ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Sittin' Playin' Piano — With Andrea McArdle

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Sittin' Playin' Piano — With Andrea McArdle Andrea McArdle sings "Maybe." David Hyde Pierce muses about Spamalot. Alysha Umphress astounds — and not just because of her name.
Andrea McArdle
Andrea McArdle Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Anyhoo, the week began with Annie rehearsal. Here's the deal. A few years ago, I had Andrea McArdle at the Chatterbox. Usually at the end of the show, I ask my guest to sing something. Well, I've heard Andrea sing "Tomorrow" live before, but I'd never heard her sing "Maybe." Why had I never heard her sing it? Well, when I was growing up, my mother was notorious for getting me tickets for all the shows I wanted to see….right after the original cast had left. Why see Andrea McArdle, when you can see Shelley Bruce? Why see Patti LuPone in Evita when you can see Patti's replacement? Actually, why stop there? Why not see the replacement's matinee cover? Now we're talking! Didn't my mother understand that I listened to those albums every day of my childhood and I wanted to hear Patti belt the "I'm their Savior!" modulation in "Rainbow High" and Andrea vibrato the last syllable on "together forever" in "I Don't Need Anything But You." But, alas, it was not to be. The only cool replacements I saw during my childhood Broadway forays were in Pippin. Priscilla Lopez as Fastrada and Betty Buckley as Catherine. But unfortunately I was six, so I fell asleep right after "…leave your fields to flower."

Anyway, I asked Andrea to sing "Maybe" at the end of the Chatterbox and she said she hadn't sung it since she did her last performance as Annie 25 years before. I looked at her with a "your point being?" expression and started playing the vamp. Of course, she sounded amazing. It made me realize that I wanted, nay, needed to hear her sing the whole score. I thought, why not do a special version of the show with her as Annie? I pitched the idea to Gregg Kaminsky from the Rosie Family cruise and it's actually gonna happen the last night on the boat! I got Harvey Evans to play Daddy Warbucks and Rosie to be Miss Hannigan. Who says you can't go home again? I'll finally heal those wounds from March 1978 and forgive Andrea for leaving the show. I'll even forgive Martin Charnin for not making one of the orphans a boy so I could have gone to an Annie cattle call, a right of passage for all high belting girls in the '70s. I will not forgive my mother, however. Why didn't she post something on TalkinBroadway to see when Andrea's last show was? What? It didn't exist in 1978? Well, what about Broadway World?

So, this week I started work on Annie and Andrea and I got together to go over keys. It was so thrilling to play the melody of "It's the Hard Knock life for us, it's the hard knock life for us" and hear her sing "'stead of treated!" She's still got it!

Thursday, I had David Hyde Pierce at the Chatterbox. He's hilarious. But after every funny comment, total blank face-ness. He's dryer than whatever Texan town Audra and John Cullum live in. He said he grew up obsessed with Monty Python and it was super weird doing the first reading of Spamalot because he was doing Eric Idle next to Eric Idle. He said he knew the show could be a blockbuster, but was nervous about his big number. He thought it would either be hilarious or get the show boycotted by B'nai B'rith. He remembers singing the phrase "you won't succeed on Broadway…" and then nervously singing "…if you don't have any Jews." The line got a big fat laugh and David knew the show was gonna be a hit. Ironically, the show closed out of town and never made it to Broadway. I mean, swept the Tonys.

Friday night, I went to the After Party at The Laurie Beechman Theater. Cute Brandon Cutrell was the host and sang up a storm with his pretty tenor voice. Then I heard a sasstress I hadn't heard before: Alysha Umphress. I want to give her a shout out, but since I can't pronounce her first or last name, I will give her a "write out." She sang "Where Are the Simple Joys of Maidenhood" and worked it! The arrangement was in a jazz style she put in the coolest riffs. Not the kind of riffs that make you turn off "American Idol," the kind that, if Julie Andrews had employed, the show would have run longer than the original 875 performances (thank you IBDB). I was there to play for Christine Pedi who's doing a new show at The Metropolitan Room. She was trying out her version of "And I Am Telling You" as sung by people like Joan Rivers, Bernadette Peters and Little Edie ("oh no, there's no way I'm living without you, Mother Dear…"). When I got there, I told Brandon that I was also gonna play for my boyfriend who was gonna sing a Valjean song from Les Miz. Brandon had a list of performers and asked for my boyfriend's name and I said James. Anyhoo, I finished playing for Christine (who brought the house down) and Brandon announced "Now, give it up for James." I was mortified because I realized I never gave James' last name (Wesley) but I figured it was too late and started playing. James sang Valjean's first big number, which is crazily high! ("This is all I have lived for…this is all I have known" has all these B flats! Hello? Has Claude Michel Schonberg ever heard of a matinee? Who has those notes at 2 PM?) Anyway, James finished with "…another story must begi-i-i-i-i-i-i-in" (on a high A…ow) and as the audience clapped, Brandon announced "Ladies and Gentlemen…James." It was crazy! Does he think I'm dating someone who thinks he's Cher? Madonna? Orfeh? I was mortified.

Saturday, we went to see LoveMusik. Donna Murphy and Michael Cerveris are such character actors. Sometimes it's great to see an actor you love playing a character he/she always plays. In this show, I found it so cool to see Michael/Donna playing characters I've never seen them play before. So specific, down to the vocal traits. Donna said all of her lines above a C sharp. Every time she'd say a word particularly high, I'd imagine her belting out the end of "Writing on the Wall" when she replaced Betty Buckley in Drood.

Also, the rest of the cast was so crazily talented! Annie Morrison! Judy Blazer! John Scherer doing pull backs!

Sunday night, James and I rushed down to the Vineyard Theater to see the All-Asian production of Falsettoland which is one of my favorite shows. Suffice it to say, due to someone in front of us slowly walking down the stairs we missed the Q train that would have gotten us there with time to spare. Instead we rushed into the theatre and the speaker in the lobby was broadcasting "This is the year…of Jason's Bar Mitzvah..." The show had just begun. We decided to leave because I need to see that show from the beginning so I can be crying for the full 90 minutes instead of 88. We're coming back Tuesday because there's one delicious week left. That means this upcoming week we're seeing Falsettoland and The Actor's Fund performance of The Year of Magical Thinking. I'm gonna need to balance that recipe for clinical depression with a hefty bluegobo.com showing of "I Had a Ball" with Karen Morrow. Watch it ASAP. It's like Prozac with vibrato!

(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 he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

Donna Murphy in <i>LoveMusik</i>.
Donna Murphy in LoveMusik. Photo by Carol Rosegg