I am looking out at a pitch dark sky. It's 11 PM and we're sailing somewhere off the coast of Italy. I guess there must be no moon in the sky because I haven't seen anything this dark since "Rosie Live." (FYI, I was a writer on that show and didn't notice the lighting was dark, but that's what everyone told me after we aired). Anyhoo, I'm writing this week's column on my terrace on the deck of the Seven Seas Mariner, which is the ship being used for the inaugural Playbill Cruise. Before I get into that, let me tell about the end of my London trip. I emailed [AUDIO-LEFT]Caissie Levy (who played Sheila in Hair on Broadway and on the West End) and she hooked me up with tickets to see Ghost. One of the co-composers is Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics (I love their music). The special effects were super cool and I could not figure out how the leading man walked through a door. Brava modern-day Doug Henning! Caissie sounded amazing as usual but I got a total anxiety attack because her first note in the show is a D! I told her afterwards that it's so mean to start a show on such a crazy high note and she completely agreed. Sweet dreams are not made of this. She's taking off two weeks to go to Florida to get married and then she finishes up in London during the winter. I asked her if she was coming with the show to New York and I got the Broadway shrug/smile which usually means "I can't talk until the negotiations are over."
When we all first got to London (during the crazy sleep-deprived day), my friend John Reid set us up a private tour of Parliament led by one his good friends. Margaret McDonough is not only in the House of Lords but she's also a Baroness. Turns out, that title doesn't necessarily mean you're married to a Baron, it's can be bestowed upon you by the head of your government party. I kept wanting to launch into "Liaisons" so I could sing that part that want "…and when things got rather touchy….deeded me a Duchy." Anyhoo, she's such a cool person; she was Tony Blair's campaign manager twice, and she later helped with Obama's campaign. Even though she's obviously incredibly busy, she spent so much time with us and took us all over Parliament. One of the cool things she showed us was where you're supposed to store your sword (!) when you enter. And speaking of swords, she mentioned that in the old days during voting time, things would get so heated that members on opposite sides of the vote would kill each other! After a while, there was a line made on the floor that you had to stand behind. It was far enough away from the other side that a sword wouldn't reach. Everyone has to stand behind it and that's where the expression "toe the line" comes from. Who knew? Or, tip o' the hat to the Brits: "'Oo knew?" She also showed us the bag where you're supposed to put your written vote, hence the expression "It's in the bag." So much history! Essentially, every expression started in England. I was a little mortified to be an American. What expressions have we come up with? How about, "Dude, where's my car?"
And now, my signature travel karma. To say this one was a doozy is an understatement. We booked a flight to Rome and because it takes two and a half hours, I wanted to make sure we didn't have horrible middle seats. On our way to Buckingham Palace, I insisted we stop in an internet café to choose our seats (we weren't able to choose them until 24 hours before the flight). I got us all great seats and the next thing we had to do was get the cab ordered. Our flight was at 7 AM so the front desk told us that we should be picked up at 5 AM. He told us that if we were going to Rome, we'd definitely be at Terminal 3. We ordered the cab and went to bed. The first thing that happened was I called Elizabeth and Juli's room at 4:45 to make sure they were up. They didn't answer but James told me not to worry. We went to get them at 5…and they were still asleep. We had all forgotten that their room phone never worked! Since we hadn't asked to get it fixed, their wake-up call never came. Nonetheless, they hopped to it and we were on our way very quickly. The trip to Heathrow took around an hour and as we were pulling up, James wanted to make sure we were being dropped off at the right terminal. Yes, the front desk guy said it's always Terminal 3 to Rome, but James asked me to go online to check our tickets. I looked and it said N. What the H was N? I thought maybe it meant not assigned. We asked the cab driver and he said it was probably Terminal 3. I checked again. N. Did that mean North? Not available? Then the cab driver murmured that there is a terminal N….at Gatwick Airport. That's right, folks, we went to the wrong airport. How far away was Gatwick? One hour. When did our plane leave? One hour. I had insisted on getting us good seats, but I didn't insist on checking what airport we were leaving from. Every story about traveling to England always mentions Heathrow! Who knew London has its own Newark airport!?! James completely blamed himself because he arranged the tickets, but I knew I couldn't bust him because this is the kind of thing I pull every week. We got our bags and headed right for the British Airways counter. I explained the situation and the ticket man checked all of the outgoing flights: sold out. I was momentarily devastated, but the next thing I knew, he made some phone calls and we all had tickets for the 7:05 flight. And I was in Business class! Brava Brits!
By the way, I did skip over visiting Buckingham Palace because there's not much to the story except that it was beautiful and that as we passed through the music room, James' mother whispered to me, in full Texas accent, "Look at those plants. They're so tacky!" The guard then immediately walked over and said to her with a British smile, "Those plants were brought in recently." Yay. Her "whispering" was heard by a palace official. That didn't stop her, though. She looked at the plants with disgust and said to him, "Well, I'm sure the Queen didn't approve them!" The whole whispered comment being overheard event reminded me of years ago when I was a restaurant with my sister. Nancy looked at the paintings on the wall and said, "I don't know why anybody would want crazy-looking paint splatterings on a wall." One minute later, the owner of the restaurant appeared, and instead of saying, "I heard you dishing the paintings on the wall!," she said, "I understand you're interested in hearing about the paintings my daughter painted." Ah! What an amazing passive/aggressive bust on hearing Nancy's comment! Nancy was then forced to go along with the obvious lie and listen to a ten-minute explanation on the technique used to make each one while nodding with an interested smile. Brilliant!
When we got to Rome, we checked into the Excelsior, an amazing five-star hotel that Playbill got for us. Andrea Martin and Debra Monk were already checked in and we all went out to dinner. Andrea's sister runs the travel channel in Canada and Andrea decided to document her trip to make some webisodes entitled "Andrea and Deb Go To Europe." Andrea told us at dinner that her filming lasted for around half a day. She and Deb went to the zoo together and as soon as Andrea began filming, Deb waved the camera away angrily. They then didn't speak for an hour. Then reconciled while crying. Crazy. And hilarious. We all went out to dinner and while we were ordering, the waitress suddenly looked at Deb, pointed and said "The Devil's Advocate!" in Italian. Diablo something. That was a movie Deb had been in and the waitress recognized her. More and more waitstaff began coming over and smiling. I then piped up, pointed to Andrea and asked, "Don't you all recognize her?" That was met by a bevy of miffed expressions. Andrea then spent a frantic six minutes trying to translate "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" into Italian. It ended with vague nodding from a smattering of waitresses as they slowly walked away. I'm still working on translating "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods."
On Monday Sept. 26, when I get back, I'm doing a benefit at New World Stages for the Weston Playhouse, http://www.playbill.com/news/article/154543-Kelli-OHara-Lillias-White-Mercedes-Ruehl-and-Emily-Skinner-Set-for-New-York-City-Loves-Vermontwhich was totally flooded in the hurricane, forcing them to cancel a run of their show and destroying their brand-new state-of-the-art orchestra pit! Kelli O'Hara, Emily Skinner, Lillias White and my cruise-mate Deb Monk are all performing.
OK, I'm finishing this up while looking out my balcony window at Mt. Etna, an active volcano. Yay? Tonight I do Deconstructing Broadway and then Christine Ebersole does her show. As they say in the travel-postcard business: Having a wonderful time! Wish you were here!
(Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)