ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Pageants, Parton and Page

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Pageants, Parton and Page A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Anthony Hollock
Anthony Hollock Photo by Carol Rosegg

I'm sitting outside in my backyard writing this!

It's so exciting that it's finally not in the 30's anymore like it's been since I've moved to an apartment with a backyard. Of course, we've skipped 40 degrees, and it's now in the 80's but why quibble? P'shaw. Four seasons, three seasons, what's the difference? I must say, though, it's a good thing Spring Awakening closed on Broadway before we saw the sight of tourists lining up outside the theatre, scratching their heads, wondering what the first word referred to.

Monday night was my third year being one of the judges for the Broadway Beauty Pageant. Six male contestants from different Broadway shows competed to be crowned "Mr. Broadway" and, yet again, it was a great show. The other judges were Drowsy Chaperone's Beth Leavel, my good friend Ana Gasteyer and, one of my idols, Charles Busch. I was very intimidated being surrounded by so many comedy stars. I felt like a freshman who comes across a group popular kids and hopes that they think that he's cool, too. I finally relaxed…when I got home . . . and was then confronted with the fact that it had been raining for the past four hours, and water was pouring in our downstairs window! Because the apartment is on a signature New York slant, the water ran through the wall into Juli's room. James was frantically stuffing sheets and blankets onto the windowsill to stop the deluge, but it was like trying to stop the influx of movie-to-musicals on Broadway. Finally, it stopped, and we started cleaning up while trying not to wake up Juli. As I was moving the piles of wet sheets, I saw Juli's fake water bug that she always uses to scare me. It grosses me out, so I didn't want to touch it. I came back five minutes later…and it was gone. I always said the fake one looked realistic…and apparently the real ones look fake. I'm still recovering.

Tovah Feldshuh was the host of the Broadway Beauty Pageant and she was F-U-N-N-Y. At one point she was describing something and said, "It's like the blind man who went to the Passover Seder, felt the matzoh and asked, 'Who wrote this crap?'" Brava! We had to ask the contestants questions, and I asked Adam Fleming, Mr. Wicked, what it was like being gay in Portland. He said that he feels the Pacific Northwest is great for gay people, which got a quizzical look from Charles Busch. Adam then went on to say that while he was there, he saw the longest Gay Pride parade he's ever seen…he'd never seen that many gay people parading. Charles then corrected him and told him that it wasn't a parade…they were pulling an "Anatevka" and fleeing.

Ana asked the question after me and was momentarily dumbstruck because I said the one that she was thinking of. She was hilarious thinking of a Wicked-related question on the spot: "Um…OK…Adam…how…have…you…personally defied gravity?" The talent section was so great. Each guy was super talented and put together an amazing showcase for himself. James Brown lll (Mr. Little Mermaid) and Tony James (Mr. Lion King) did dance pieces that were beautiful. When Beth Leavel heard that Mr. Little Mermaid was in the ensemble, she commented that people don't realize the incredible talent that's on Broadway. Mr. Wicked did a sassy song and dance number with back-up girls, and David Larsen (Mr. Billy Elliot) sang the song about Margaret Thatcher he performed for the cast on opening night. I'd love to give you an idea of the chorus, but 98 percent of the lyrics are unprintable. And the other two percent are the words "Margaret Thatcher is a…" or "Margaret Thatcher can…" Anthony Hollock (Mr. Hair) came out in a long cotton dress playing "Fame" on the trumpet. He then sat at the piano and sang a section of "Out Here On My Own." They introduced him as Coco, and he bore a striking resemblance to Irene Cara. I couldn't figure out why he was her twin 'til I realized that not only did he have his long curly hair a-flowin', but he added clip-on bangs! It was amazing. After his number, I read some lines that he had given me before the show. "Coco, great job. But if you really want to represent Hair, you gotta show us everything you got. Coco…please take off your top." He then started unbuttoning his dress and weeping. Amazing callback to "Fame" and the scene that ends with the photographer saying "Tres jolie, Coco…". Not surprisingly, he won. His act was daring, original and cra-za-zy. He was also very sweet and grounded in his interview section. Beth Leavel asked him where he saw himself in ten years, and he said he definitely wanted children. And, when asked about being in Hair, he gave a shout-out to all the non-Equity people in the audience and told them that he got Hair through an open call and that they should not be discouraged because it can really happen. Very sweet. The whole evening was a fundraising event for the Ali Forney Center, which gives shelter to gay kids who have nowhere to live, usually because their families have kicked them out. The pageant raised a whopping $30,000. Yay! Go to www.AliForneyCenter.org to learn more.

Seth Rudetsky with Ken Page

At the Chatterbox, I interviewed Ken Page, and I must first tell you that he was a major part of my childhood. I listened to the Ain't Misbehavin' album for all of sixth grade and recently did a deconstruction of the trumpet-voiced Nell Carter at http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/page/2/. Ken started performing when he was a teen at the St. Louis Muny doing Fiddler on the Roof with Herschel Bernardi (Ken was the bottom half of Fruma-Sarah) and Take Me Along with Gene Kelly. Ken remembers Gene performing the title song with a spotlight on him and while Gene was singing, his nine-year-old son Patrick would stand behind the scrim, literally in his shadow, and do his dad's dance. Also at the Muny was Mary Travers (from Peter, Paul and Mary) playing Nellie Forbush. However, she didn't want to wash her hair onstage during "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair" because she thought it would ruin her signature hairstyle. So, instead, she put a huge glob of shaving cream on top of her hair…and kept it there during the whole song. Isn't shaving cream soap? Wouldn't it be better to have the soap washed out during the number rather than stay on throughout the whole show? Was she a method actor, and it was actually supposed to symbolize that she doesn't wash that man right out of her hair? The answer, as they sang, is blowin' in the wind. Oh, wait…that wasn't by Peter, Paul and Mary. I mean, if I had a hammer, I'd know the answer. Awkward? Maybe. But not as awkward as doing a whole show smelling like Gillette for Ladies. Ken's first big Broadway show was playing Nicely-Nicely in the all-black version of Guys and Dolls in the seventies. He remembered that rehearsals for the show got very heated and finally Norma Donaldson, who played Adelaide, started coming to rehearsal with a gun! He said that if notes got particularly contentious, she'd suddenly say, "You know what? I'm tired of everybody talkin' to me like this. I got a pearl handled pistol in my pocketbook and I'll use it…don't think I won't use it!" Guys and Molls?

Then he took over the role of The Lion in The Wiz, and he said it was hard to come into a hit show that's been running. He remembers someone in the cast saying, "Hmm…. you rocked the boat in Guys and Dolls, but this is The Wiz. You gotta do more than that." Thankfully, he wound up getting along great with the cast, but the costume was a nachtmare. Ken said he was literally wearing a rug! Because his sweat couldn't escape, it would go back into his pores, and he wound up getting toxic poisoning. Also, the lion had to scurry across the stage on his knees and Ted Ross, the original, had to go every two weeks to have his knees drained. Ken was getting sonic treatment on his knees when he began doing the show, and the doctor told him he would have major knee problems when he got older if he kept doing the knee scurry, but if he stopped, he'd be fine. Ken told the powers-that-be about the toxic poisoning and the destruction of his knees, and they added mesh to his costume and cut the crawling. Ken likes to think that he "liberated" the role of the lion. PS, have you ever seen the video of the woman who saved a lion and then returns to the zoo a year later to see him? You think the lion is going to kill her but instead he winds up embracing her and doing a full king-of-the-jungle snuggle. I'm obsessed! http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/

Right now Ken is one of the stars of Happiness (and loving it) and touring with his show Page By Page. He'll be performing at the Hollywood Bowl this summer in the Richard Jay-Alexander-directed Guys and Dolls…playing Nicely-Nicely! Everything old is new again…but this time, hehas the pearl-handled pistol! And by "pearl-handled pistol" I mean, phenomenal voice with a great range.

My friend Jack Plotnick is visiting me from L.A. (to do his amazing acting workshop www.JackPlotnick.com), and on Saturday we had dinner with Paul Castree, who's doing 9 to 5. Of course, we peppered him with Dolly Parton questions. First of all, he said that over the course of the last year, he's never seen her in the same outfit twice. Secondly, he said that she always smells great. I sort of chalked that up to "he's constantly around sweaty dancers, so anybody not in a dance belt smells good" until I was watching "Regis and Kelly" this morning, and Kelly and Allison Janney were both talking about how great Dolly smelled! I stand corrected, and, note to self: Wash that dance belt. Paul also said that Dolly is constantly making the cast her delicious peanut butter chocolate fudge. And, after the first preview, she stood in the wings after the bow to give everybody a high five and say "Good job!" Paul thought that was so sweet of her to do for a first preview. Cut to, she's done it for every single performance since! Turns out, she's a combination writer/mascot/chef/Glade plug-in. Brava! Or should I say, How-dy!

April 27 and 28 is the Easter Bonnet Competition, and I'm so excited that I get to be in the opening number! (go to www.BCEFA.org for tix). I told the costume designer that I've been lifting a lot of weights but I've also refused to curb my carb intake, so I wanted something tight on top to show of the muscles but loose in the middle to hide the fat. I think I'm literally going to be in a baby-doll blouse. Peace out! *

(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.)

Seth Rudetsky with Mr. Broadway contestants
Seth Rudetsky with Mr. Broadway contestants Photo by Robb Johnston