ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Games We Play

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Games We Play A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Alan Campbell and Lauren Kennedy with Seth Rudetsky
Alan Campbell and Lauren Kennedy with Seth Rudetsky Photo by Robb Johnston

***********

I have officially moved!

I'm typing this in my kitchen (area) with the door open to my backyard! So happy to have moved. So devastated to have cleaned out my bank account. The movers were hired to start at 8 AM. Instead of having everything moved by 11 AM and then spending the day unpacking with James, the move was done at 5:30! That's right, instead of a few hundred, it cost $1,000! Plus, another $300 for the piano movers. Plus six weeks rent in advance and the realtor fees (there were two realtors and one wanted the fee paid to "cash"…I guess that's legal). Essentially, my check for writing this week's column has to feed me for the next month.

Okay, here's the week in review. Last Monday I played at Joe's Pub again for the hilarious Jackie Hoffman. She does a great section about Xanadu and started by talking about the sitzprobe. "Ah, the sitzprobe. That's the rehearsal where the cast finally gets to hear the score played by the entire orchestra. Man…when I first heard the strains of 'Have you Never Been Mellow' played a by a full three-piece orchestra…" (She gets overwhelmed with emotion.) Then she lamented the fact that Xanadu closed in September, much earlier than expected. "The producers assured us it would run through the holidays. I guess they meant the High Holidays." My favorite was when she improv'd a line because of the audience reaction. She talks about her recent wedding ("It's a mixed marriage. I'm Jewish and he's happy") and then about her honeymoon in Spain. There was a terrible plane crash in Madrid the day before she was supposed to leave. She told the audience that she was going to play the message that was on her answering machine when she got home. "I think it'll teach you a little about what it's like being Jewish."

OLDER SLOW-TALKING WOMAN'S VOICE: "Jackie? I'm sitting here with no heart. I pray you weren't on that plane from Madrid. Goodbye." The audience couldn't believe the downer-ness and couldn't stop laughing. Jackie referred to the fact that all she did was play an answering machine message. "Isn't it great when you don't have to do anything to get a laugh? Just be Jewish and let it roll." Brava! She spent the whole show obsessively plugging her new CD (Two songs ended with the lyrics "Buy my CD!") and after the show she stood in the lobby selling/autographing CDs. No matter who spoke to her, her objective was to sell those CDs. One Hollywood schmoozer came over and was trying to impress her with the promise of a future gig, but she focused on her objective. He sidled up to her and cooed, "I'm a film writer…and a producer…" to which she replied, "And neither one of you is buying the CD!" and went on to the next customer. You can get her CD ("Jackie Hoffman: Live at Joe's Pub") at Amazon.com or wherever hilarious, loud, angry Jewish women's CDs are sold.

On Wednesday I had my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show with great-looking married couple Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell. They're so stunning and blond that if you saw a picture of the three of us, you'd think it's the only time a Ralph Lauren ad had a member of B'nai B'rith in it. They met doing Sunset Boulevard in L.A. Lauren was just out of college and in the ensemble, and Alan was fresh off the series "Jake and the Fatman" and playing the lead role of Joe opposite Glenn Close. They didn't notice that much of each other until she went on with no rehearsal for the role of Betty Schaeffer (played by Judy Kuhn). Alan was so impressed with her performance that he went home and wrote in his diary, "At such a young age, sharing a stage with Glenn Close and George Hearn with little rehearsal, this girl has 'it'!" Soon, they started doing the show on Broadway and, miraculously, every night when Alan was hailing a cab up Eighth Avenue, suddenly Lauren would be standing next to him. The cab rides turned into dates, then an engagement, and now they've been married for years and have an adorable daughter named Riley. On their wedding day, Alan got the page from his dairy framed and gave it to Lauren!

Alan got to perform opposite all the great Norma Desmonds, and I asked him what it was like playing opposite Glenn Close. He remembers that she didn't like any playing around onstage and that she was incredibly consistent in her performance. I asked him what Betty Buckley was like, and he said he had to be incredibly focused for every performance because it was never the same. She was so real and so in the moment that it would change every day. He felt that her Norma was brilliant. The one problem was that there was a moment when she would slap him that had been directed and worked out in rehearsal, but it was so "real" that it was killing him. He would come home every night and ask Lauren if he should say something to get it modified. He was torn because he didn't want Betty to change her acting, but he also wanted to have a cheekbone intact by the end of the run. Finally, Betty approached him and asked if they could re-rehearse to change the slap. Why? Because she told him it was hurting her wrist! He didn't care about the reason, he was just happy that he started to get feeling back in his face.

Lauren was then the understudy in Side Show, and the first time she was slated to go on she (as usual) had no rehearsal. This time, though, they were too nervous to throw her on with no preparation so they canceled the show and had a dress rehearsal instead. Ironically, she said it was an easy show to do in terms of understudying because there wasn't much to remember blocking-wise. The show is about conjoined twins and, for most of the numbers, they stood center and sang. Lauren also got to create the role of Kathy in The Last Five Years before it came to New York but decided not to do the Off-Broadway production because she was offered Nellie Forbush in the Trevor Nunn production of South Pacific in London. I know what she went through. It's always hard for me when I'm offered the lead in two different shows at the same time. It's even harder when I wake up and find myself in my darkened bedroom.

Recently, Alan did the Goodspeed Opera House production of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas. It's a live show based on the seventies Muppets TV special that Chris Gattelli spearheaded because he had loved it as a kid. Alan said that Chris did a fantastic job as director/choreographer (and re-working the script), and Paul Williams (who wrote the music for the original production as well as music for the film "Bugsy Malone" and co-wrote "Evergreen") wrote five more songs. The back story is when Jim Henson first wanted to do a film with the Muppets, studios were not onboard. As a matter of fact, Alan said that one "suit" snorted, "A film? What are you gonna do…have Kermit the Frog riding a bicycle?" Jim Henson remembered that comment and PS, that's how the film begins! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI0ctHjR9tg It should be coming to New York because rumor has it that the show, like Kermit, has "legs"!

Lauren had one of the three leads in the postponed Vanities and is itching for it to come to Broadway. She actually sang one of her high-belting songs from the show and sounded fab. You can hear the interview with her song (as well as one of Alan's songs from Emmet Otter) this Friday, Jan. 23 at 7 PM ET on my Sirius Broadway show (details about three free days of service at my website).

Seth with the cast of Forbidden Broadway

Thursday at the Chatterbox I had the cast of the current and hy-sterical cast of Forbidden Broadway. Gina Kreiezmar was the understudy in the show for twelve years before finally taking a main part. She wanted to stay as the understudy for all those years because it allowed her to raise her son. Essentially, she was able to be in her apartment at night and had a beeper in case she had to perform. Unfortunately, she had to go on last minute for one performance and couldn't get a babysitter, so she brought her toddler son along. She was in the middle of a Dame Judi Dench parody, heard the audience laughing up a storm and thought, "Boy! I'm really killing today. still got it!" Unfortunately, like the "I Love Lucy" episode where Ricky, Fred and Lucy upstage Ethel, Gina was being upstaged by her three-year-old son, who wandered out on stage looking for her! (PS, for those of you youngsters who don't know the Lucy reference, I put the clip on my website). Christina Bianco got out of college and spent a year touring as Dora, The Explorer (she cautioned "Don't knock children's theatre…it let me buy my apartment!"). Getting cast in Forbidden Broadway has been a dream come true because she'd been obsessed with the show ever since she was a kid and waited years to be old enough to finally be in it. Speaking of years, Michael West spent years following Ethel Merman's career across the country and actually went to the auction of her estate. On the Don't Tell Mama's stage he brought a dry-cleaning bag containing the dress Ethel used in concert! I was impressed/uncomfortable/coveting.

Saturday night I christened (Bar Mitzvahed?) my new apartment by having the first game night. The players: Michael Lee Scott (the asst. choreographer for The Ritz who came up with the idea of putting the white gloves on an umbrella for my "Magic to Do" spot), Paul Castree (gearing up for 9 to 5), Kevin Chamberlin (in town doing a workshop of Addams Family) and Sally Rudetsky (my mother, coming off yet another failed commercial audition). Kevin said that the directors of Addams Family (who also did Shockheaded Peter) are brilliant, and he's loving playing Uncle Fester. We first hauled out Pictionary, and Paul and Kevin were an annoyingly knowledgeable team. Kevin quickly drew a picture of the U.S., then Great Britain and then three little land masses. We all thought they were random shapes, but suddenly Paul started spitting out geographical locations and after each one Kevin nodded 'til Paul got the answer. It literally sounded like this: PAUL: "Scandinavia? (Nod) Norway? (Nod) Sweden? (Nod) Finland!" What the-? None of us knew what happened and just stared slack-jawed. Paul started explaining that Scandinavia is, in fact, three different countries, and I glared and got some low-fat Edy's ice cream. Then we played Taboo, and my mother simply calls out answers not based on the clues, but based on whatever's in her head at the moment. I was trying to make my team guess the word "raccoon," so I decided to use the image of a woman whose mascara is running, and the dark circles under her eyes makes her look like a raccoon. As I was describing it, my mother spouted off an irrelevant word. I completely ignored her and kept going, which for some reason made her think I implied she was on the right track, so she took her random word and refined it. This was how it went:

SETH: (looks at card, sees raccoon and starts describing it). Uh…I'm a woman and I'm crying so my mascara is running-
MOM: Witch!
SETH: So I look like a-
MOM: Warlock!

What? After the turn, Paul Castree acted out what happened, and Kevin Chamberlin laughed so hard he was literally crying. We did a little film version on my website, so if you want to see my apartment, Paul and my game-losing mother, get thee to SethRudetsky.com.

This week I'm doing "Celebrity Autobiography" (Jan. 19), and tomorrow (Jan. 20) I'm doing a fundraiser for Artists Striving To End Poverty (founded by Mary-Mitchell Campbell) at Joe's Pub. Wednesday's Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show at the Times Square Information Center will have the cast of the York Theater's upcoming Zanna, Don't benefit and Andrea Burns from In the Heights. Okay, gotta go! I started vocal coaching again, so I have to clean up my apartment asap for my first appointment. And by "clean" I mean get another bowl of Edy's low-fat ice cream. 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.)

(l.-r.) Kevin Chamberlin, Seth's Mom, Michael Lee Scott and Paul Castree
(l.-r.) Kevin Chamberlin, Seth's Mom, Michael Lee Scott and Paul Castree Photo by Robb Johnston
Today’s Most Popular News: