ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Princesses and Partners

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Princesses and Partners A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Len Cariou and Seth Rudetsky
Len Cariou and Seth Rudetsky

I've been to the inauguration of a princess!

That's right, Princess Tiana from "The Princess and the Frog" was officially made a Disney princess on Sunday at the Palace Hotel, and I was front and center. And by "front and center," I mean stuck with the un-famous people at a back table. But, nevertheless, I could see…-ish. If I stood. It actually was a fun event, especially because I knew some of the parents. Audra McDonald was there with her adorable daughter, Zoe, and so was Kerry[AUDIO-LEFT] Butler and her cutie, Segi. Kerry, if you don't know, is obsessed with Disney and goes to the theme park many times each year. Jen Cody (who is brilliant as Charlotte in the film) was talking to her about how tiring it sometimes is doing press for the film, and Kerry said, "You better enjoy every minute of this because you are living my dream!" Audra and I were commenting on how great Anika Noni Rose sounds in the film and how, as Audra says, "she just keeps belting higher and higher." Anika was there, looking amazing and told everyone that since she was two years old, her dream was to be a voice in a Disney film. I couldn't see Kerry's face, but I'm sure she was glaring and thinking, "It's been mine since I was one-and-a-half!"

I also got to meet one of my absolute favorite performers/writers: Tina Fey. I'm such a "30 Rock" fan I cannot tell you. Kerry Butler told me last week that Tina listens to my radio show, which made me so happy, but I was still completely star-struck around her. Christine Pedi and I were talking about the great music on her show, and turns out, her husband Jeff Richmond writes it all! An old, mad professor-looking guy posted a video of himself on youtube "conducting" the theme, and I said it reminds me of what I'll be like in 40 years, and my friend Tim said it's actually me in five years. (Click here to view it.)

This week, I interviewed the great composing team of Flaherty and Ahrens. Lynn said that she started in advertising in NYC. Since it was the seventies, it was normal to bring a guitar to work and sing to yourself during lunch! Because people heard her lunchtime warbling, she was asked to do a gig writing songs for kids. The gig turned out to be the amazing "Schoolhouse Rock" series I grew up listening to! And, Lynn wrote some of my favorites… "Interplanet Janet," "The Preamble," "Interjections" and "A Noun's a Person, Place or Thing." PS, not only did she write the lyrics, she also wrote the music and she sang them! I'm obsessed with her seventies folk voice…it's so pretty and perfect for those songs. And she does the weird "wow girl" in the "Interjections." You must watch the "Schoolhouse Rock"s I've put on my site (sethrudetsky.com/blog) and then watch the Varla Jean Merman parody I've also posted. Two kinds of brilliant.

Stephen Flaherty and Lynn met at the BMI music program for composer/lyricists. They had both written music and lyrics, but their partnership segued into Lynn on lyrics and Stephen on music. I asked them how they decided to write the amazing Ragtime and, turns out, they auditioned for it! Garth Drabinsky, the David Merrick-esque Canadian producer, acquired the rights to the book and asked various composers to submit songs. He would choose the composers based on the submissions. Lynn and Stephen said they had 11 working days (!) to complete four songs and yet they somehow wrote them…and recorded them! They would ask actors to come to recording sessions, and when the actor would ask what he/she was singing, they would say they didn't know because they hadn't written it yet! Out of those four songs, there was just one that didn't make it into the show (it was for Evelyn Nesbitt). The other ones they wrote were "Gliding," "New Music" and "Ragtime"…in 11 working days. By the way, I'm curious what constitutes a non-"working" day to a composing team…Jerry Herman's birthday? Speaking of Ragtime, I was reminded of the story Marin Mazzie told me. At one point, the set changes from Evelyn Nesbitt, who just sang "Crime of the Century," to Mother's house. Marin Mazzie, who played Mother, would sing a little section of "Crime of the Century" off-stage for a few measures and then enter. Well, on opening night in Toronto, the set didn't come on as planned and Marin panicked backstage….and said the first thing that came to her head. So the audience heard a beautiful off-stage voice singing, "Crime of the century, crime of the- SH*T!!!!!" Cut to the opening-night party: Marin was chatting with Lynn who said, "Marin! The show was so thrilling. Except some idiot off-stage yelled "Sh*t" into their microphone." Marin simply tsk'd-tsk'd and shook her head.

Christiane Noll sang their animated musical hit song, "Journey to the Past," and Stephen brought up the fact that they were excited to be nominated for an Oscar for best song. However, they were shocked when a "little-known" song won instead of theirs. The obscure ditty was called "My Heart Will Go On." It reminded me of when Rebecca Luker was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Show Boat. The good news was that in 1995, there was only one other nominee for Best Actress in a Musical. The bad news was that it was Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevardand she was also the host of the Tonys.

Kevin Chamberlin was the other guest star who came by right before his rehearsal for The Addams Family. I made him tell my favorite "The show must go on" story to Lynn and Stephen, which is that during one performance of Seussical, he passed a kidney stone. Of course, they then all decided it couldn't have been any worse than the whole experience of putting that show on. If you don't know, it was marred with so many difficulties, including the costume designer being fired right before previews began and then the star of the show being replaced after the show opened! The amazing news is that Seussical is now one of the most-produced musicals in the country! So, brava! The show ended with Kevin singing "Alone in the Universe." He said he was going to try to hold it together emotionally because he hadn't sung it in the same room as Ahrens and Flaherty since the show happened ten years ago. And since we didn't have a little boy on hand to play Jo-Jo, Stephen sang with Kevin. Turns out, by the end of the song, I couldn't keep it together emotionally. It was so moving! If you love their music like I do, go see their big concert coming up April 19 at the 92nd St. Y Tribeca and check out news and amazing videos at their site: AhrensAndFlaherty.com.

This week was thrilling for me because it was the culmination of something that began at a dinner last year. James and I went out to our favorite Thai place on Ninth Avenue, and we were talking about how expensive New York is and how hard it is to get theatre work, and we started talking about the fact that the best way to get work is to create it. Instead of trying out for a perfect role, I always say you should create it. I knew that James wrote, but I had never read the play he had written years ago because it was based on something that happened to him, and I was fearful it was going to be an hour-and-a-half therapy session under the guise of a two-character play. Nevertheless, I asked to read it that night…and turns out, I loved it! I told him he had to get it produced. He spent a year fixing it up, and in January we decided to start sending it out. My friend Jack Plotnick told us we had to do a reading of it because people don't want to read plays, they want to see them. But who should star in it? It needed to be an amazing older actor. James decided he wanted Len Cariou. We sent it to him…and a few days later he said yes! Last Friday afternoon, they did a reading, and it was thrilling! So many people in the audience were weeping at the end of the reading, but, of course, none more than me. I was so proud of James, and it was unbelievable to see him acting opposite Sweeney Todd! I won't tell you the whole plot, but here's the premise, (which really happened to James ten years ago): When he lived in L.A., he studied with a great teacher named Carlos Noble who worked at MGM in its heyday. One day, James came to his apartment and discovered that Carlos had had a stroke six hours earlier. James stayed with him for 36 hours trying to convince him to go to a hospital…because he was a Christian Scientist. The play is called Art and Science, and I can't wait to see what happens next with it!

Tonight (Monday) I'm going to introduce the Actors Fund production of Valley of the Dolls starring Heidi Blickenstaff, Julia Murney, Tovah Feldshuh, Martha Plimpton and the phenomenal Charles Busch as Helen Lawson. Go to www.ActorsFund.org for tickets and when you're done, you can come "crawlin' back to Broadway!"

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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 contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.

Stephen Flaherty, Christiane Noll, Seth Rudetsky, Lynn Ahrens, Terrence McNally and Kevin Chamberlain
Stephen Flaherty, Christiane Noll, Seth Rudetsky, Lynn Ahrens, Terrence McNally and Kevin Chamberlain
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