ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Opening Night

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Opening Night
 
Opening night! It's Opening Night!
Another op'nin', another show…!
Open a new window, Open a new door…
Stephen Schwartz and Joe Mantello at the opening night of The Ritz.
Stephen Schwartz and Joe Mantello at the opening night of The Ritz. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Um…any other songs with open? Let's see … I remember a song that the French Folk group Malicorne sang; "Ouvrez, ouvrez la porte…"

Quelqu'on? Personne. (Tip o' the hat to last week's column). My point is, last Thursday was opening night, and it was so much fun! But, first, back to a review of last week's events. I spent last Sunday night at the Gerswhin (nee Uris) Theatre seeing Julia Murney's final performance in Wicked. Brava, Murney! Such a great actress and she does my favorite "nothing's gonna bring me down" in "Defying Gravity" because she slides up to the E flat. "Nothing's gonna bri-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ing me down!" I thought it was just her way of adding sass, but she told me that it's easier for her to hit the high note that way. Perhaps tip o' the hat to Julie Andrews ending of "Le Jazz Hot"? Perhaps not.

Okay, then Monday my boyfriend got a babysitter. That was so exciting! We were actually able to make plans at night. Normally, we're like the opposite of vampires. We're only out during the day. Anyhoo, we hightailed over to Ted Sperling's gorgeous apartment for my first foray into one of his signature game nights. He has the ground floor of a brownstone with a beautiful garden in the back. I decided that this would serve as the beginning of many, many trips to his city oasis. Of course, he immediately informed me that he's moving. Well, at least I got to see it once. Anyhoo, there were a ton of people whom I did not know, some I recognized, and some I did many low paying readings with. The gorgeous Kelli O'Hara, soon-to-be Nellie Forbush in Lincoln Center's South Pacific was there with her new hubby, Gregg Naughton. Also, I hung out with cutie pie Steven Pasquale, whom I heard is rumored to play Lt. Cable. I was also thrilled to see the multi-talented Jeff Blumencrantz, whom I first met while I was still in college doing a New York internship back in the late-mid-eighties!

We saw those performing twins Will and Anthony Nunziata, and Jeff told me the name of their show was "Double Trouble" just because he wanted to think of the most hackneyed name for a twin show. Of course, I believed him and then later found out their show has a great name: "Thank God the Egg Split." The mind bogglingly young Michael Arden, fresh off his Streisand tour, was also there. Also, my friend David Turner, who plays Duff in The Ritz, came and it was so fun to see him "out of school," as it were.

Anyway, we all came to play "running charades." That's where you have three teams (or in this case, three teams consisting of various Tony nominees/winners/egregiously overlooked), and each team is in a different room. There is a person with ten titles (movies, songs, plays, books, etc.) who is centrally located, and every time a team gets a right answer, they run back and get the next clue. Whatever team gets all ten first, wins. My favorite mistake was when David Turner gave the title "Dobie Gillis," which was an old TV show. The Kelli O'Hara team was stumped on it for the whole time period. We later found out it was because the clue giver had never heard of it and mistakenly told the group: A), It was a song and B), it was one word. Wow. Way to stump a team! My ten clues had the theme of clanky sequels including "Archie's Place," "Golden Palace" and "Joanie Loves Chachi."

Tuesday at Sirius radio, I interviewed one of my favorite Broadway composers, Stephen Schwartz. He's being saluted by all these fabulous Broadway singers Oct. 19 at Town Hall. (FYI, Oct. 20, my favorite Broadway beltress, Betty Buckley, is doing her show there!) I do not think that he gets enough credit for coming up with a new sound for Broadway. He said that when he first started out, he wanted to write Broadway music that had the essence of Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, The Mamas and the Papas, James Taylor and various other late sixties, early seventies singer/songwriters. He created a meld of all of them combined with his own sass. And, he writes his own lyrics! He became super successful at a very young age. He had the nerve to have Godspell, Pippin and The Magic Show happen all in his twenties. He said he was shocked when he went from Godspell to Pippin because Godspell was Off-Broadway and so informally put together. The cast would improvise harmony and when it sounded good, they would keep it. When he walked into rehearsals for Pippin, he was shocked that the cast wanted the harmony written out! But, he did write it out, and now listen to the amazing back up for "Morning Glow" or the beautiful harmony in the finale. My favorite part is when Ben Vereen and Leland Palmer sing "Think about the beauty...in one perfect flame." Gorgeous!

He was very concerned with trying to sell his cast albums as crossover pop albums, and that's why he decided to cut the opening number off of the Godspell album. I guess he thought that people who liked pop music didn't want their albums to begin "Wherefore, O men of Athens…". He also said that he took out a lot of the brass parts in the Pippin orchestration on the album so it didn't sound too Broadway. That's also why "Magic to Do" does the signature pop "repeat and fade" at the end. And why Irene Ryan really funks out during "No Time At All." Anybody? Nobody.

I saw Pippin when I was a little kid, and one of the few things I remember is that the lyrics to "No Time at All" came down on a scroll for the audience to sing with. Stephen said that he loved folk groups growing up, especially The Weavers, and they always had a sing-a-long and he decided that when he did a Broadway show, he'd have one, too. I'm glad it was The Weavers he liked and not Ozzie Osbourne because seeing Ms. Ryan bite the head off a bat would be not cool. Anachronistic? Anybody?

Stephen also confirmed the crazy David Merrick story that happened during The Baker's Wife. Producer Merrick had the nerve to hate "Meadowlark," but everyone else wanted it to stay in the show. He demanded that it be cut and decided to handle it himself. He snuck into the pit after a Wednesday matinee and stole all the music so the orchestra couldn't play it that night! Brava, cuckoo bird!

Stephen got the idea to do Wicked because he was in Hawaii with John Buchinno, who was playing a Womyn's Music Festival. They were in a boat and Holly Near was describing a book she was reading by Gregory Maguire, which happened to be "Wicked." Stephen immediately thought that it was "so him" and asked his lawyers to get the rights. It took a year, but they were finally his, but the show never got the rights from "The Wizard of Oz" movie. That's why they can only mention things in the original "Oz" books, but not the movie. They couldn't say "Toto," so one day Kristin improvised "Dodo," and they kept it. They also can't say "ruby slippers," so it's become the tripping-off-the-tongue "jeweled shoes." Stephen did put some Harold Arlen tips of the hat in the score. The "Unlimited…my future is unlimited" motif that Elphaba sings is actually the same notes in "Somewhere over the Rainbow." Sing it and you'll see...it's so cool!

He's always been completely obsessed with Irving Berlin's signature two-songs-that-sound-different-but-actually-go-together ("I hear singing and there's no one there" vs. "You don't need analyzing"). That's why he's put one of those type songs in most of his shows: "All for the Best," "Two's Company" and, I didn't realize 'til he told me, "Loathing." The verse "What is this feeling, so sudden and new" goes with "Loathing…unadulterated loathing." He said the trick is to make them sound like they would never go together. Bravo!

All right, let's discuss opening night. In case you're wondering if the hype lives up to it, let me tell you that it does! It was literally like my birthday. I had a million cards all over my dressing table: from the cast, creative staff, friends, etc. Tons of flowers, candy and some incredible gifts. My two favorites were: Andrea Burns, who covers Rosie Perez, took a picture of me backstage in my full seventies costume. She literally blew it up and put it in an engraved frame that said, "Congratulations, Seth! Broadway debut, October 11th, 2007!" It's such an amazing present! Also, remember when I said that I told Jeffrey Thomas about my favorite episode of the TV show "Fame"? It's the one where the secret service guy tells Carol Mayo Jenkins that the President isn't coming to the show and she "doesn't know what to say." And then she replies with a raised eyebrow: "There's only one thing to say…Places, everybody. Places" Jeffrey literally tracked her down and got her to send an 8x10 signed with "There's only one thing to say…Places, everybody. Places"! I went into shock!

The ironic part about the performance is that it was the one night where there weren't critics (they all come before opening), but it was the only show where I was really nervous! Who cares about critics when all of the Broadway elite is in the audience? Jon Robin Baitz, Nathan Lane, Kathleen Marshall, Walter Bobbie, Marian Seldes, Raul Esparza, Michael Mayer, Jessica Stone, Rob Ashford, Dick Scanlon, Harriet Harris, etc. And, to boot, my big feature in Act Two is me singing an earnest "Magic to Do" … and Stephen Schwartz was there! I was having a panic attack before I went on but did my JackPlotnick.com affirmation ("I release my need to impress") and had a great time. Stephen gave us the rights to the song if he could get tix to opening, but when he saw me at the cast party, he said he was taking back the rights. He, thankfully, was joking, and my unitard-clad moment lives on eight shows a week!

The one sad part is that the weather prevented my mom and sister from coming. They live on Long Island, and the trains stopped working because of the rain and the tornado watch! My mom was so sad she was missing it, but she had seen the show already, so essentially all she was missing was hanging out with a ton of Broadway celebrities and an amazing party. In other words, her sadness was valid.

The cast party was at Planet Hollywood, which was fabulous looking but gave everybody vocal damage from trying to talk above the music. I needed one of those hearing-assist things they give out at the show so I could have actually heard what was being said to me. Am I turning into Irene Ryan? I saw some reviews, and the only one that sent me spiraling was one that said the bathhouse patrons were a mix of boys with washboard abs and trolls in towels. Okay, people. I don't have washboard abs, so by process of elimination, I'm devastated.

Okay, don't forget the Chatterbox is on Manhattan Neighborhood Network channel 56 this Tuesday at 12:30 PM, and this week is Jonathan Groff and John Gallgher Jr. from Spring Awakening, or as my mom calls it, Springs Awakening. And Oct. 15 I'm doing Celebrity Autobiography at the Zipper Theater with most of the cast of Xanadu, and I'm reading the Star Jones book again! And then, Tuesday, back to The Ritz! Can't wait to slink into that unitard again!

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com. His first novel is titled "Broadway Nights.")

"This is me and Joe doing our 'age-defying photo,'" says Rudetsky. "His hand is masking his neck, and I'm giving myself a facelift. Note a professional Rosie in the background."
"This is me and Joe doing our 'age-defying photo,'" says Rudetsky. "His hand is masking his neck, and I'm giving myself a facelift. Note a professional Rosie in the background."
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