! She not only defied gravity, but she also defied doctor's orders. Actually, that's not really true. I think they gave her the green light to go back, but I loved the tacky parallel in my writing. We talked about 9 To 5 and I asked her if Dolly is like we think she is. The answer is yes, she is. She wakes up 45 minutes before her husband so he never sees her without her make-up. And Dolly's feet have molded to wearing high-heeled shoes so if she walks around without her pumps, she's still on relevé. Then Stephanie showed a video of herself in a talent contest from when she was 11 singing that Melissa Manchester hit "Through the Eyes of Love." Otherwise known as the ubiquitous "Theme from Ice Castles," which was a favorite of altos in my junior high school chorus and boys who voices hadn't changed, AKA me. After Stephanie sang in the talent show video, the camera angle showed the side of the stage where there was a "machine" situated. The applause from the audience moved the needle of the so-called "Fame-o-Meter" and for Stephanie it reached the highest limit. It was impressive but I'm sure horrifying to have your applause literally measured. I don't know if the vibrations from the audience really moved it, or if someone was forced to sit inside of it, ET-style, but either way it was impressive technically and demeaning soul-wise at the same time.

Bebe Neuwirth was next and said she was mortified to be right after Stephanie. "I'm intimidated to follow either Stephanie: at today's age or at 11-years-old!" Hilarious. Hearing Bebe talk, you know that she's had the same personality her whole life. She reminds me of Jonathan Freeman (Jafar in the movie Aladin) who once told me, "When I was 10, I was 40." When she did A Chorus Line Bebe played Sheila, the character who says, "I'm gonna be 30 real soon…and I'm real glad." Of course, when Bebe did it, she was 20. I asked her about her training and she told us that she asked her parents for dance lessons at age four. Because she was so young, her parents decided to wait until she was more mature…age five. Andrea McArdle sang "You Made Me Love You," which I first heard her do when she played Judy Garland in the TV movie called "Rainbow." (Go to http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/ to see her at 15 belting it!)

I asked Andrea about the time between the Goodspead Opera House version of Annie and when it finally came to Broadway. Turns out, she was hoping it would never come to Broadway because in those between months she was on "Welcome Back, Kotter" as Doris Lutz…Horshack's sister! She was so psyched to be on that show because she had a satin Vinnie Barbarino pillow and was devastated when she had to give up leering at him to do Annie. She was even more devastated when the album went double platinum and she realized that she already received the only money she'd ever get for it: $700. (You usually get paid one week's salary for doing an album). $700? I was gonna say that's hardly enough cash to get you a couple of Starbucks cards, but since the album recorded in the '70s, I will make it time-period appropriate and say that $700 will only buy a few ice cream cones at Frusen-gladje. Hmm…how about: a few games of Asteroid? A pair of Frye boots? A year subscription to Dynamite? And I'm out.

Next came Audra MacDonald and we first talked about "Private Practice." On the show, she has an on-again/off-again relationship with Taye Diggs and is constantly making out with him. Unfortunately, she's been friends with him for years and said that it's literally disgusting for her because they're like brother and sister. She filmed a late-night sex scene in bed with him and had to go home afterwards and take a "Silkwood" shower. I asked if the scene was even more awkward with Taye because Idina was on the side, glaring at her while in full green makeup/witches hat. No response. She ended her segment by telling everyone how she always gets instant karma, like if she's laughing at someone for cracking on a high note, she'll suddenly get a phlegm ball. One night, she was asked to sing at a tribute to Bill Cosby and before she went on she thought, "I have picked the perfect song for him. He is going to love it and be so moved that he'll start crying." Of course, all of her hubris immediately came back to bust her because as she started singing the song she realized how wrong it was. It was "Bill" from Show Boat and she did a hilarious reenactment of the performance where she gets to certain lyrics and is horrified she has to sing them. Like "He's just my Bill who's not the type at all. You'd meet him on the street and never notice him. His form and face, his manly grace, are notthe kind that you find in a statue." Of course, after making the audience laugh their heads off, she sang the final chorus seriously and was brilliant.

Lastly came the great Betty Buckley. I'm hoping she'll tell a lot of the things she talked about at Dames at our upcoming Broadway By Requestshow but I will reveal that I asked her about Carrie. She told everyone how crazily involved the audience was and how, from their seats, they'd talk to everybody onstage as their characters and as themselves. At the end of the show, Betty would walk down this long white staircase while dressed in what was supposed to have been her prom dress. Betty remembers standing at the top of the staircase in one performance and before she could take a step, someone in the balcony called out, "Come on down, Betty Buckley!" Obviously a psycho fan and I'm glad she didn't recognize my voice. Then she sang a thrilling rendition of "Serenity" and for the last section, she went without a mic. Of course, you couldn't tell the difference. If you come to the Bay Street Theater show, request it!

In conclusion, Nothin' Like a Dame was sold-out, raised a ton of money for the Actors Fund and I can't wait to do it next year!

On Wednesday, I had cast members from Hair at my Sirius/XM "Live on Broadway" show. I asked Gavin Creel (Tony nominated for Claude!) how he got involved and he said that one of the cast members he didn't know very well sent him a message on Facebook saying that Jonathan thought he'd be great as Claude. Gavin was like, "Who's Jonathan?" She wrote back and said Jonathan Groff. Jonathan had played the role in Central Park and Gavin was annoyed because he assumed Jonathan would be playing the role again on Broadway so it was a moot point. Then Jonathan told him he wouldn't be doing the role and Gavin called his agent ASAP. He had an audition and got the offer on the night of his call back. Brava Facebook!

During the second segment of the show, my producer, Julie James, got the microphone and said that she was bringing out a special guest. Huh? She announced that he's done TV, film, won a Tony Award and was in the original run of Hair. WHO?, I wondered. Suddenly out sauntered…Ben Vereen! I was totally shocked! And so was the cast. I remember seeing Ben in the Tribe on the Tony Awards and he told us that he played Hud during the run of the show and then toured all over the world and eventually played Berger. He praised everybody from the tribe and told the audience that the show is making a difference in people's lives and we should "let the sunshine in." I immediately launched into the opening vamp from "The Flesh Failures" and he immediately started singing "We starve, look…at one another short of breath…" Soon everybody was belting "Let the Sunshine In" and we all got naked (yes to the first part, no to the second). You can hear it all this Friday [June 26] at 7 PM. Go to SethRudetsky.com for a link!

James (left) and Seth (middle) in girls' glasses with Juli and punkers on Governors Island

And finally, Happy Father's Day! James, Juli and I went to Governors Island to rent bikes. It was supposed to rain all day but we gave it a shot. Turns out, when we got there it was crazily sunny and I was devastated that I didn't have sunglasses. Juli lent me her kid-sized purple sunglasses and the bike rental place gave James some woman's sunglasses that was never claimed in the lost and found. James and Juli rode a crazy tandem bike and we were loving it, but everywhere we went there was BLASTING music. What was up? Turns out, it was also Punk Day (?) on the island and every ten feet there was another punk band. Seriously. Check out the photo with the bikes, crazy glasses and random punkers on the island. And on that note, let the sunshine in! *

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.

Megan Reinking, Ato Blankson-Wood, Kaitlyn Kiyan, Caissie Levy, Allison Case and Seth Rudetsky
Megan Reinking, Ato Blankson-Wood, Kaitlyn Kiyan, Caissie Levy, Allison Case and Seth Rudetsky
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