ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada — Almost

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada — Almost I'm writing this in beautiful Sag Harbor where I'm playing for Tony winner Betty Buckley at the Bay Street Theater.
Seth Rudetsky and Daniel Reichard
Seth Rudetsky and Daniel Reichard

I came out here with my friend Tim, and we decided not to take the Hamptons jitney because the Fourth of July traffic could be a headache. What we didn't realize was that the Long Island Railroad would be headache-ier. It was so crazily crowded that we had to stand in an aisle for the whole two-hour-and-40-minute trip. The good news is the guy sitting in the seat right near where we were standing had his cell phone ringer on a DMX song. Whenever it rang, he would make sure not to pick it up until he carefully checked the number of the person calling him, so we got to hear an extended DMX concert every time. Yay.

Betty's first By Request show was on her birthday (July 3), and the last time we did the show at Feinstein's was on my birthday. The ironic thing is apparently some people think I'm much older than Betty. Recently, I've made some "I'm old" jokes on the radio and the Chatterbox, thinking that it's obvious how I exaggerated my age. Apparently, it's not. Someone wrote on my Facebook wall that they can't believe how great I look for 60 (!) and someone else emailed my website and "complimented" me by saying that they thought I had amazing energy for someone who's 68. Wow. Here's hoping I get that revival of The Gin Game with Angela Lansbury.

This week I've been rehearsing for the Rosie Family Cruise, which leaves July 11 from Seattle. We're sailing to Alaska, so, of course, the opening number has some Sarah Palin jokes, but now that she's resigning I guess we'll have to change them to some hilarious Sean Parnell jokes. Anybody? Nobody. He's going to be the new governor of Alaska, people. I'm awaiting the crickets.

On Wednesday I had Loni Ackerman on my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show at the Times Square Information Center. A lot of musical fans know that she originated the song "Crossword Puzzle" in Starting Here, Starting Now, but they may not know about the great roles she took over. She said that she wanted to play Evita, but Hal Prince didn't want to see her because he thought she was too funny. She finally got an audition and decided to counteract his image of her by being more Evita-like….aka aloof and standoffish. It worked because she got a few callbacks, and at the last one she sang "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." Hal Prince was in the audience and walked up to the stage. She thought she was supposed to sing again and when he said, "So…should we do this?" she nodded politely and started walking back to the piano. Hal was miffed and said, "Okay…I'll see you at rehearsal." Loni then realized he was offering her the role (!) and immediately dropped her fake coldness. She screamed, ran to the lip of the stage and jumped off, into his arms! Unfortunately, she has a fear of heights, and one night she had an anxiety attack before climbing the stairs to the balcony of the Casa Rosada. She was standing with her dresser as the chorus was chanting "E-vi-ta! E-vi-ta!" and Loni told her dresser, "I'm not going up there." Her dresser thought she was kidding and ignored her. It was almost the sixth "E-vi-ta" chant which was when Loni was supposed to start climbing and she told the dresser again "I'm not going up those stairs!" The dresser, who was petite and under five feet, realized Loni was serious, so she did the only thing she could think of: She reeled back and slapped Loni in the face! Loni nodded, said "Thank you" and calmly went to the balcony of the Casa Rosada. I would not have tried that on the real Evita. Or Patti LuPone, for that matter.

Loni's other big belting show around that time was Cats where she played Grizabella. I remember getting a standing room ticket for the time she was in it, but when I handed it to the usher, he wouldn't let me in! I didn't know what the problem was 'til I realized that my bad diction did me in yet again. I ordered a ticket for Sept. 21, and they sold me one for December 21! Fortunately, the usher was nice and let me stay to see the show. Unfortunately, it was Cats. Speaking of which, there's a Reading Rainbow episode where Loni describes how she puts on her Grizabella make-up featuring many other cats from the early eighties. It's fun/cra-za-zy. I posted it at http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/ I also interviewed Paul Castree at my Sirius/XM show, and he regaled the audience with details about plunging to his death nightly in Saturday Night Fever. He played Bobby C. and would climb to the top of the onstage Verrazano Bridge, which was many feet above the stage and then he'd fall. Right before he hit the ground, there was a blackout, and when the lights came back on, he'd be gone. He actually had a harness attached to him, and there was a crew member backstage who was holding onto the wire that suspended him. The crew member would let Paul go on a certain cue line, and when the wire got to a certain mark, he would grab it again so Paul wouldn't hit the ground. There'd be a blackout as Paul was wheeled across the stage like he was a shirt on a clothesline. It was a cool effect unless the blackout was late and the audience would see Paul being wheeled backwards towards the wings. He says they'd think, "Oh my G-d, he's about to die! Wait…he's actually a backwards-flying Superman." The great part was that there was no mat on the stage because the wire could never break — just like the Titanic could never sink! That's right, one night, Paul started falling as usual and when the stage crewman stopped him, Paul dangled above the stage as usual…and then felt the wire snap! He wound up falling straight down from about six feet above the stage. Luckily, he landed on his hands and knees and didn't break anything, but he said the experience was a crazy mix of art imitating life because his subtext that night was "I'm Bobby C! I'm dying, I'm dying!" SNAP "Wait…I really am dying."

On Thursday I had the golden-throated Daniel Reichard from the original Jersey Boys and the upcoming Forever Plaid film. Actually, he wasn't so golden-throated after he played Keith Haring in Radiant Baby. The show was doing phenomenally at the Public Theater, and it got extended. The cast had heard that David Geffen was going to give five million dollars to transfer it to Broadway. Then the New York Times review came out, which was b-a-d. The transfer ended before it began and they were told the show was going to close before the extension! Daniel got depressed, didn't take care of himself and bruised a vocal chord. He was doing The Thing About Men at night and on total vocal rest during the day. He carried a pad around and wrote things instead of speaking. The hard part was being in New York City and not being able to speak because, even though it's a big city, he was constantly running into his friends. He would be on the subway platform, see someone he knew, and literally hide behind a pole so he wouldn't have to deal with writing a conversation with them. And in stores, people reacted like he had many things wrong with him, not just "no voice." He'd walk up to the counter, write down that he lost his voice and that he'd like a medium coffee and the people behind the counter would gesture wildly and yell, "DO YOU WANT IT TO GO?" He got his voice back and was desperately coveting the role of Jean-Michel in the revival of La Cage aux Folles. He thought that playing that kind of male ingénue would be amazing for his career. He had a job offer waiting for him, but it was all the way on the West Coast, and he was hoping he could turn it down to do La Cage. Well, he had a final callback but didn't get Jean-Michel (Gavin Creel did) and Daniel was forced to go to California. Turns out the show he wasn't looking forward to doing was…Jersey Boys! No one knew that it was going to be such a hit because the last two "jukebox musicals" (All Shook Up and Good Vibrations) had closed quickly. The irony, of course, is that the role he didn't want wound up changing his life. It reminds me of when I auditioned for Spamalot ...without the ironic, happy ending. My version is: I auditioned, didn't get it and the show was big hit.

Recently Daniel played Frankie in the Forever Plaid film. The three other parts were played by original cast members — the same members who were fresh-faced and in the bloom of youth in 1991. You do the math. As a matter of fact, Daniel said that the crazy age discrepancy was a running joke in rehearsal. If you don't know, Forever Plaid is a fantastic musical about a close harmony group that's killed by a busload of Catholic school girls who are on their way to see The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show." All four guys come back to life to give the final concert they never gave. Larry Raben's first line as Sparky is "Hi. We're Forever Plaid, and we're dead." During rehearsals, though, he would say, "We're Forever Plaid… and we're old." Although, I guess the original line is ruder when you think about it. PS, I heard a cut of one of the songs, and they sound great together. There's going to be a special nationwide showing of Forever Plaid on July 9 in theatres around the country; go to www.ForeverPlaid.com. Of course, if you're my age, you probably don't understand how the internet works, so have one of your grandkids do it for you. And cut!

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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.

Paul Castree, Loni Ackerman and Seth Rudetsky
Paul Castree, Loni Ackerman and Seth Rudetsky