Onstage & Backstage: One Benefit, A Dozen Stars and Countless Meltdowns!

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: One Benefit, A Dozen Stars and Countless Meltdowns! A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Holy cow. Time to do a recap from last week. Not since a Six Flags roller coaster I would avoid but Juli would beg to go on has there been so many dramatic ups and downs. OK: so the back story begins in March. The commissioner of The Administration for Children's cut the city's funding to COAC and You Gotta Believe, two great organizations to help foster kids get permanent homes. James and I called ACS because we were being certified as adoptive parents by COAC when the funding was cut and ACS told us that any other foster care agency in the city could do what COAC does. We called the other agencies and they all told us they could not do what COAC does. Then we investigated You Gotta Believe and found out they focus specifically on getting permanent homes for kids over 16. And while kids in the regular foster care system age out at 21, You Gotta Believe believes that they never age out. That's why they have triumphant stories about young adults in their 20's getting permanent homes!

Megan Hilty, Seth, Juli and James at a rehearsal for <i>Voices for the Voiceless: Stars for Foster Kids</i>
Megan Hilty, Seth, Juli and James at a rehearsal for Voices for the Voiceless: Stars for Foster Kids

We started a Change.org petition to get the money reinstated, but nothing changed. James then said we should put on a Broadway benefit to raise funds and awareness. He felt we had to do it in June because that's when the city's budget was finalized. Everyone told us we couldn't get a benefit together in a such a short amount of time (it was the beginning of May) but we ignored the pundits and wound up getting a theatre donated by Jordan Roth (Jujamcyn) sponsorship money (especially BeachBody.com) and celebrities attached within days. The concept of the show was to have people who had a connection to adoption/foster care giving a short talk the audience about their experiences and then tell everyone the song that made them feel good/positive/hopeful when they were younger.

OK, backstory over. Now we're closing in on the event. Here's all the headaches: When we asked Rosie Perez (former foster kid) to participate, she said yes right away. YAY! A week later, she found out that Fish in the Dark (her Broadway show) changed schedules for 4th of July week and they were adding a performance June 29 (the night of the benefit). She was super disappointed, but she couldn't do our show. Then Sutton Foster wrote that she also has to host the Jimmy Awards on the same night as our benefit. Uh-oh! But she tells us that The Jimmys aren't until 7:30 PM, so if she can go on near 7 PM, she'll be fine. Phew. Then Rosie O'Donnell (who said yes right away and wrote a big, fat check) found out that her TV show ("The Fosters") was filming her scenes on June 29. In L.A. She was out. But we had already assigned her song ("Don't Rain On My Parade") to Sutton Foster. How was it going to work out of context? Well, since we had to do the song first so Sutton could leave, James and I decided that we'd both come out at the beginning and talk about how people said we couldn't get this benefit together in two months and how our reaction could best be described by the following song. Problem solved (so we thought…stay tuned).

Then we hear from Patina Miller who's slated to do "Magic to Do": She's one of the stars of the new "Hunger Games" film and the movie studio is requiring her presence at a big publicity event at the exact same time as our show. She's out. Bad timing but we understand. But we need another song to take its place. What about Megan Hilty even though she's already slated to sing Tilton's song? What song, you ask? Well, Charlene was in foster care from 5-8 years old because her Mom had mental problems. Her Mom was able to leave the institution for a night, and she took young Charlene to see The Sound of Music. It's one of Charlene's only happy memories from that time and Megan was slated to sing "Do Re Mi." Here is Charlene talking about it on "Entertainment Tonight." It's so weird for me and James to watch because it was filmed in our apartment! But when Megan Hilty first agreed to do the show she recommended singing "Second Hand White Baby Grand" from "Smash" and sent me the lyrics to show how appropriate they were. I emailed and asked if she'd sing "Second Hand" as well as "Do Re Mi" and she said yes. I then emailed Marc Shaiman for the orchestrations and he sent them and volunteered to play. Yay! Another problem solved. PS, if you've never heard the gorgeous song, listen to her in the Bombshell concert ASAP.

Next; Antwone Fisher (who was a very abused foster kid who was able to become a successful author and film writer) told us that the song that made him feel good as a kid was The Commodore's "Easy." James and I thought about who would sound great on that song and we both thought of Christopher Jackson. Chris played Benny in In The Heights and is about to play George Washington in Hamilton. I wrote to Chris and two minutes later he wrote back and said he would absolutely do the show. Yay! A few days later, I invited Jonathan Groff to the event and he told me he wanted to come but couldn't because he was in tech for Hamilton Wait a minute….isn't Chris in that show? Hm…maybe he got a special dispensation from rehearsal? Maybe they were only doing scenes that didn't feature him?

I frantically emailed/texted/Facebooked Chris from Canada (where I was doing two shows with Andrea Martin) but didn't hear anything all day. OMG. That night at 11 PM I got the sweetest email from him apologizing for not writing all day. He assured me he was definitely doing our benefit, and wrote how much he admired what James and I were doing. It was literally five paragraphs of kind, kind words. Yay! I texted James Chris is in! James wrote to all the people helping us run the benefit to assuage their anxiety. I checked my email five minutes later and Chris wrote back that somehow Jonathan got the tech schedule before he did and, turns out, he did indeed have tech rehearsal Monday night. He was mortified and so apologetic! I totally understood but OMG. We needed a singer STAT. James and I decided that instead of getting a star to replace Chris, we were going to ask one of the backup singers, Saum Eskandani, to sing it since we knew he'd sound amazing. If you don't know, Saum has one of my favorite voices ever. Here he is doing one of my fave riffs. My summer assistant Ross Cohen predicted he'd be the Julia Murney of the concert referring to my Actors Fund Funny Girl concert when I gave the relatively unknown Julia Murney the song "People" and people were first like, "Who is she?" then became, "I'll never listen to another singer ever again." Here she is back in 2002 (with adorable Peter Gallagher).

Now it's Thursday before the Monday concert. I get an email from Sutton Foster that she's still having vocal problems and "Don't Rain on My Parade" is going to be too hard to sing. James and I got so attached to the idea of having that song sum up our attitudes and we decided we don't want to cut it. I call newly elected Equity President Kate Shindle (who won Miss America with that song) and she says she'll do it. Yay! We decide Sutton will instead sing a parody version "Maybe This Time," a song she did in our Santa Monica show that's easy to sing. James and I will come out at the beginning of the show and say there's a show biz adage to never perform with kids and animals. We'll tell the audience there'll be plenty of kids in the show tonight so let's get the animal part out of the way. Then Sutton will enter, holding her little rescue dog "Mabel" and sing the lyrics she wrote for the song, re-titling it "Mabel This Time." Perfect (so we thought).

Now it's two days before the show. One of the speakers scheduled is Regina Calcaterra who wrote the amazing book "Etched in Sand." She grew up with a horribly abusive mother who would physically abuse her and her sisters and abandon them for months, forcing them to steal food or starve. However, she and her siblings didn't want to report her Mom to the authorities because they were afraid of being sent to separate foster families. Eventually, when she was 14, social services took her and her siblings away from her Mom (sadly, separating them) and her case worker immediately told Regina that she would never be adopted because she was too old. She's since triumphed by going to college and getting her law degree. When she heard about You Gotta Believe, she immediately joined the board. Regina was going to be the last speaker and end by saying that, when she was very young, she was inspired as a kid by another foster child (AKA Annie) and would often sing "Tomorrow" to her younger sister to get them through tough times. Then Andrea McArdle was going to come out and sing "Tomorrow" as the 11 o'clock number. Well, on Saturday we found out that one of Andrea's family members was in the hospital and Andrea couldn't leave Philadelphia. Poor Andrea. But ahhhhh! I immediately texted Lilla Crawford who said yes right away. Yay! PS, I did a great "Obsessed" video with both Lilla and Andrea a few years ago. Both sound amazing!

Now, it's Saturday late afternoon. I get a long email from Sutton. She tells me that she's rehearsing Wild Party for Encores! and she's really nervous about her voice. She has to cancel appearing in our event as well as hosting the Jimmy Awards. Totally get it but AH! Still, James and I think we have enough songs to make the show work. Now it's Sunday, the night before the show, and I'm about to see Varla Jean Merman's (hilarious) show at the Art House. The weather looks foggy and I'm reminded that Cape Air flight can't fly when the visibility is really low. Uh-oh. The next morning I have a 6 AM flight to Boston Logan which gets in at 6:30 and then I have to rush to my gate to make my 7 AM flight to get to NY and rehearse for the night. What if the Cape Air flight is delayed…or worse, canceled! All through Varla's show I'm having an anxiety attack and when I finally leave the theatre, I look around and see it's a clear night. Ahh. I relax. I have nothing to worry about. Then I check my email: Kristin Chenoweth is sick and has to cancel. First, Rosie, then Patina, Chris, Andrea, Sutton and now Kristin! As she once spouted off as Sally Brown in her Tony Award winning role: "I can't stand it!" James and I talk on the phone off and on til midnight trying to figure out what to do. New guests? Add more songs? I force myself to go to sleep because I have to be up at 5 AM to catch my flight. The next morning, I have no problem catching my 6 AM flight to Boston and then 7 AM flight to NYC. I text Megan Hilty and tell her about the cancelations and she immediately starts texting her Wicked friends. Eden Espinosa texts back that she would love to do it, but she's one of the coaches for The Jimmy Awards. I tell her we'll just put her on first like we were going to do with Sutton Foster! She agrees to do "Defying Gravity" but tells me that she'll be gone all day and can't rehearse. No problem, I text with the subtext of, "That's the least of my problems."

Sutton Foster reading "The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek"
Sutton Foster reading "The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek"

Stay tuned for my part two column on Wednesday featuring the highs and lows of the actual event. If you want to read more of my writing to tide you over until then, feel free to order my book here and keep my Amazon ranking high. Perfect for any kids in your life obsessed with Broadway! Or for any two-time Tony Award winner, as per the accompanying photo of Sutton! Order here.

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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