ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth and the City

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth and the City A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Marc Shaiman
Marc Shaiman

I have rid myself of the iPhone. Not only was it impossible for me to type on (because my fingers aren't as thin as the plot of the "Mamma Mia!" movie), but it had a faulty battery, so it lasted as long as August: Osage County.

Yes, three-and-a-half hours is long for a play but not for a cell phone battery! I tried to get it fixed and was told to talk to a "genius" at the "genius bar," which is the first thing that sent me into a rage. Why can't they say "Go see one of our workers over there" instead? Genius?!? Why do I have to be intimidated by the very people who are supposed to help me? Speaking of which, when did I become a "guest" at a store? I've had it with various cashiers saying, "next guest, please." If I'm a guest, I shouldn't actually be paying for anything! Anyhoo, I went online to make an appointment with one of the "geniuses" and saw they had openings that very day. At 1 AM! What chutzpah! That was it. I returned it and went back to my Treo phone. Then I went to Starbucks and did some writing 'til around 11:30 PM. James and I walked around one block, and I realized I was missing my phone. I went back to Starbucks…and it disappeared! It had just been on the table, and then it was gone. I wanted to sing "McCavity's not there!" but was too busy searching everywhere. I don't think it was stolen. I think I did one of those things where my mind is wandering, and I threw out the old Venti cups, the Sweet'n Low wrappers and my phone. The next morning I hightailed it to the phone store and got a Blackberry. Or, as they call it on "Entourage," a "Crackberry." Crackberry is wackberry?

This was a week of running into Broadway people all over the place. On Monday night James, Juli and I went to the Boat Basin Café, which is in Riverside Park right next to the Hudson. Beautiful! We were told we had to wait a half hour for a table (which then became an hour), and while I was shaking my head in annoyance about having to wait, I heard a loud "Seth!" All I saw were two incredibly attractive people smiling at me. I then realized that it was Laura Osnes and her cute husband! She just finished playing Sandy in Grease and told me that Max Crumm has gone back to California, but she and her hubby have decided to stay in New York. Juli was really excited to meet her because that CD was her alarm for half of the school year. It would go off at 7 AM, and I knew that by the time I heard "Mooning," I had to get the h*ll up.

Then, James and I went out with Andrea Burns from In the Heights for a dinner between shows on Saturday. We were sitting outside on Ninth Avenue and 46th Street at Yum Yum Thai restaurant. Suddenly we saw Gavin Creel on the corner. Then, walking down the block from the other direction we spotted Norm Lewis! They both came over to our table to chitty chat, and I felt like we should elect an Equity deputy. I complimented Norm on looking so buff. He blew off my comment and said he wanted a "chubby." I was uncomfortable slashintrigued but before my mind could land in the gutter, he asked us if we liked chocolate. The next thing we knew, he had run over to delicious Amy's Bread and gotten us two Chubbys, which turns out, are chocolate brownie cookies. Yes! It put the "Yum" in Yum Yum. Speaking of chubby, look at the picture of us below…Why do I look like I'm tipping the scales at 210? Should I not have taken the photo after eating the chubby and becoming its namesake? PS, Norm's solo CD is about to come out, and we were brainstorming where he should do the release concert. I cannot wait! It's about time he had a record career. He needs to start working on his next CD asap.

Speaking of In the Heights, last week I got an email from Lin-Manuel Miranda asking me if I'd partake in an internet film he's doing based on "Legally Blonde The Musical: The Search for the Next Elle Woods" called "Legally Brown: The Search for the Next Piragua Guy." I showed up at 37 Arts (where we filmed the TV show and where In the Heights played Off-Broadway) and filmed a "rehearsal" with each of the "contestants": Telly Leung from the upcoming Godspell, Derrick Baskin from The Little Mermaid, Noah Weisberg from South Pacific and Hunter Bell from [title of show]. It was so much fun, and I was such a horrible person. My improv with Derrick was especially mean: ME: Are you in a show now?
DERRICK: Yeah! I'm in Little Mermaid.
SETH: Little Mermaid? You are? Who do you play?
DERRICK: I'm one of the eels.
SETH: Really? Because I saw it…and…I don't really…
DERRICK: I'm always next to Ursula. One of the two eels.
SETH: I don't think so….
DERRICK: Maybe I was out the night you saw it.
SETH: I guess so…
DERRICK: When did you see it?
SETH: Opening night.
DERRICK: Oh…well I was definitely on that night.
SETH: You're in it? (pause) Huh…

Lin was planning on doing one episode for YouTube, but I think he got so much great material from everyone that's it's gonna be multi-episodes!

Still speaking of In the Heights, I interviewed Chris Jackson (who plays Benny in the show) at my Chatterbox (www.SethsBroadwayChatterbox.com). He's such a sweet guy and so fantastic in the show. He's from the Midwest and came here when he was 18 to go to AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Arts Academy). He had no real training, so it was super-helpful for him.

Seth and Chris Jackson

He recalled going to Capezios in the West 50's to buy dance shoes and not being able to figure out what subway to take back uptown… so he walked 30 blocks instead. I asked him why he didn't simply ask someone for directions, and he said that Times Square was all tourists just like him. He thought he sassed me until I realized a. he was in the West 50's, which isn't Times Square and b. why couldn't he ask someone else in the ensuing 30 blocks? I still have not received a response. He graduated AMDA and got a job as a waiter. The actor who was originally cast as Simba in The Lion King got a TV show, so they gave the role to his understudy, the late Jason Raize. Chris got an audition to be the understudy and showed up at 11AM to sing for Julie Taymor and the creative team. At 11:20 AM he got the part, and at 1 PM he began rehearsals! It was literally the first day of rehearsal! I asked if he got the tasty bagels, etc. that they serve on the first day, and he's still annoyed that all of that happened in the morning. Instead of a carb-laden bagel slathered in cream cheese, he arrived just in time to start learning "Endless Night." He eventually took over the role of Simba and stayed with the show for five years. He finally quit after getting surgery on his knee for the third time. For a few years, the stage at The Lion King was made of steel, which feels great on your body…if you're a robot. I brought up the morning show I saw where he and Mandy Gonzales sang "When You're Home." It was the day after the Tony Awards, and Chris was up late partying with the cast but left early to get to bed around 2:30 AM. He was up again at 5:30 AM, got to the morning show and jogged around the block to get his voice warmed up. After a long intro, he and Mandy started belting their brains out. I was watching them on the Stairmaster at my gym and I couldn't believe that they were both singing full out after being up 'til all hours of the night. Finally, they get to the big, enormous ending. He's about to sing "YOU-OU-OU-OU-OU'RE….HO-O-O-O-O-OME!!" And, Mandy's about to sing "I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I'M….. HO-O-O-O-O-OME!!" And, what I saw was "YOU-OU-OU-OU-OU'RE / I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I'M…..," and then they both inhaled for the big "HO-O-O-O-O-OME" and right as the note was about to come out….it cut to a commercial!! It was beltus interruptus! We re-created the moment at my Chatterbox….go to www.SethRudetsky.com to see the devastation live.

I worked again this week with the Broadway Artist Alliance. Those kids are good! Check out when Nick Oliveri sings the word "Hooray" at the end of this song. His spin is amazing!!!! (he's only 16!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7Qrkc_X1YE

Seth with Lin-Manuel Miranda

While I was there I interviewed Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz whose voice I am totally obsessed with. He said that he was embarrassed to do musicals in his high school, but he found a way to have leads all over town. He grew up in St. Louis, and there were tons of all-girl Catholic high schools that were desperate for boys to be in their shows. Norbert said that he'd find out about the upcoming musicals through some crazy underground network and went from school to school playing Harold Hill, Sky Masterson, etc… He studied classical theatre in undergraduate and graduate school and spent most of his twenties working in regional theaters and being based in Alabama. He finally moved to New York, and one of the publicists of Rent heard him sing at a benefit and got him an audition. The show had just opened up, and Norbert tried out to be the understudy for the two male leads. After five auditions, he got it. He began rehearsals and two days later had to go on for Adam Pascal! I couldn't believe how little time he had, but he said that throughout the audition process he was learning the music so he felt like he knew it very well. Well, turns out, there already was an understudy for Adam who didn't know Norbert was going on. So, of course, he wasn't happy. Norbert said that he began Act One and right after he sang the first big Roger song ("One Song, Glory"), one of the producers went backstage and fired the other understudy! Norbert said that he left the stage, and as he was walking up to his dressing room, the other understudy was walking downstairs with his stuff. Ouch! Norbert also said that the other understudy didn't come from the world of theatre and had to understudy five parts and was not prepared for what it took to do so. He also said many times he'd do a matinee as Roger and then play Mark at the night show or vice versa. What a headache. It sounds very "she's my daughter/she's my sister." Then, I followed Norbert with the fabulously talented Marc Shaiman. The first Broadway show Marc saw was Fiddler on the Roof, and he remembers studying the souvenir program and being obsessed with the picture of the woman who played Tzeitel. He loved how her smile made her eyes get super-small. Then, when he was in junior high school, his chorus teacher gave him two albums to thank him for accompanying. They were Bette Midler's first two albums, and he became obsessed. He then realized that the woman in the Tzeitel picture was the same! He used to go to the Village and wander down the street where Bette lived, hoping he'd see her. Now he says he doesn't really know what he was hoping he'd see — he said maybe Bette watering her flowers in the front yard. Does anyone even have a front yard in New York? He saw Bette's concert on Broadway and fantasized that he'd run down the aisle saying, "Oh, Miss Midler! I know how to play every song from every album you've ever recorded!" Then, he'd sit onstage and play, and she'd say to the audience, "This kid is good!" Well, one day when he was 16 years old (!), he wandered into Marie's Crisis in the middle of the afternoon with some friends and began playing piano. Old movie-style, the person sweeping up behind the bar said, "You're good, kid!" He told Marc that a comedy group, "The High-Heeled Women," were looking for a pianist, and Marc got the gig. He stayed with one of the women in the group, and she happened to live across the hall from one of Bette's back-up singers! Marc found out that the three singers (The Harlettes) were putting together an act. He auditioned to be their pianist and got it! They got great reviews, and Bette said they could open for her in Los Angeles! Suddenly, Marc was in an L.A. rehearsal studio, and there onstage was Bette Midler! He was freaking out! Bette suddenly asked the band if they could play "No Jestering" from her third album. They were just a bunch of pick-up musicians and not her actual band so they didn't know it at all. Suddenly Marc saw The Harlettes talking to Bette and pointing at him. Bette asked him if he knew it, and Marc literally got to run up to the stage saying, "Oh, Miss Midler! I know how to play every song from every album you've ever recorded!" He played it, and she told him to stick around for the tour in case she needed him. Instead of paying for a hotel room for him, she had him stay in her guest room! He said he went from walking down her block hoping to get a glimpse of her as well as covering his room in posters of her, to literally eating breakfast with her across the table from her not wearing a bra! I told those kids that this story goes to prove that they can be obsessed with someone today and wind up hanging out with them in a few years. Hopefully with a bra on.

Marc also said that Scott Rudin asked him to write the score for Hairspray, and he said yes. Then, ten years passed. Margo Lion got the rights and asked him to do it. He said he wanted Scott Whitman to write the lyrics with him, and she was nervous because they were partners and what would happen if they had a fight. She asked him to write some songs on spec, and they wrote four songs…all of which stayed in the show: "Good Morning, Baltimore," "Welcome to the Sixties," "I Know Where I've Been" and "Big Blonde and Beautiful." Every time he started playing one, the kids all immediately started singing and knew every lyric. At the end of the interview, he was asked by one of the kids what the most rewarding moment was in his career. Someone made a joke and said that it was today. But then Marc said it was amazing. He asked, "Can you imagine how thrilling it is for me to go to the piano and start playing a song I wrote… and suddenly have you all singing at me? That's as rewarding as I can ever imagine." Brava!!

All right, people. This week my sister Nancy is coming in! She's hilarious (see proof at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs6a7MW1pgY). We're going to see [title of show] (I think it's my seventh time!), and I'm taking my nieces to see Legally Blonde. And then Wednesday and Thursday night I'm playing for Andrea McArdle's act at the Metropolitan Room (Metropolitanroom.com) and then driving up to P-town to play for Varla Jean Merman (www.Varlaonline.com). Peace out and put a bra on!

* (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.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

(clockwise from front left): Andrea Burns, Norm Lewis, Gavin Creel, James and Seth.
(clockwise from front left): Andrea Burns, Norm Lewis, Gavin Creel, James and Seth.