ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: School Ties

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: School Ties
 
A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Terry Heyman and Seth Rudetsky (now and then)
Terry Heyman and Seth Rudetsky (now and then) Photo by R. Andrew Lepley (now); Sang Ju (then)

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Another week, another Southern city. Hello from Myrtle Beach, SC. I just did a Master Class at Coastal Carolina College with the musical theatre majors and then did my Deconstructing Broadway show. I was nervous that the turnout for the show would be zero because a half hour before my show began, we were issued a tornado watch. Thankfully, people still turned up and we were spared a twister. However, throughout the whole show I was trying to recall how to protect yourself during a tornado and couldn't remember if you're supposed to stand in a door frame or open windows on the opposite of the tornado or stop, drop and roll. It didn't matter because the tornado didn't bring the theatre down, but my comedy sure brought the house down! Anybody? Anybody for an obvious/unfunny pun? Nobody.

I began the week hearing the amazing Anne Steele at The Metropolitan Room. I L-O-V-E-D it! She got the gig after winning a city-wide contest sponsored by the Metropolitan Room and the show was called Strings Attached because it featured a violinist, a cellist, a bass player and a guitar, with great arrangements by Kenny Davidson. First of all, I'm obsessed with strings, and to hear them in a small setting like that was so exciting. Plus, she had a great song selection, including Britney Spears' "Toxic." Most of Britney Spears songs are toxic to me, but I loved hearing one Monday night. And Anne had a different spin on it than Britney's…that is, it wasn't lip-synched. I posted a video of her singing the mournful "Tennessee Waltz"…take a gander! (sethrudetsky.com)

Wednesday I had David Pittsinger, the new Emile DeBecque at my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway Show. He's performed opera all over the world and he told me about one night where the leading soprano couldn't reach her high notes…so she whistled the end of an aria! I'm sure that really fooled the audience. That reminded me of a Saturday Night Fever performance where Orfeh would usually do an amazing riff up the scale and it would end with her belting a high note. One night she was sick and as she was doing the riff, she felt that her voice was too tired to hit the high note. So, she did the riff and when the top note came, she just pointed above her head in a "I'm nailing it" pose. She had all the sass and body language of a diva hitting an amazing note…without the actual note. PS, I think that actually did fool the audience.

My dad and his wife Gloria were in the Sirius audience and I warned the crowd never to ask my dad to turn pages for them. He's hard of hearing in one ear, and when I was a teenager, I asked him to turn pages for me in a talent contest. As I was playing my piece and approached the bottom of the page I quickly said, "Turn." He literally looked at me and said, "What?" What else would I be saying to him during a performance — "How are you?????" Back to David. I regaled him with the story of the brilliant opera singer Teresa Stratas who had the lead in Rags. When she began performances, she balked at having to wear a body mic. She was from the world of opera where everything is acoustic. Regardless, by the end of the first week, I was told that Teresa not only was wearing a body mic, but had tried to pull it down from her forehead (where it was taped) to directly in front of her mouth! She may be have been from the world of opera where they sing sans mic, but she was also from the world of opera where they do two performances every four months.

Speaking of performances, I also interviewed the wonderful Robin DeJesus who plays Sonny in In the Heights. He told me that he's hardly missed any performances of the show, but Priscilla Lopez hasn't missed any. She's never been sick and she's never taken a personal day. She is old school, people. Robin, however, may not have missed many shows, but he missed a crucial prop. In the middle of Act One, he's supposed to quickly hand Usanvi a coffee to give to Vanessa. She then that it's says that it's sweet with a little bit of cinnamon like her grandma used to make. That leads to Usnavi getting a date with her. Cut to Robin didn't look down when he picked up his prop, and instead of handing Usnavi a cup of coffee, he handed him a Coke! Lin-Manuel had no time to change it, so he just handed Vanessa the Coke and she was forced to ad lib a response which was "Oh….my Grandma used to like these." What??? as my father is fond of saying.

After my interview with David, he sang "This Nearly Was Mine" and the audience nearly fell off their chairs because it was so gorgeous! David has a delicious, rich voice and I've got to go see him in South Pacific.

Wednesday night I met up with my old High School friend, Terry Heyman. Terry was not only the nurse to my paralyzed artist in our 11th grade production of Whose Life Is it Anyway?, but she was also my prom date! And, yes, she knew I was gay. Please, people. It was the '80s. Anything went. Anyhoo, we met up at a reunion of the Stecher and Horowitz School of Music where I briefly studied. I say "briefly" because one of the caveats of me getting free tuition was me accompanying voice classes. Unfortunately, within months, they were getting complaints that I was making judgmental faces while the students were singing. Can you believe it? All right, folks…at least pretend to be shocked while reading this. Anyhoo, suffice it to say, my tenure was ended shortly thereafter. But many students I went to high school with studied there for years. Terry invited me to the reunion which was held at the ritzy/Upper East Side Lotus Club. She warned me that a tie was required but I am not fond of wearing them, so I sauntered in with a scarf casually flung around my throat thinking that no one would see there was no tie underneath it. Within five seconds I was stopped and asked to put on a tie. I had one with me that didn't really match but I put it on grudgingly. Then I was told I still couldn't be admitted. Turns out, even though I thought my outfit was cute, they don't allow jeans there. Finally, they called the Lotus club authorities and I was told that I could attend the reunion but I "may not leave the second floor." It was like attending a ritzy club under house arrest. Regardless, it was great seeing Mr. Stecher and Mr. Horowitz again and they were very friendly and welcoming. They began as duo pianists, ran their school from 1960 to 1999 (!) and now run an international piano competition http://www.stecherandhorowitz.org/. What's amazing is that they've kept records of every piece from every student recital and the recitals began way before computers. They reminded me that I sang "Apres Un Reve" on June 5, 1983, and I recalled that I chose that piece only because Barbra Streisand belted it on "Classical Barbra." That's right…even my classical taste derives from Broadway.

On Thursday night, I saw Blithe Spirit which I thoroughly enjoyed. The whole cast was excellent and my only complaint is that Angela Lansbury didn't have a song. I know that her character doesn't sing in the show, but before every scene, the curtain would come down and we got to hear the lovely voice of Christine Ebersole singing a Noel Coward song…so why couldn't Angela suddenly give us a smattering of "Haul out the Holly…" and a few of her signature high kicks. Speaking of Christine Ebersole, James and I went to visit her backstage and after I complimented her hilarious performance and singing, she told us she's going to release a CD of her singing Noel Coward songs! And we complimented her on how great she looked and she told us that she's on the "Don't eat that cookie" diet. I was so inspired I decided to try it starting then. Cut to: the next day I arrived in South Carolina and my hotel put out fresh chocolate chip cookies. Suffice it to say, I immediately modified the diet into: "Don't eat that seventh cookie."

On Thursday, I interviewed Sondheim stars Kurt Peterson and Victoria Mallory. They both grew up singing in their respective hometowns, but whereas Victoria got to play Maria in her high school production of West Side Story Kurt remembered asking his theatre teacher if his school could do West Side Story. Kurt was hoping to play Tony. His theatre teacher said that he'd love to do West Side Story but they had no one in the school to play Tony. Ouch! Cut to: Both Victoria and Kurt wound up at AMDA in the late '60s, and she asked her agent to let her audition for the Jones Beach production of West Side Story. He told her that she didn't have enough experience and she told him that perhaps the audition itself would be good experience. Well, she wound up getting Maria but before she began rehearsals, she heard that they were reviving it in the series Richard Rodgers ran at Lincoln Center. Again she asked her agent to get her an audition and she got the part! At this point, Kurt and Victoria were dating so he knew all about the revival, but he was too scared to audition because he remembered his theatre teacher lamenting the fact that he couldn't possibly play Tony. Kurt told us that he bought a quart of beer and went walking through Hell's Kitchen, looking at all the fire escapes to feel what it was like to be Tony. Then, he played the original cast recording and sang along with Larry Kert until the beer ran out (and he passed out). The next day, he got the nerve to ask his agent to get him an audition…and after four call backs…he got the role! What was his revenge, you ask? On opening night, he invited his high school theatre teacher and sat him between Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers. Delicious!

Kurt got to play opposite Angela Lansbury in Dear World and said she was a delight to work with. The only "note" he ever got from her was through a stage manager. Apparently, after a Wednesday night performance, he was told that if he was going to eat between shows, he needed to lay off the linguine with garlic. I guess his breath was murder (she wrote). He also learned from her that when you're unsure whether or not you can hit a note, thrust your hand to the side with fervor. After one performance, he asked her why she did that sometimes and she said that the audience would be watching her hand, not listening to the note. Tricky (she wrote).

Victoria auditioned for Follies and after she sang, Hal Prince told her that she was wonderful but there as no role for her. She said that she didn't need a role and would do anything just to be in the show. He took her up on that offer and she was cast as part of the ensemble. She wasn't just saying that to manipulate getting a role eventually, she really was thrilled just to be in the same room as the creative staff. She remembered watching in awe as Michael Bennett staged the prologue. After a week and a half, Hal asked her to play a waitress in one of the scenes and she was thrilled. Then, Stephen Sondheim called her into a room and told her that he wrote a song, "One More Kiss," and she'd be singing it with Justine Johnston. She was thrilled. Then, Michael Bennett found out she could dance, so her put her into the Red number and the Loveland number, and she understudied Young Sally and was the swing for "Buddies Blues." She had the best time ever!

Finally, well into the run, Hal Prince called Victoria into his office. He told her he had a new show he was working on and asked her to read from the script. She remembers reading around one sentence ("Oh, Henrick...") and he told her she had the role of Anne in A Little Night Music!

During Night Music, Victoria was no longer dating Kurt, she was dating her onstage husband, Len Cariou (who played Fredrik Egerman). She remembers that she and Mark Lambert (who played Henrik, Fredrik's son) would wait offstage for their entrance, every night, and watch "Send in the Clowns." Ironically, in the show, there's a line near the end, "Have you heard? Henrik and Anne have run off together!"…cut to, in real life, Victoria and Mark ran off together! And they've been married ever since. They have a daughter Ramona Mallory who starts her run as Luisa in Off-Broadway's The Fantasticks this week. Brava, good genes! Both Victoria and Kurt sang together and it was beautiful. They're starting work on a show starring both of them, loosely based on their past. Let me say that, judging by the audience turnout they got for the Chatterbox, they're going to run forever. I literally had to turn people away at the door because it was so packed. I uploaded a clip of them singing "Tonight" from West Side Story which they first did together in 1968. Listen how great they are! (sethrudetsky.com)

OK, this week I'm going to Café Carlyle to see Kelli O'Hara's opening night and on April 1, I've decided to start a youtube project: "30 Deconstructions in 30 Days." I'm going to do a new deconstruction every day instead of my signature one deconstruction, two months off. Go to my website for deets…and 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.)

Kurt Peterson, Seth Rudetsky and Victoria Mallory
Kurt Peterson, Seth Rudetsky and Victoria Mallory Photo by Yolanda Ronda
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