ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Shaw, Shindle and the Missing Glasses

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Shaw, Shindle and the Missing Glasses
 
This week's column should be called onstage and in the audience.
(l.-r.) High belter Kate Shindle with Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde.
(l.-r.) High belter Kate Shindle with Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde.

First of all, Monday afternoon I went to the East Side. Yes, that gets its own sentence because it is a momentous occasion. For those of you who don't live in New York, it's akin to traveling from Paris to Leningrad and takes just as many train transfers. Also, it has streets and neighborhoods I've never heard of and have no idea the location of. I had to go to Gramercy Park South. Where in the world is that? I panicked and took a cab. I found out Gramercy Park South is actually East 16th Street. Why couldn't it be called that? I could have taken the R train to 14th Street and just walked. Who's going to pay me back the $14 for the cab? Who's responsible for that cryptic name? Do I bill the Robert Moses estate?

Well, the reason I trekked to that foreign land was the sweet and talented David Staller asked me to be in Project Shaw. Project Shaw was founded by Staller, and the intention of it is to put on every single one of Shaw's works — sketches, one acts and full lengths. I played Androcles in Androcles and the Lion, which is about Christians being thrown to the lions. Since that's sometimes what it feels like for an actor on critics' nights, Staller decided to cast the show with critics to give them a taste of what actors go through. Since I'm a deejay on Sirius, he decided I'm critic-y enough. I played opposite Bruce Vilanch's lion, and I must say that for a role mostly full of stage directions ("the lion moans mournfully"), Bruce was hilarious! If they finally do revive The Wiz, have I got a lion for you….albeit, a white one.

I began the evening with the cockiness of "Bruce and I are the only professional actors on this stage," but by ten minutes in, I was in a fierce battle for laughs with Michael "comic genius" Musto and Michael "bring down the house" Riedel. The only thing that saved me was Musto only being featured in Act One and Riedel being unceremoniously eaten by a lion at the beginning of Act Two. In conclusion, by the middle of Act Two I went from thinking that Bruce and I were going to be the only ones with comic timing, to being surrounded by more laugh whores than you'd find at a Mario Cantone family reunion. Bravo, critics! And, remember my shout outs to you when a Rudetsky extravaganza opens and you put pen to paper.

Tuesday was the Easter Bonnet Competition and Legally Blonde's Laura Bell Bundy and I got to tell the audience who the judges were. Remember the old theatre adage "Never share the stage with children or animals"? Let me amend that to, "Never share the stage with a Chihuahua and a blonde in a pink bunny suit." I had to pull out all my shtick just to get anyone in the audience with a wandering eye to fix one of them on me. But the show was faboo as usual — the [title of show] folk (best show ever) and Chris Gattellli created the opening number, which was a hilarious stream of consciousness that had moments like Jeff Bowen considering whether they should have Wicked star Julia Murney belt out the opening number (cue Julia Murney on elevator in sexy gown holding microphone rising to the stage) and then Hunter Bell remembering that she has eight shows a week and should probably save her voice (cue elevator with Julia Murney lowering under the stage while Julia angrily mouths "Son of a . . .")

Also, it was great to see Jo Anne Worley in the Drowsy Chaperone sketch. She featured her twirling pearl necklace bit, which has to be seen. She starred in my On the Twentieth Century concert for the Actors' Fund and told my friend Charlie Schwartz that it's very important to "travel with your own props." Who even has their own props let alone travels with them? I love it! Thursday I had Karen Ziemba on my Chatterbox. She 'fessed up that her first big job was Fiddler on the Roof with Jackie Mason before his comeback. He must have had a million Tevye bits. I'd love to see a Fiddler shtick face-off with Jackie as Tevye and Jo Anne Worley as Golde. "Sabbath Prayer" would take an hour.

Karen talked about her final audition to take over the role of Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street. She had to stand next to Jerry Orbach and was so nervous she'd be too tall that she wore rickety-rackety flats, but thankfully, he was a taller drink of water. She got the part and told us that Jerry was old-school and therefore never missed a performance. Attention members of various ensembles: Aspire to be Jerry! She also talked about the first time she went on as Cassie in the national tour of A Chorus Line, and it was in an outdoor theatre. During the moment where she was yelling at Zach that she'd be proud to be a member of the chorus, she had been dancing so much that her body temperature was hotter than the air, so steam was rising off of her. The audience must have been like "Cassie is right! After all, she's a wizard."

Friday I saw Legally Blonde. First of all, shout out to Laura Bell Bundy for singing and dancing up a storm and doing it eight shows a week. I was winded from watching her by the "I want" song. Secondly, yay Orfeh! I was so obsessed with her in Saturday Night Fever. Whenever I played in the pit, I always turned my earphones way up whenever she was lending her signature riffs to "Jive Talking." Yes, I played keyboard for the song "Jive Talking." We all need rent money. Thirdly, so proud to see Jerry Mitchell graduate to directing. We used to create the production numbers on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" years back and I was always miffed that, after assisting Michael Bennett and Jerome Robbins, he hadn't yet directed a Broadway show. Finally! And lastly, brava to Kate Shindle. Because of my obsession with high belting, she told me that she hits some crazy notes in the show. I was psyched waiting for it and heard her belt some delicious E flats in Act Two. I was duly impressed, but I had heard her belt even higher before (an F) when she'd sing "See What I Wanna See" in various benefits. Suddenly, near the end of the song, she hit an E Flat, started sliding up and had the chutzpah to land on an A flat! And hold it! With vibrato! Unbelievable!

Saturday, I did Don't Quit Your Night Job, which is an improv show that has guests from Broadway during each performance. I hauled out my Barbra Streisand/Bea Arthur chestnut and prayed the audience hadn't seen it on youtube. The cast was so talented, and backstage they were going over the rules of improv before the show. One of the signature rules is to "yes and…" Meaning, if someone says, "There's a big monster," you shouldn't deny it, you should say "I see it! And it's wearing a wig and breathing fire!" That reminded of an incident during the run of the 1994 revival of Grease! Megan Mullally, who played Marty, was out and her understudy was on. Normally, Marty puts on a pair of glasses and then Jessie Stone (Frenchy) says, "Hey, Marty! I hear you got new glasses." Marty would follow with, "Yeah, do they make me look smarter?," and Rizzo would sass her with "Nah, we can still see your face."

Well, the understudy forgot to bring the glasses onstage, and everyone was in a tizzy leading up to that moment. How could it work without the glasses? Jessie whispered, "I'll handle it," and smartly changed the line to "Hey, Marty. I hear you're going to get new glasses!" To which the understudy replied, "No!"

Silence.

No one knew what to do. Finally, Heather Stokes, who was Jan and in a full panic, said the only line that came into her head, which was supposed to happen two pages later in the dialogue. Because of that, everything that was supposed to happen during those two pages was skipped, including Sonny's (Carlos Lopez) entrance, so "Summer Nights" suddenly began and he was still offstage. Carlos heard the music and thought, "Aren't I in this number? I guess I should awkwardly walk onstage for no reason and join in." I'm not saying that Tony voters were there that night, but you'll remember that Carousel won Best Revival that year.

Suffice it to say, Megan came back and eventually won two Emmy Awards. All right, this week I'm one of the judges in the Mr. Broadway pageant, and I'm then going to Albany for lobbying day! I love long car rides because I can blast all my favorite CDs — Closer Than Ever, Ain't Misbehavin' and Evita(with Patti! How dare you even ask!)

See 'ya next week 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." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and his show, Seth's Broadway 101, will be presented April 16. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

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