It's the beginning of March, and that means one thing. My month-long birthday celebration has begun.
My actual birth happened on Feb. 28, but I just think of that date as day one of my birthday. I hate the pressure of trying to have one amazing day, so I essentially spread it over more weeks than the preview period of Sarava. I know that was severely inside, so let me quickly say that Sarava was one of the shows that audiences were enjoying in previews, but the producers knew that the critics would kill it. So they just refused to have an official opening. The show kept previewing while running a very memorable commercial (Tovah Feldshuh ended it with a sass-filled "Sarava!"). Finally, the critics had enough of the trickery and "stormed the theatre" according to Tovah. It got terrible reviews and promptly closed. But Tovah got a Tony nomination out of it! And, PS, I'm totally looking forward to her new play Irena's Vow. I read the book years ago and loved it, and she was so brilliant in Golda's Balcony, it's about time she's back on the boards. Here's another tidbit: Tovah's understudy in Sarava was Randy Graff, fresh out of college. Randy told me, during a Chatterbox, that she wasn't too upset when the show closed because she got her first Broadway show so quickly, one was sure to follow immediately. She next got the role of Fantine in Les Miz…seven years later! Thus are the ups and downs of a Broadway beltress.
Back to my birthday. First of all, James and I decided to go to a super swanky eatery that we chose because it came up when we Googled "romantic restaurant" combined with "Village." Let me first say that now I know why rich people are so thin. Where are the portions???? I got lobster ravioli for an appetizer, and I do mean lobster ravioli. Singular. There was one. What's up with that? Then when we ordered the main course, I was trying to broaden James' food spectrum because he comes from Dallas and grew up eating Texas barbeque and not much else. So, I told the waiter that James has never had duck before, but I think he'd like it because it's similar to chicken. The waiter then "helped" me by saying it wasn't that similar to chicken…it was more like goose. Okay, if James has never had duck before, why would he have ever had goose? Because he was served it at the Royal Christmas dinner for the Duke and Duchess? Then the waiter clarified that duck is not so much like goose…it's more like squab. What?!?!?! James was staring blankly and we were laughing because the waiter didn't realize the limit of James' palate. James said to me, "I simply wanted him to tell me if it tasted like chicken-fried steak." Brava, bust on himself. Anyhoo, before we went to dinner, we were going to see the Off-Broadway show, Sleepwalk With Me, but missed it because, as usual, I lost my wallet. We searched the apartment for a half an hour, and it finally turned up at the bottom of the closet. I had to have my wallet because I needed to make the final deposit on an engagement ring I got for James. We've talked about getting married, but never officially got engaged, and I decided it would be a great birthday present to exchange rings. So, thankfully I found my wallet, but we missed the matinee and therefore decided to hang out in Chelsea before dinner. I picked that neighborhood because that's where the ring store is. I took $500 out of the bank, and we went to "Rainbows and Triangles" where my friend, Charlie Schwartz, works. I figured I'd leave James there for a few minutes, run around the corner and get the rings. Well, when we got to the store, I patted my pocket and noticed that, yet again, my wallet was missing! With the $500!!! I fled the store and started scouring the streets and right then, my cell phone rang. It was the tenth precinct, and they had my wallet. It must have fallen out of my pocket when I went to Rite Aid…and I must be an idiot. What is my problem I lost it twice in December and now twice on my birthday? Hmm…at least I'm speeding up how often I lose it. (Why is that impressive?) Anyhoo, I got it back with everything intact (I guess the fourth time's the charm), got the rings, hid them and we went to dinner. As we left dinner, James said we had to rush to make it to Betty Buckley's show. I asked him to wait a minute, he anxiously checked his watch, I told him I wanted one last birthday present, and held out the ring box. He looked at it and said, "What is that?" I had had it and screamed, "What do you think it is!?!?" He opened it, I put it on him and we ran into a cab. I put mine on and in the cab we realized that I didn't officially ask him to marry me, so I did… and he said yes!
We got to Betty's show, and James stayed to watch both shows. I love working at Feinstein's because the dessert portions are so big, people always leave some on their plates. After the show, people get up to leave and I'll rush over before the waiters have a chance to bus the tables. I do a cursory right/left glance and then literally snatch the leftover cupcakes off the plates. That's right, I'm dumpster diving…before it gets to the dumpster. Anyhoo, Betty usually starts the show by talking about how Broadway By Request came to be, but on Saturday she started by introducing me. I didn't know what was up till she announced that it was my birthday! Suddenly, Betty and her amazing assistant Cathy presented me with flowers, balloons and cupcakes. I didn't have to steal them off of someone else's plate. I'm moving up in the world! Monday night was an amazing benefit called Defying Inequality. It was a response to Proposition 8 and benefited organizations that are fighting for marriage equality. It was held at the Gershwin where Wicked is playing, and during the evening we found out that Winnie Holzman (who wrote the script to Wicked), Stephen Schwartz (composer/lyricist), Greg Maguire (who wrote the original book) and the two producers, Marc Platt and David Stone, each donated $25,000!! The evening was so thrilling and moving. Harvey Fierstein read the letter that he recently sent to President Obama in which he quotes early Lincoln who was not in favor of "negroes" being on juries or intermarrying. He feels that Lincoln's views matured and asks Obama (who is pro-gay rights but anti-marriage equality) to do the same. My favorite line was this: America needs to hear you say, "We will no longer tolerate the oppression of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. They are our family. They are we and we are they." The entire letter is printed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harvey-fierstein/a-letter-to-our-president_b_169565.html.
Sally Struthers was there and was hilarious. She busted her line reading of the classic Gloria Bunker Stivic "Da-a-a-a-a-a-ady!" She revealed that she did it that way because initially she only got three lines per episode and tried to extend them as long as possible. She then recalled her signature three lines:
"Daddy, stop it!"
"Where 'ya goin', Mike?"
"I'll help ya set the table, Ma."
Then, she busted her old non-stop running commercial. She was introducing Phyllis Newman and said, "I've known Phyllis a long time. She's not gonna like me mentioning this, but…when I met Phyllis, she was a poor, starving, black African baby. But, thanks to your support, she's now a wealthy, Tony-Award winning white New Yorker." BRAVA!
The most devastating/hilarious part was during the first act. There were tons of press/TV people there because there were so many stars involved in the show. I was standing backstage and one of the publicists saw me and said, "Are you about to perform?" I told him that I was free until the second act. He said, "Great! Wait there!" and went to the press area. He then came back two minutes later and said, "Um…don't worry about it." Wow. Let me now elucidate what probably happened during the missing two minutes. He walked out to the press people and said something along the lines of "Is anyone interested in taking photos of or interviewing Seth Rudetsky?" Silence. He clarified: "Seth Rudetsky is available and willing to do whatever press is here." Silence. He slowly trailed off: "So…" He then came back to me.
But my performance was so much fun. I did a deconstruction of "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour," and the audience was so great. Someone posted it online, and I literally got a letter from Geri Reischel. If you don't know who that is, let me lay it out for you: fake Jan! That's right! Eve Plumb, the put-upon middle child, didn't do the variety show and she was replaced by Geri Reischel, who I've been obsessed with since the show first aired (and was cancelled unceremoniously) in the late seventies. Geri saw the video and MySpace'd me. I must get her on a Chatterbox!!! I put the video of my performance up on my website: http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/
On Wednesday I interviewed Martin Vidnonic at the Sirius XM Live on Broadway Show. He was talking about doing the seventies revival of The King and I when he was Lun Tha. He said that Yul Brynner would literally fire people for whistling in the theatre! There's always been theatre lore that whistling is bad luck, and Marty said it's because it was used as a warning if something was going to fall from the fly space above the stage. If someone was whistling randomly, you wouldn't know if they had a tune in their head, or if a sandbag was about to hit your noggin. However, Yul didn't like whistling because he heard it right before he had the accident that ended his career…as a circus acrobat! Who knew he was a circus acrobat? And why are you firing people for whistling backstage while you're starring in a show that literally has a song called "I Whistle a Happy Tune"? What a set-up!
Marty also said that Yul always wanted a standing ovation. If he didn't get one, he would move his hands straight into the air, as in "Stand up." One night, he did the move and didn't get a standing ovation. He glared and then turned around and bowed to the cast. Aka, mooned the audience. Sass.
The Sirius/XM show always has live performances and Marty sang "This Nearly Was Mine" and "I Am What I Am" and sounded gorgeous. If you're in Virginia in March, you must go see his show at Wolftrap. And, if you're in New York, go see him at the Metropolitan Room. He has one of the most glorious voices of Broadway, and his website is www.MartinVidnovic.com.
Tonight I was supposed to do another benefit for marriage equality, but it just got canceled because of the snow. Hmm…is this Cold Front homophobic? Not cool. (It's actually been rescheduled for April 13.) I'm a little glad it was canceled only because it was going to be at Symphony Space on the West Side at 7 PM, and I was going to go on at 7:30 PM and then have to rush to the East Side to go play for Cheyenne Jackson's Feinstein's show. (PS, tonight's show is sold-out, but he's added another one for next Sunday night.) And speaking of an enormous trip, I'll be performing in New Orleans at Le Chat Noir on March 12. Go to http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/see-me-live/ for deets and maybe I'll see in you in "The Big Easy," which, coincidentally, was my nickname in my twenties. Oh, wait, James might read this. I mean "The Big Chaste." 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.)