ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Tenth Anniversary of The Producers

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Tenth Anniversary of The Producers A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Seth and Tyler Maynard
Seth and Tyler Maynard

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So much is going on! Let me start from the top of the week. On Sunday night, I went out to the George Street Playhouse to do their yearly fundraiser. Tyler Maynard and I sang "Two Nobodies in New York" from [title of show], which was so much fun to haul out again. What was not fun is that Tyler has been working out and looks amazing where I resembled Tawny Jo. Who's Tawny Jo you ask? Well, the first show I did in NYC was Pageant, which was a beauty pageant with the contestants played by men in drag and the [AUDIO-LEFT]audience voting on who won. It's truly one of the funniest shows I've ever seen and I was SO happy to be a part of it. At one point, Miss West Coast is voted Miss Congeniality, which the host says is bestowed on "the one contestant the other girls would most like to be friends with…if they only had the time." Right after that award, the finals begin. The host calls the names of the finalists: Miss Industrial Northeast, Miss Great Plains, Miss Deep South, Miss Texas and finally Miss Bible Belt. It always brought the house down when the audience realized that poor Miss West Coast is the only contestant who didn't make it to the finals. She then stands by herself as the curtain sl-o-o-o-owly closes in front of her. At the last minute, she plaintively holds out her "Miss Congeniality" medallion…and the curtain completely shuts with her in that pose. Hi-larious. Then, at the end, the winner of last year's pageant (played by the actor playing Miss West Coast) comes back to crown whomever the new winner is. Her name is Tawny Jo and, the joke is, she's gained around 100 pounds since last year's pageant. I was Tawny Jo next to Tyler. P.S., I haven't gained 100 pounds (maybe 5…rounded down from 10) but singing next to someone who now wears a size zero gave me a healthy dose of body shame. Before we went on, Tyler took some crazy photos of us with his iPhone.

Gary Beach, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in The Producers.
photo by Paul Kolnik

Right after I made my appearance as Orca, I hightailed it back to the city to go to The Producers tenth anniversary party. Ten years! Yowtch! I remember when I first got that gig. I was walking home with Paul Castree after going out to brunch for my birthday. Phil Reno (who was the associate conductor) asked me if I could assist on the show. Patrick Brady, the conductor, told him it was his pay back to me because in 1997 Patrick was conducting Triumph of Love and, when he had to leave to do Fosse, he asked me to take over as pianist-conductor. I started working on the score so I could take over at the beginning of January when all of a sudden, the show got its closing notice. Wah wah. At that time, I was the assistant music director on Grease and then we also got our closing notice! Not cool! But, before I was out of a job, I got an offer to be a comedy writer on the "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," so it worked out deliciously. When Phil Reno called for The Producers, though, I was l-o-w on money so it was great timing. The show was a hit in its Chicago tryout but of course nobody could predict what a massive hit it would become. For those of you too young to remember this triumph — it was The Book of Mormon of its day. And for those of you way too old, it was the Tobacco Road of its day. I remember going to 42nd Street Studios to watch them do run-throughs. Thrilling. And I remember Nathan Lane asking me one day during a break if I knew Jim Borstelmann. Of course, yenta-style I said, "Why? Does somebody have a crush on him?" No. It was because they decided to add one more male swing to the Broadway company and Jim was making the bold move of leaving his steady job in Chicago to do it. What's crazy is that Jim did the entire run of The Producers and Young Frankenstein and is now in The Addams Family and… Chicago is still going strong! What was really different for me about The Producers is that I usually came into the pits of Broadway shows once they were running so I was used to hearing the songs played with an orchestra. When I joined, they hadn't yet made a cast album so it was so cool for me to only know how the songs sounded with rehearsal piano and then sit in the pit and hear how Larry Blank and Doug Besterman orchestrated it. I wish I could describe how exciting that was for me. For instance, I had only known the opening part of the song "Opening Night" as a vamp played in my right and left hand. Suddenly, I was in the pit and the right hand part I knew was being played by muted brass/woodwinds and the left was played by the string section. So cool!!!!

Last Sunday, as soon as I walked into the party I saw Matthew Broderick texting and I decided to give him what James always busts me with: "Be present!" I sassed as I walked by. It was super crowded and Eric Gunhus (who was the original blond Nazi who sang "Springtime for Hitler") put together a great treat for us: video footage of the show. There was something very magical about watching "Springtime for Hitler" with the people who performed it while Susan Stroman was sitting to the left of me. When it got to the final part of the number where the ensemble is doing a formation that is reflected in the mirrors on the ceiling and literally looks like a swastika, everyone broke into applause. Then Eric showed a photo montage of the courtroom scene and played the audio from the night that Mel Brooks himself went on as the judge. He was hilarious. At one point, Leo reappears with his new wife, Ulla. He gives back all the money that was stolen and says, "Here's all the money. Minus two tickets for Brazil and one large tub of cocoa butter." Mel muttered, "That never got a laugh." Which was a hilarious inside bust because it really was a funny line and it literally never got a laugh. Then Nathan and Matthew sang the beautiful song "'Til Him" and after all the applause died down, "The judge" declared, "Whoever wrote that song is a genius!" Brava.

Ana Gasteyer
photo by Aubrey Reuben

This week was the debut of my new talk show on Sirius/XM Stars called "Seth Speaks." It went SO well. I interviewed Louise Owen who was recently featured on "60 Minutes" because she has "superior autobiographical memory" and can remember any day of her life; the day of the week, the weather, the main events that happened that day, etc. Speaking of The Producers, she was a violinist in that pit, although we met before that time. I didn't recall exactly when but, naturally, she did. She told me "I first saw you perform on January 9th, 1997, at Caroline's but we met when you were hosting a comedy show downtown on April 26th in 1997." I asked what day of the week that was and she immediately told me Thursday and Saturday. Yikes! I also had the hilarious Ana Gasteyer from "SNL" and we talked about when she played Celine Dion at one of Celine Dion's concerts. She had to wear what Celine wore — a "ladies tuxedo with an extended cummerbund." It was the year of the "Titanic" song and Ana told us that she walked out onto the stage at Madison Square Garden and launched into it. Then Celine "surprised" her onstage and the audience went crazy. On "SNL," Ana would play Celine as an incredible narcissist and would constantly repeat, in her French Canadian accent, "I 'ave the best voice…in the world!" Celine, though, didn't understand what the joke was and actually thought people laughed because Ana didn't sing well! Which is crazy because Ana sings great. Celine gave her the run-down of how the scene in her concert would work and said, "Ana! It will be 'ilarious because you will come out singing and everyone will laugh because you sound so 'orrible!" Ana is doing her own show at Feinstein's on June 13 and 27 and I'm obsessed with the title: Elegant Songs From a Handsome Lady. Brava! 

On Saturday night, James and I went to Birdland and saw Boom, featuring sisters Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway singing amazing Alex Rybeck arrangements of 1960s and '70s classics. I cannot wait for the CD so I can deconstruct it. First of all, Liz was so funny as usual. First she outed Ann for being the older sister by saying, "I was at Ann's apartment and saw a really interesting article in her AARP magazine." Ann then busted Liz for recently becoming old enough for AARP and Liz countered with, "Yes, but I just started getting the magazine. I'm glad I know where to go to get lots of back issues." They sound so great together and James and I are obsessed with Liz's voice because it always has this sweet young girl quality, which is something Lillias White has as well. Ann was brilliant on "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," which is not even song I particularly like. At first she literally sounded like a smoky bass, but was then belting crazy high notes, singing soprano and doing incredibly fluid riffs. After the show I praised her and she told me that because she's classically trained, she literally thinks of her voice as an orchestra, i.e. the low strings, the high brass, the mellow clarinets etc. O.K. I can also "think of my voice" that way but I can't actually create it! P.S., speaking of belting, the reason I was there is because Steve Marzullo, my music director of my new show, Disaster! told me that Liz is belting higher than ever before in the show. I immediately got tickets through Jim Caruso, even though it was officially sold out. Liz did belt but I didn't think it was any higher than I've heard her before. After the show, Liz proudly 'fessed up that she used Steve as tool to get me there and told him to lie and tell she was belting F's. Well, quite frankly, it worked! Even though I love seeing theatre where people are playing characters, there was something very special about being at an evening that was all about music. So many musicians were in the audience, loving it. Jeff Saver, my friend who's played and conducted tons of Broadway shows brought his two daughters and sitting in the front row was lyricist (and great singer) Lynn Ahrens, who told me she didn't know where to look onstage because the singing and the band were both so amazing. Jeff texted me after: "Wasn't that some sort of wonderful? I'm so joyful tonight!" I concur! You can pre-order their CD. It's going to be amazing!!!

Lauren Kennedy and Michael Longoria at rehearsal

We started pre-rehearsals for Disaster! and it's been so fantastic. At The Producers anniversary party, I ran into Kathy Fitzgerald, who was the original character lady (Shirley Markowitz etc) and is now playing Madame Morrible in Wicked. I asked her if she'd play the role based on Shelly Winters in "The Poseidon Adventure" and she said yes on the spot! Then, Denis Jones (director) and I racked our brains trying to find someone to play Lauren Kennedy's twin children. Ben and Lisa are twins and are played by the same actor who has to look like a kid, be able to play a boy and girl, and sing up a storm. Michael Longoria from Jersey Boys read the script and said yes and we rehearsed the scene where he and his Mom are hanging from a wall on the ship that's been blown up. Look at the photo! This week starts official rehearsals. Yay!

And finally, I record my second "Seth Speaks" radio show this week with my favorite classical coloratura Nell Snaidas and my favorite "Why-won't-you-date-me?-Oh,-you're-straight-and-I'm-actually-in-a-relationship-" crush, Patrick Wilson! Tune in Sunday May 15 at 5 PM (ET) on Sirius/XM Stars, 107. I'm in Canada this weekend with Andrea Martin's show and we had rehearsal this week with director Peter Flynn because adding an amazing rap for her Edith Prickley character written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Check out our "hip hop" photo. And speaking of hip hop, peace out!

Andrea Martin and her posse
Andrea Martin and her posse

(Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)

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