Onstage & Backstage: Roger Bart Almost Played Who in The Producers?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Roger Bart Almost Played Who in The Producers?
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth talks to Disaster! castmate Roger Bart about first starting out in NYC and the role he actually auditioned for in The Producers. Plus! Updates from the Disaster! rehearsal studio.
Roger Bart and Seth Rudetsky
Roger Bart and Seth Rudetsky

And now, my regularly scheduled column. (I’ve started another column that I post daily where I’m chronicling the rehearsal process leading to opening night of Disaster! with tons of great pictures and inside scoop, and you can read it here!)

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Here’s what else is going down: I had Roger Bart, one of my Disaster! co-stars, on "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM talk show, and he was so fun to talk to. I asked him about Jonathan Larson, with whom he was very close friends. When they moved to NYC, they were both having a hard time making it in theatre. Roger said that Les Miz, Phantom and Miss Saigon were the big shows, and he never felt his voice was right for that kind of singing and Jonathan was struggling to make it as a musical theatre writer. Roger remembers sitting outside often with Jonathan as they both hoped they’d find a place for themselves. Roger always hoped he’d eventually make it on Broadway, and Jonathan was always talking about how he wanted to bring a new sound to musical theatre. Of course, it worked out for both of them, but sadly Jonathan died before he knew that he made it. Roger wound up winning his Tony Award in 1999 and gave a very sweet dedication to Jonathan Larson with whom he said he dreamed of sharing these kind of moments.

I also asked him about doing The Producers, and he said he was originally called in for the role of Franz Liebkind, the Nazi writer who pens Springtime for Hitler.  As soon as he started his audition, he heard Mel Brooks loudly say, "He's too small!" Roger wound up reading for Carmen Ghia and the script had a few S’s after his initial "Yes." Roger decided to hold the S for as long as he could. Probably 30 seconds. He said he saw Mel Brooks turn purple from laughing so hard. And he thus got the role and a Tony nomination! Here he is in the original out-of-town tryout!

Roger and I have so many scenes together in Disaster! and we've been having the best time working out our comedy moments. It's amazing to be able to play opposite him!

I’ve been in a kind of numb state ever since it was announced that Disaster! was coming to Broadway. There were so many things to deal with — set design, script changes, casting, etc. — that I was primarily focused on getting everything done. Also, it didn’t feel real because nothing in my life had physically changed; I wasn’t in rehearsal or in the theatre. Well, all that changed on the first day of rehearsal.

We had a big meet and greet with the cast, stage managers, producers, and publicity and marketing departments. Everyone went around in a circle and introduced themselves, my favorite self-introduction being: "I'm three-time Tony nominee Kevin Chamberlin" followed by "I'm Faith Prince and I play Shirley who's married to three-time Tony nominee Kevin Chamberlin."

Jennifer Simard, Faith Prince, Roger Bart, Adam Pascal, Kerry Butler, Kevin Chamberlin, Rachel York and Seth Rudetsky
Jennifer Simard, Faith Prince, Roger Bart, Adam Pascal, Kerry Butler, Kevin Chamberlin, Rachel York and Seth Rudetsky Photo by Andrew Eccles

After the cast spoke, our lead producer Rob Ahrens asked me and Jack Plotnick to say something. When I saw all the people around me who were working on the show, and I realized it was really happening, that’s when I finally felt all the emotion I had completely shut down. I had so many tears in my eyes and told everyone that I had been very inspired reading Charles Busch's book, "Whores of Lost Atlantis." The book is about putting up Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and how he wrote it for all of his friends. I had always wanted to do a show surrounded by all of my friends and that's what Disaster! is. I've been friends with almost everyone in this cast for at least 20 years…and now we're all going to be on Broadway together!  James caught a great shot of me and Jack in front of everyone, and I love how you see me expressing two months of what had been "Ordinary People"-style pent-up emotion.

Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick
Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick

Speaking of people I've known forever, Paul Castree is in the show! He's one of my best friends, and I met him doing Forever Plaid back in 1993. On the third day of rehearsal, he ran up to me during a break and reminded me of something that happened in the late 90s. Back then, Paul was doing a reading of a new musical and told me about a 10-year-old girl in the cast that he said was amazing. He was raving that this little girl had a voice I would be obsessed with. Well, that 10-year-old girl is no longer 10. She’s 29. And….she’s in Disaster! Her name is Alyse Alan Louis and the most fun part is they’re constantly working together because he's the male swing and she's the female swing!

Here they are today:

Paul Castree and Alyse Alan Louis
Paul Castree and Alyse Alan Louis

And here's a recreation of the two of them when they first worked together 16 years ago. 

Paul Castree and Alyse Alan Louis
Paul Castree and Alyse Alan Louis

One of the really cool things that happened this week was the set visit. Broadway sets are designed in huge warehouses out of town, and on Friday, James and some of the other producers went up to see how much had been built. He took tons of photos and videos for me and they're fantastic. It's so cool to see this giant set that's soon going to be loaded into the theatre. The most amazing part was watching the video of what happens to the set when the tidal wave hits. It's amazing! I don't want to give anything away so I can't really show you the set. But here's a shot of the back of the set where the "escape stairs” are. That's a part of every set where you have a higher level, but it's extra appropriate in a show called Disaster!

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And finally, I took a little trip during lunch to the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street and saw that the marquee went up! If you leave the Time Square station on 41st Street, you see it as soon as you exit. Today marks the first day the box office is open, so take a trip down there and catch an eyeful.  And if you want to get tix during previews, I have a delicious discount code you can use! Get thee to ticketmaster and use SOC1 for cheap tix! And visit our new website with photos and great info about the cast at DisasterMusical.com. Here's our delicious full-page New York Times ad that just ran in Sunday's Arts and Leisure section. So cool!!!!  And now, peace out. Tune in tomorrow for more rehearsal updates!

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