ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: One Day More

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: One Day More A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth with Rue McClanahan
Seth with Rue McClanahan

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Finally! The election is here. It's been so much stress for so long, I can't take it! Didn't the campaigns start years ago? The lead up to this election has been longer than the endless mega-mix I had to endure at an ill-advised matinee of Saturday Night Fever years ago.

Okay, let me take my mind off of it by talking about Broadway! This has been a busy week. I took a job as a comedy writer on the new Rosie O'Donnell Variety Show, and I've been doing a reading at the same time. First the TV show: I just started so I can't tell 'ya much, except that it's gonna have some fabulous guests. I was a comedy writer on the first Rosie O'Donnell show, and this one has the same people I worked with ten years ago. I dreaded walking in and having everybody clandestinely count wrinkles and multiply them by my hairline (the equation for "Yowtch! You've aged."), but I was pleasantly surprised when everyone commented about how I must be working out because my chest is so big. Hopefully, I'll be sitting behind a desk for the rest of the gig or else people will start to notice that my waist gained the same amount of inches that my chest did, and not in muscle. I'm also doing a reading of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm based on the Shirley Temple movie. Yes, I'm a little long in the tooth for the role of Rebecca, but what I lack in youthful glow, I make up for in lethargy and a bad knee. Actually, there's a little girl playing Rebecca, and she's adorable. The rest of the cast is great, too. The great character actor Marc Kudisch is playing a Rooster Hannigan-type and sassy Tony winner Cady Huffman is his moll. Brooks Ashmanskas plays a shy, radio engineer and when we saw each other, we immediately started reminiscing about The Ritz. I was about to launch into a story about some of the inappropriate backstage behavior that the near-naked Ritz boys pulled when I realized that I was surrounded by a group of little, underage girls in the ensemble. I put the kibosh on my story, deciding that they don't yet need to learn what Quell is used for. Never one to be at a loss with adolescent girls, I immediately launched into a dissection of the "Twilight" book series with one of the 12-year-olds. It's about a teenager who's in love with a vampire, and I'm on the second book. Let me just say that it's enjoyable, but it's no "Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself." 'Nuff said.

If you don't know what a reading is, it's when a play is read (and sung) by actors to give the creative team and producers insight into what's working and what's not. There's no staging — you just sit in front of a music stand and work off of the script. There's a union term for it: a 29-hour reading. That means that you can use the actors for 29 hours in a week and pay them $100 each. I was talking to one of my fellow actors, who has done a ton of these types of readings, and he said that actors always jokingly complain about only getting $100, but recently he did a reading with producers who didn't use the actors for the full 29 hours (but it was very close) and therefore paid them nothing! How cheap is that? And who were the producers? The Ropers?

The book for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was adapted by Daniel Goldfarb (Modern Orthodox), the lyrics are by Susan Birkenhead (Jelly's Last Jam), and Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls) wrote the music. I was hoping to get a big Dreamgirls-type ballad to bring the house down with, but then realized that it takes place in the thirties, so I wouldn't be "Steppin' to the Bad Side." However, I soon had to accept not only would I not have the 11 o'clock number, but I wouldn't have any number. I will instead try to bring the house down with my baritone harmony parts in two group numbers. The best part is that my friend Christopher Gattelli is the director. We started working together on the opening number of the 1998 Easter Bonnet competition, and we've done seven numbers since then. I'm so proud of him for getting a Tony nomination this year for South Pacific, and I'm sure he's proud of me…for being able to snag a pair of tickets. Last Monday night, I hosted an event for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It was a salon held at a beautiful apartment, which overlooks Central Park. People paid money to come mingle with Broadway folk, and every ten minutes, some celeb got up and sang. Well, almost everybody sang. Chris Noth got up and chatted to the crowd…and was fun-nee. He introduced Ron Pobuda, who donated the gorgeous apartment, by saying, "Ron, like David Duchovny, just went to rehab for sexual addiction." He then said that Ron didn't finish his time because he wanted to keep his wild sex life. I found it hilarious…and so did the many ten-year-olds from the Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm reading who were there. Just kidding, they were all home, probably reading "Twilight." The other non-singing guests were the cute David Steen and TV legend Rue McClanahan. I interviewed them, and they talked about their current TV show, LOGO's "Sordid Lives," where David plays a man with no legs and Rue plays his lover. They told us that the love scene they recently filmed a. broke the bed they were on, b. was boycotted from LOGO because it was too graphic. Seriously. I then said, since we're talking about sexy, What's up with Bea Arthur? Rue said that they're still in touch and speak all the time, which I loved hearing because it's nice to know that the friendship on "Golden Girls" was real. I asked Rue if it was true that her autobiography, "My First Five Husbands . . . And The Ones Who Got Away" was being turned into a stage show. She said it was, and I asked her if she was nervous that somebody else would get the part. She said, "Absolutely not!" I reminded her about Carol Channing/Barbra Streisand, and she said, "Carol Channing is Carol Channing…not Dolly Levi. I am Rue McClanahan!" She has a point.

Paul Shaffer from "David Letterman" got up and played. He offered to play a song he wrote himself, which is usually my cue to take a bathroom break, but turns out he wrote one of my favorite disco anthems: "It's Raining Men"! I love that song. He said that in the early eighties, Paul Jbara (who wrote "Last Dance," "The Main Event" and was the "Electric Blues" soloist in Hair) called him and asked him to co-write Donna Summer's comeback song. They wrote it in an afternoon and sent it to Donna. Unfortunately, he said that she rejected it because she became a born-again Christian and didn't want to say "It's raining men…hallelujah." Thankfully, they hooked up with The Weather Girls, and they let the belting begin!

At my "Sirius Live on Broadway" show (every Wednesday at the Times Square Information Center) I interviewed the fabulous Charlotte d'Amboise, who's starring as Roxie in Chicago. Turns out, she started dancing relatively late (eight years old), and even though her father was the famous dancer Jacques d'Amboise (lead dancer of NYCB), she still had to audition for the school. Rude. She always wanted to be a male ballet dancer because she would watch her dad dance and felt that he always got to do the exciting stuff, and the ladies always had to do the sweet, petit allegro stuff. After she saw A Chorus Line and Dancin', she was desperate to become a Broadway dancer because she felt the women got to be powerful when they danced. The summer she graduated high school, she was a dancer at Surflight Summer Theater on Long Beach Island in New Jersey where I also spent many a year as a music director. It was one-week-stock, where you rehearse one show during the day and you're performing another one at night. (Now, it's an Equity theatre.) Back then, even though they only had seven days of rehearsal, they didn't do easy little shows. They would literally do all of Sweeny Todd in a week! Off-book and fully staged. I'm sure the quality was excellent. Anybody?

Charlotte was mainly in the chorus, but the last show was Company, and she got the dance role of Kathy. That summer the music director was David Loud. Cut to, years later, she got the role of Kathy in the Roundabout revival of Company, and David Loud was again the music director! When she graduated high school, she asked her parents to give her a year, and if she didn't get a Broadway show, she'd go to college. Right before the year was up, she got a national tour of Cats. Her parents accepted that as a Broadway show even though it was a tour… and even though it was Cats. She got the role of Cassandra and loved doing that show. She remembers that she was constantly "working it" whether or not it was her feature. She finally had to tone it down because she hit an over-the-top cat/dancer pose, (standing straight up with one paw raised) during "Memory," holding it for the entire song, and afterwards Laurie Beechman told her to get the hell out of her light!

She was in the original cast of Song and Dance and got to dance with her brother Christopher. Unfortunately, it was a romantic pas de deux, which Charlotte said had a weird incestuous subtext. People would come to the show and see that their last names were the same and, thankfully, assume they were married. It reminded me of when Hunter and Sutton Foster were both in Grease on Broadway. Hunter was Roger, and Sutton was Sandy, but Hunter understudied Danny. Hunter had a provision in his contract that he would never go on for Danny opposite Sutton because he didn't want to make out with her.

Charlotte tried out for the role of the mean girl in Carrie, but Mary Ellen Stuart was cast. However, she turned it down because, à la Donna Summer, she was a born-again Christian and didn't want to curse onstage. So, Charlotte lucked out. And by "lucked out," I mean "did one of the biggest flops Broadway has ever seen." Charlotte said that they did the show in London, and it got terrible reviews. Then, they started rehearsing in New York…and nothing was changed! The only change was Barbara Cook left the role of the mother, and Betty Buckley took over, but the concept and direction of the scenes without Betty stayed the exact same. Charlotte couldn't believe the show was going to open on Broadway as is. She said she remembers calling her mother after a performance and saying, "Mom…I think I got booed!" The show opened on a Thursday and closed on a Sunday, and yet, she feels that if it stayed open, it would have run. Even though it was on Broadway for two weeks (including previews), there were people who saw it three times within those two weeks! She finally took it off her resume because when she was touring, people would harass her constantly at the stage door, dying to talk about Carrie and begging her for a bootleg!

While she was doing Carrie, Charlotte auditioned for Jerome Robbins' Broadway. He taught her a combination, and, typical dancer-style, she marked through it once to see if she knew it. She was then ready to dance it for him, but he said that he had seen enough, and she got the gig! She was hired to do a song called "Dreams Come True" from Billion Dollar Baby that was part dance, part comedy. However, she told him she also wanted to play Anita in "America." He didn't want her for the role because of the non-Latin way she looked, but she insisted that he let her try out. She did, and he told her she got it, but she wanted verification. She knew she had to get it in her contract… and she was right. It was a six-month rehearsal process, and Charlotte said that Robbins was constantly taking parts away from people and trying them on others. Essentially, you got cast in the show and then auditioned again for the next six months. He didn't want to put "I'm Flying" from Peter Pan in the show because it didn't really highlight his choreography… it was really about the flying. But the producers insisted, and it was put into the show. Charlotte auditioned for that and got it. In previews she heard that they had to cut a number, and she was terrified that it'd be "I'm Flying." When she heard the audience reaction to the number, though, she knew that they had to keep it. So Robbins cut "Dreams Come True," her other big number! Busted. Be careful what you wish for!

In the nineties,Chicago called her to audition…for Velma! They wanted her for that role because there's more dancing in that part than Roxie. Charlotte called and said that she felt she was really right for Roxie, but they told her, "No." She had to audition for Velma. So, she prepared all the Roxie stuff and when she showed up for her audition, she launched into Roxie. They stopped her and said, "Aren't you auditioning for Velma?" and she acted confused and said, "No! Really? I don't think so. I thought it was for Roxie." They, of course, felt bad, told her not to worry about the mix up and just do what she prepared. The trick worked, and she got Roxie! PS, her husband, Terrence Mann, did the same trick. He wanted to be Javert in Les Miz, but they told him that he could only audition for Enjolras. He decided to audition for Enjolras…as Javert. He slicked his hair back, wore black and sang not as an idealistic student leader of a revolution, but as a dark driven lawman. Terry told me that he can still visualize what happened in the middle of the song. The director behind the desk leaned over and whispered to the casting person, "Enjolras?" Then he shook his head and said, "Javert!" Terry got the part…and a Tony nomination! In the beginning of the week, I hightailed it to Long Island to do a reading/signing of my two books, "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights." On the way home, I was waiting for a subway in Penn Station and ran into . . . Adam Pascal! While we were talking, I was blinded by his teeth and asked whether they were caps or if he just had them whitened… and he said neither! How dare they be so gleaming? He's filming a new video for his new CD (info at AdamPascalMusic.com), and then he and Anthony Rapp are doing the national tour of Rent. We talked about the Chess concert I put together for The Actors Fund in 2003 (directed by Peter Flynn and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli), where he played Freddy and Josh Groban played Anatoly. He recently did it in London and, turns out, the reason he got it is because someone put up a bootleg of Adam singing "Pity the Child" on Youtube and the director saw it! Brava illegality! He is hoping to play one of his dream roles in January 2010…The Phantom. He sang "Music of the Night" at the Chatterbox and nailed the A flat ,which Andrew Lloyd Webber had the nerve to put with an e vowel ("Let your soul take you where you want to be-e-e-e-e-e-!")

Sunday night, I saw In the Heightsfor the sixth time with my mom. Yet again, I had tears streaming down my face. The theatricality, the talent, the originality, the warmth…I'm totally obsessed. I've got to figure out a way to be in it. Why can't it In the Heights be about the Golan Heights?

OK, I'm out. I'll write next week…after the election and before I fly to Ithaca to launch the new season at The Hangar Theater (with the new artistic director Peter Flynn). I'm doing a show there with my buddies Andrea Burns and Julia Murney. Check my website for deets and new videos, www.SethRudetsky.com. Peace out!

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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.)

"Adam Pascal and me as the role he wants to play."
"Adam Pascal and me as the role he wants to play."
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