ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Ooh! My Feet!

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Ooh! My Feet!
 
A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth Rudetsky and Jo Sullivan Loesser
Seth Rudetsky and Jo Sullivan Loesser

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Well, I've done what I've promised (so far)!

Since I discovered Youtube, I've been putting up video deconstructions of songs I'm obsessed with… but due to laziness, I've been posting them about as often as Audra MacDonald wins a Tony Award (every two years). So, I announced last week that starting April 1, I would do 30 deconstructions in 30 days…and I've actually done one every day! I'm loving it because I get to tell everybody what I think is brilliant about certain singers/songs. I posted one about Zanna, Don't! and was so happy when people commented that they had to go out and buy the CD. Go to http://www.youtube.com/user/zonkzink to view them all.

This week began, as usual, at In the Heights. It's literally my eighth time seeing it, and I'm Still Obsessed. I went this time with my sister Nancy and my two nieces: Rachel Sarah and Eliana. Both of them are obsessed with the MTV Legally Blonde reality show that I did, and they remembered the moment when the two finalists (Autumn and Bailey) first walked on the stage of The Palace Theatre. They bathed in the lights with their arms outstretched, and I busted them in my MTV video blog for looking like they were sunbathing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6A0EjRBpIk&feature=related). Anyhoo, after the show, we went to say hi to Andrea Burns, and the doorman told us to wait on the stage. I told Rachel Sarah and Eliana I was going to take a picture of them on their first Broadway stage, and they immediately assumed the Bailey/Autumn sunbathe position. I don't know if they were busting the girls, or if they thought that's the pose you automatically hit whenever you first set foot on a Broadway stage. Either way, Brava!

On the audition front, I went in for "Ugly Betty," and the day began and ended with a headache. I rushed to the gym in the morning and then raced back to take and a shower and get sassed up for the audition. I got to my apartment…and realized I forgot my keys! I considered going to the audition in sweatpants and a cut-off Evita T-shirt but remembered that I wasn't auditioning for the Debbie Allen replacement in "Fame." Thankfully, James came home and let me in. I then took the subway to Queens where "Ugly Betty" has a van that picks you up and takes you to Silvercup studios. After my audition, I went back to the van, and the driver said it would be 15 minutes before he left for the subway, then drove off. I didn't want to wait outside in the freezing cold for 15 minutes, so, for some reason I thought it would be smarter and quicker to walk to the subway station…even though I had no idea where it was. Somehow waiting in the cold was worse than walking aimlessly in the cold. I walked and walked and finally found a subway station. I proudly walked to the platform and could not find where the Manhattan-bound train was coming in. I was sure there was some mistake and asked the clerk what to do. Turns out, I walked to a totally different station than the one I arrived at in the morning and was told I had to take it 6 more stops into Queens and then transfer to a Manhattan-bound train. So my delicious 15-minute time saver turned into an arduous hour-long commute, which then ended with me finding out I didn't get the part. Yay? On Wednesday I had the lovely Ann Sanders from Avenue Q at my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway Show. She told the audience that she bases her blunt portrayal of her character (Christmas Eve) on her mother's signature Asian directness. She gave a reading of one of her mother's typical comments about someone's weight ("You're fat"), and all was clear. Ann also played Belle in Beauty and the Beast and said that at one point, her wig came loose on the sides, so she literally had tendrils hanging down the side of her head. In other words, she was not only the first Asian Belle, but the first Hasidic one as well. Then, when she kept brushing them out of her face, she became the first Belle as played by Cher. No wonder the show closed. (see this video for proof http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HBPAgOvAXo)

Then I had brilliant beltress, Shoshana Bean, come onstage. Shoshana sounded amazing when she took over as Elphaba in Wicked, and I asked her about the time the lift didn't work during "Defying Gravity." Essentially, when Shoshana realized she wasn't going up during the flying section, she unstrapped herself from the harness and strutted along the front of the stage with sass. This story was recounted in a former column where Marty Thomas told me that the chorus didn't know what to do because they couldn't stand and point at Shoshana towering above them. So they made the bold choice of crouching down as low to the floor as possible to make it look like the 5'2" Shoshana was in flight. It didn't. Shoshana informed us that she felt since the audience wasn't getting flying, they needed to get something... and the option she chose was crazy riffing on every single note. Cut to during intermission she found out that the original music director, Stephen Oremus, was in the audience. After the show, he sternly folded his arms and asked, "What… was… that?" She was like, "Dude! It was a special circumstance! The audience needed something to make up for the lack of me in the air…so I riffed it!" I'm sure on the outside he was like, "Not cool" but inside he was like "Miss Thing! You better add six notes to a two note phrase. Work!" Shoshana is performing April 7 at Le Poisson Rouge….let the riffing continue! www.ShoshanaBean.com for all details…plus her new amazing CD!

At the Sirius/XM live show, we have a game show sequence in the middle called the Showtune Showdown. We bring up two audience members as contestants, and then the celebrity guest(s) plays for a member of the audience. The prize is two tickets to a show. Well, usually, the Broadway people are the worst players. They essentially only know information about the show they're starring in at the moment. One exception was Andrea Burns, who had at her disposal more Broadway trivia than a stack of Playbills and Shoshana Bean who feigns she's all about being a pop star but probably spends all of her free time "friending" Broadway fan pages. I was proud of her for winning the game show but also obsessed with one of the contestants. He was only 18 and hasn't had the years I've had sitting up til 3 AM on IBDB.com. I was asking a question that referenced the famous scene in My Fair Lady when Henry Higgins makes Eliza Doolittle say, "In Hartford Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen." So I asked, Where do "hurricanes hardly happen?" and the 18-year- old buzzed in right away. He then proceeded to say, "Uh…New York…," and I quickly cut him when I realized that he was listing states that rarely get hurricanes. I thought it was hi-larious that instead of relating it to Broadway, he thought I was asking for information from the Weather Channel. But, I was also judgmental because when I was growing up, I wanted to be a weatherman, and anyone who's studied weather knows that New York does get hurricanes! Just to list a few: Belle in 1976, Donna and the big one in 1938. Anyone? Any other weather nerds? Silence.

Right after my Shoshana interview, I got back to Sirius and found out I had a last-minute-booked interview with one of my comedy idols…Cloris Leachman! First of all, she looks beautiful. I told her I was obsessed with how stunning she looked when she won her Oscar, and she told me that she was exhausted that whole day and thought she was going to faint. Her version of looking exhausted is gorgeous…check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuYk6ypdBug. I asked her what her early career was like and turns out, she was taking voice lessons from Mary Martin's teacher when Mary was in South Pacific. Cloris heard they were having auditions for the national tour and felt it would be great to go in for it because she knew couldn't go out on tour, so the pressure would be off. She auditioned for Rodgers and Hammerstein, and they told her that they wanted her to be Nellie either on Broadway, on tour or in London. They decided to give her a chance to learn the part and make it her own, so they arranged for her to play Nellie on Broadway for four weeks! And, before that, she had never sung a song all the way through. After her Broadway stint, Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted to sign her to a nine-year deal (like a movie studio), which she didn't want to do…so she never played the part again. Cra-za-zy.

Cloris also talked about doing live television and how once Barbara Bel Geddes had a quick change and, while she was changing, heard her cue. Barbara went running back onstage, but the director who was watching above the set came running down the aisle, then backstage and suddenly tackled her before she came on TV. Why? Because she didn't finish her quick change, and in her panic was going to go on live television with her top completely off! I don't know if "Bel Geddes" is Italian for "exposed knockers" but it almost was!

I then told Cloris how obsessed I was with her "…some warm milk" section in the film "Young Frankenstein," and she suddenly launched into it with me. When she got to "…Ovaltine?" I couldn't believe how lucky I was, actually getting to hear her do that hilarious moment live. She really does "still got it," and said she'd totally do Broadway again if there's a good role. Listen up, producers of August: Osage County!

On Thursday I had my Chatterbox with one of my childhood obsessions: Jo Sullivan Loesser. The Most Happy Fella is the very first show I was obsessed with, and I literally have a tape of myself right before I turned three singing "Ooh! My Feet!" Jo told me that Frank wrote that song originally for Guys and Dolls! At first there was a patrolman who was on the tail of Nathan Detroit, and he sang "Ooh my feet" because he had to walk around the neighborhood so much. But when he was changed from a patrolman to Lt. Brannigan, the song was cut. Thankfully, Frank changed the song to be about a waitress and gave it to the brilliant Susan Johnson.

Jo's first Broadway job was in the "singing chorus" of Oklahoma!. Talk about history! That's like someone saying they were in the first show that laid the groundwork for Broadway as we know it. Wait…it actually is someone saying they were in the first show that laid the groundwork for Broadway as we know it. Jo remembers auditioning for The Most Happy Fella against all the other sopranos of the day (including Florence Henderson) and finally got it after nine auditions! Frank Loesser liked to make people sing "Happy Birthday" higher and higher to test their range. He also told her to sing with her head tilted to the side because it made the singer more likeable (!). Jo and Frank started dating during the run of the show and eventually married (hence the name: Jo Sullivan Loesser). The Most Happy Fella was a big hit, but Jo feels that it could have been bigger if it hadn't opened up just a few weeks after My Fair Lady. Ouch on the timing. Although, it still ran much longer than Frank Loesser's next show, Greenwillow, which shuttered after three months. On the day that show closed, Frank sent a telegram to the cast that just said, "Oops. Sorry." Brava on the directness!

Jo said that Frank was annoyed with Sam Goldwyn, who made the Guys and Dolls movie. Sam didn't like the songs "I've Never Been in Love Before" and "A Bushel and a Peck" and cut them. Frank was asked to replace them and was so annoyed that he told Jo, "I'm gonna write one good song and one bad one!" FYI, "(You're Eyes Are the Eyes of a) Woman in Love" was the good one, and "Pet me, Poppa" was the bad one.

Jo said that The Most Happy Fella is going to come back to Broadway directed by Casey Nicholaw, and I told her I must have my dream cast: Sutton Foster as Cleo, Audra McDonald as Rosabella, Norm Lewis as Joe and Patti LuPone as Marie. I assume her silence was her agreeing to let me be the casting director. PS, I happen to have met Jo the night before my interview because she was at the beautiful Café Carlyle seeing Kelli O'Hara's opening night. Kelli's show was super enjoyable: She sounded great and was so charming (and her act is still going… www.cafecarlyle.com for deets). She sang a great song that was cut from her first big show (it was The Sweet Smell of Success, and she told the audience, "We didn't call it that for long…") and sang a hilarious tour de force that Dan Lipton and David Rossmer about a country star who wants to be an opera singer. The lyrics were so witty and Kelli sounded great singing opera. Speaking of singing, Tommy Tune was in the audience and told me that he just celebrated his 70th birthday performing in Palm Springs. The whole audience started singing "Happy Birthday" to him and he was so moved…but stopped them because they began in different keys. He said, "If you're going to do this, let's do this right!" and then had them start again in the same key. He may be a birthday boy, but he's still a director. At least he didn't make them keep taking it up a step and audition nine times…and later marry them.

This week at my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show I have the Dear Edwinacomposing team (Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich) and the two brilliant stars of Rooms: A Rock Romance (Doug Kreeger and Leslie Kritzer). But more importantly I have two seders. Let the kosher overeating begin!

* (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.)

Rachel Sarah and Eliana Berman in their "Legally Blonde" pose
Rachel Sarah and Eliana Berman in their "Legally Blonde" pose Photo by Seth Rudetsky
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