ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Rosie Cruise, Part II

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Rosie Cruise, Part II This is part two of my Rosie cruise experience. I'm typing slowly because I'm lacking energy. My body now demands a steady influx of bread/sugar/deep fried products, and it refuses to fully function unless I attend at least one buffet a day.
Andrea McArdle reprised the title role of Annie on the Rosie Cruise.
Andrea McArdle reprised the title role of Annie on the Rosie Cruise.

My boyfriend and I went to Trader Joe's and stocked up on "healthy food" now that we're back on dry land, and I've spent the last few days trying to explain to my stomach that smorgasbords are for special occasions and do not normally occur six times a day. By the way, I got an email from my friend Amy Corn saying, "I read your last column. Did you really eat that much for dessert?" Short answer: "yes"; long answer: "…and it was delicious."

Anyhoo, we're now on (last) Monday, the third day of the cruise. We docked in Cape Canaveral, and many people went off to Disneyworld. I made that mistake on the first cruise and opted out this time. It's a long, hot bus ride and then a long, hot day. The one good thing about my last trip there was we got into the Wild Animal Park and I saw the Lion King show. Let me clarify: The part where the audience had to imitate an animal was decidedly not fun ("What sound does an elephant make?" Me: Silent protest), but it was cool when I had Titus Burgess (who's coming to Broadway to sing "Under the Sea" in The Little Mermaid) at my Chatterbox and found out he was in that show! You never know what future Broadway sasstress is in an ensemble (check out Sutton Foster's chorus solo in Scarlet Pimpernel: "Me sister says his breath is fresher than an Irish Rose." Cut to: Tony Award.)

Tuesday we docked in a Dutch oven, I mean, Key West. With the ozone layer almost gone, a two-block walk gave new meaning to the expression "sun kissed." I could feel my collagen evaporating and deciding ne'er to renew itself.

That night, four of my friends (Richard Roland, Michael Klimzak, Tim Cross and JD Daw) did some songs from Forever Plaid. That show is literally perfect. The James Raitt harmonies are so beautiful and creative, and Stuart Ross wrote such clear cut characters that within a few lines you know exactly who everyone is. And, even though we just did a small version of it, everyone kept commenting on how much heart there was in the show. The only problem was that all of us hadn't done it for years. And, I mean, years. So, not only did everyone have to re-learn the harmonies, but the four Plaids who are supposed to be clean-cut young guys cut down in their prime were well into their sixties. I'm exaggerating, but let's just say I'm glad it was a large venue.

Right after that was the comedy showcase, and I hosted it with my good friend and comedy partner, Jack Plotnick. We opened with our old chestnut: Joyce DeWitt's comeback cabaret medley. In it, we play Joyce's back-up dancers, and because she doesn't show, Jack is forced to go on. First awkward, but finally confidently singing "Joy to the World": "Suzanne Somers is a has-been/The Thighmaster had its day/But I'm coming back and I'm better than ever…and I am here to say./I'm singing…Joyce to the World! All the boys and girls!" Then we did our Mortification Theatre sketch, where we dramatically re-enact two devastating parental moments from our childhoods. I play myself at 11 and Jack plays 15. He has my favorite section where he's describing having to investigate whether or not his father has been drinking. "This is so mortifying, I wish I weren't here right now. Thank goodness I've mastered the technique of disassociating myself! That's right, I'm no longer here… I'm in my head, where it's safe. This technique comes in handy now, and it's even more fun later in life when I can no longer control it."

Wednesday we docked on a private Island that the Norwegian Cruise Line owns. James, his friend Cheryl and I went snorkeling, and I was having fun till they both pointed out a barracuda. I didn't know if you're supposed to remain immobile so they'll leave you alone or if you're supposed to get the hell out of the area. I opted for the "get the hell out" route, but I was wearing a mask, a life vest and flippers, so I moved as fast as a glacier. Luckily, the barracuda ignored my attention-getting splashing and I relaxed until James spotted a Stingray. That was it for me, and I hightailed it to the beach and a virgin Pina Colada.

That evening, Euan Morton did a fabulous concert. He has 1,000 megawatts of stage presence and a glorious voice. I always think he sounds like the male Karen Carpenter. He sang the haunting "Stranger in this World" and the beautiful "Hallelujah." He also ripped his shirt off at the end of the show, which made it clear to me that he and I were eating in different places on the boat . . . with different sized portions. Rosie has an organization called Rosie's Broadway Kids that teaches inner city kids musical theatre lessons, and Euan offered to sing any kid on the boat to sleep if the parent would make a $50 donation to the charity! How cool was that?

Thursday featured Sibling Revelry, which consists of sisters Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway and their sassy music director, Alex Rybeck (who also celebrated his birthday on the ship)! Ann and Liz sound great together and are both so funny. At one point Ann was doing patter but was brazenly overshadowed by Liz walking up and down the aisle hawking her CDs. Then Ann "accidentally" discovered her 15 MAC Awards onstage. Liz countered that by sauntering to the stage to reminisce about her Tony Award. "Nomination," Ann quickly added. Brava bitchery!

Finally, Friday arrived. I'm talking Annie. Even though Steve Marzullo was the music director, he let me conduct the opening trumpet solo in the Overture. Then I came forward and told my story about my obsession as a child with, what I called, "The Red Album." I told how I never got over not seeing Andrea McArdle play Annie when it was originally on Broadway (I saw Shelly Bruce). In the middle of the show, I noticed that there were two newsboys in the "NYC" number, and I was suddenly thrilled because there were boys in Annie. I could be in the show I was obsessed with! Then I spoke of realizing that the newsboys were actually girl orphans dressed up as boys, and I then described my devastation by the 11-year-old "drag kings." I said that most everyone I knew who was my age had dreamed of being an orphan in Annie and wished they had seen Andrea play the title role. "Tonight," I said triumphantly, "through the magic of RFamily Vacations, those dreams will come true."

I set the opening scene (an orphanage in December), and all the girl orphans ran out because Molly (Sarah Uriarte Berry) had a bad dream about missing her parents. I ran offstage, donned an orphan smock, and ran on shouting "Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness…" Yes! I was Tessie, the "oh, my goodness" orphan!

It was so fun doing "Hard Knock Life" . . . for me. The other girls had a breakdown because we kept it in the original key. Andrea said that Charles Strouse found out how high little kids could belt "Hard Knock" and then, since they're angry, took it up a half step so the song would make all the orphans sound strained. Well, if little kids had trouble hitting the high notes, imagine adult ladies. Suffice it to say, the words "nodes" and "vocal damage" were bandied about along with, "I'm gonna kill Seth." The end of the song, though, was fun for everyone because the director (Dev Janki) had us pretend to throw our bucket of water at the audience, and instead out came multi-colored confetti. Cool!

Andrea was amazing as Annie. First of all, she was totally believable as an 11-year-old orphan. She has the same spunky sass that made her a star back in '77. Rosie and I were backstage plotzing during "Tomorrow" and at the end of the tumultuous applause, someone in the audience screamed out a heartfelt "Thank you!"

I introduced "NYC" by saying that the original "Star-to-be" solo was the late, unbelievable Laurie Beechman, but Andrea played the role in the TV movie. "So, Andrea played Annie on Broadway and the Star-to-be in the film. Too bad she can't do both roles tonight…or can she!?!?!!" I exited and "NYC" began as usual, but in the middle, the crowd circled around Andrea, and when they opened up again, she had done a quick change and become the Star-to-be! The only problem was, for some reason, we could only find one suitcase for her, so it made no sense when she sang "…three bucks, two bags, one me." I'm just curious why we couldn't find another suitcase on a cruise ship!?! Didn't anybody pack? Who cares, Andrea found her D flat on "…to-ni-i-i-i-i-i-i-ight! The Y…"

Rosie was a brava as Miss Hannigan. Hilarious and on her gig, musically! I went up to her suite earlier in the week to teach her the "Easy Street" harmony (her suite was on the top deck of the boat and had eight bedrooms and two outdoor hot tubs!), and she nailed it during the show! I knew she could do it because she sang three-part harmony backing up Megan Mullally on "Freddy My Love" when we did Grease!.

The most fun was doing "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile." If you haven't seen the original staging, get thee to YouTube and watch the Tony telecast. Peter Gennaro's choreography is brilliant because it's not technical for kids, but it's totally character appropriate and has built-in audience applause moments. At the very end of our "Smile," we were joined by kids on the ship that had been practicing the dance all week. I felt so happy to dance with them...and incredibly upstaged.

I announced to the audience that Harvey Evans was playing Daddy Warbucks and told them his amazing history (15 Broadway shows, including Follies and playing Tulsa in the original Gypsy!) and then, to show the audience that he still "had it," we put a dance break in the middle of "I Don't Need Anything But You." He and Andrea did a challenge tap and they both had clean-as-a-whistle sounds…even on the pull backs! At the end of the show, tons of kids from the ship came up and sang "New Deal For Christmas." Bobby Pearce did a brilliant job with costumes, culminating with Andrea coming out in the middle of the song in an exact replica of the Annie red dress. She looked amazing! She did, however, draw the line at wearing the fright wig.

Right before we left the stage, Andrea started a reprise of "Tomorrow." At the end, everyone onstage was singing along during "You're always a d-a-a-a-ay . . . a-a-a-a-a-a," and then I cut everyone off so Andrea could end by herself with "-w-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-y!"

After the show so many people came up to me and admitted they had the same Annie orphan fantasy and asked me if I was freaking out onstage. I have to say I was mostly very concerned with hosting it and getting my steps right…except during "Maybe." All the orphans were on the stage and Andrea was comforting Molly by singing "Maybe far a-w-a-a-a-a-a-y…or maybe real near by" and I suddenly thought that this is what the original orphans experienced. Sitting on the stage, facing out towards the audience and looking at Andrea, centerstage, singing. I thought about how, as a kid, I would always look at the cast album photo of the orphans in their beds with Andrea in the middle and how I was now, literally, in that picture. When I realized that it was something I always wished for, never thought could happen, and was actually happening, I started crying. Who wouldn't?

All in all, the Rosie cruise was thrilling and life changing —like it always is!

(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.)

Top: Seth Rudetsky and Sarah Uriarte Berry sing "Hard Knock Life." Bottom: Klea Blackhurst, Rosie O'Donnell and Andrea McArdle in <i>Annie</i>.
Top: Seth Rudetsky and Sarah Uriarte Berry sing "Hard Knock Life." Bottom: Klea Blackhurst, Rosie O'Donnell and Andrea McArdle in Annie.
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