ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: [title of column]

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: [title of column] Hi, everyone! I just woke up from a nap. No, not the kind of rejuvenating "power nap" that corporate people take to focus their minds. I'm talking about a full night's sleep that morphed into a devastating three-and-a-half-hour disempowered nap.
Seth and James on two of the four chairs used in [title of show].
Seth and James on two of the four chairs used in [title of show].

James and I literally went to bed at 2 AM and woke up at 5:30! What the-?!?!?! It's because we are now on a plane headed down to Dallas, and the only flight we could get left at 7:40 A.M. Our Texas jaunt is on account of I'm going to be performing with Betty Buckley at her all-Broadway request show at Lyric Stage in Dallas, as well as giving an audition master class (info at ye olde website, SethRudetsky.com). Oh yeah, today is also James' birthday! The good part is he gets to go to Dallas where he's from; the bad part is the lack of sleep is making us both look a year older.

All right, let me give you updates. First of all, last week on the Legally Blonde reality show, the coming attraction said that "the pressure becomes too much for Autumn" and then they showed her throwing up in the bathroom. She got sick right after she was critiqued by the judges, and the implication is that the criticism overwhelmed her. Well, the real story is, the yogurt she ate that was out of the fridge forever overwhelmed her. That's right, she didn't realize that the parfait she had for breakfast had been sitting out since Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America." And, it was just as rancid. That bit of creative editing totally annoyed me, but not as much as seeing how little I was on that episode! Rude! Then to top it off, the only time you see me is when Autumn feebly makes her way back to the stage after being sick, and I'm hunched over, ignoring her and rifling through my bag! It totally looks like I'm searching for my well-worn copy of a Jackie Collins book, but in truth I was searching for a piece of gum for Autumn because I felt bad that she was sick and had no Listerine nearby. I have more of a feature on this week's episode, and the vomiting is kept to a minimum. Actually, not to give too much away, but this week I give Autumn some audition advice that she totally takes to, and I based that advice on the teachings of my friend Jack Plotnick, who just happens to be in New York teaching acting/auditioning for the next two weeks! Go to his website for details: www.JackPlotnick.com.

Tuesday night James and I saw The 39 Steps and, quite frankly, it took 39 steps to get to our seats. I've gotten really spoiled because I always can get house seats because of my Sirius radio show, and when I arrived at the theatre and was told my seats were in the balcony, I thought of hauling out the ol' "Don't you know who I am?" routine. When I realized that the most common answer when I ask that question is a firm and decisive "no," I went to the balcony asap. The seats were actually fine, and I was impressed because that show has so much creativity in it. There are only four cast members, and they play all the characters in the movie, but the lead (who's wonderful) stays the same character throughout, so it's really three people playing everybody else. Brava!

Speaking of seats, tell me if you think I was wrong in this situation: I was dying to see In the Heights again, and I bought one of the few seats left, which happened to be in the boxes. It was a $100 seat, but I couldn't see everything because I was over on one side of the stage. So, of course, during Act One, I eyed the orchestra seats and saw two open in the fourth row. They stayed that way the whole act. During intermission I came downstairs and put my bag on one of the seats. Right before Act Two began, I saw some women standing there discussing the seat. I walked over and said, "Hi! I was sitting over on the side, saw that seat and decided to snag it during intermission!" One of the women said, "Well, it wasn't yours to snag!" I was mortified. "Oh, I'm sorry!" I said, "Is it your seat?" She continued, "No. We're sitting next to it. These are premium priced seats." I realized she was annoyed that she paid a lot for her seat and preferred that the unsold seat next to her stay empty for the principal of it! It's not my fault nobody bought the seat next to her. I said something to effect of, "I don't think I need your permission to sit there," sauntered past her and planted it. So, my question is: Was I wrong? In myday of buying standing-room tickets, the ushers would always come over once Act One began and move us down if there were empty seats. Isn't that theatre protocol? It's one thing if someone else told me that they snagged the seat first, or if the ticket holder showed up just for Act Two, but this woman just wanted to keep it empty… and felt she could tell me where I was allowed to sit. I wound up watching all of Act Two with an enormous smile on my face directed out front and an angry glare directed to my side, which took incredible facial flexibility. Hmm…maybe I should be in The 39 Steps.

Laura Benanti
photo by Aubrey Reuben

This week at the Chatterbox I interviewed recent Tony Award winner, Laura Benanti. I've worked with her so many times, and I simply adore her. She's such a great musician, such a funny performer and so nice! She also has a great sense of humor. When she came onstage, she told everyone that after the Tony Awards, you have to send in your Tony to get it engraved, so she happened to have it with her. Laura said she really wanted to attach a chain to it and make it into a necklace for her entrance. She thought it would be hilarious to walk out on stage casually, but with her neck jutting down from the weight of it and just be like, "Hey, everyone. What's up?" I asked her about her first Broadway audition, and she told us that when she was 17, she went to the open call for The Sound of Music Broadway revival. She wanted to play Liesl, but when the casting people looked at her resume, they told her that she needed to update it because it only had high school credits. She told them that's because she was still in high school, and they were shocked. Or as she put it, they looked at her and said, "High school? You're 40." The most devastating part of the whole day was that Laura assumed because it was an audition, she had to get dressed up. And to her, "dressed up," literally meant… her prom dress. But she had stayed in the city the night before and forgot her shoes in Jersey, so she showed up at the audition in her prom dress…and clogs. Shockingly, she got a callback. As a matter of fact, she got four of them, and they finally made her an offer to play one of the nuns and understudy the lead role of Maria. She had just started NYU on scholarship but decided to quit (and, PS, lose her scholarship) to take the gig. She got to go on for Maria, and contrary to Autumn, she actually was so nervous that she threw up right before she made her first entrance. She stayed terrified as she ran down the ramp (aka the Alps) to sing the title song, and she remembers that as she raised her arms to start singing, "The hills are alive," they were both shaking uncontrollably. She obviously did well, though, because she was asked to audition to replace Rebecca Luker (who was leaving) and star opposite Richard Chamberlain. Unfortunately, it was raining the day of her audition, and she was doing a reading all the way downtown that went on longer than expected, so she ran into the audition late and soaking wet. But, instead of Richard being angry he said, "Wow…she really is Maria." She got the gig and was starring on Broadway at age 18! Opposite Richard Chamberlain, who was 65. I'm sure the audience wasn't at all uncomfortable when they got together at the end of the show. Hmm….maybe that's what Autumn saw before last week's episode.

When Laura got one of the leads in Swing!, she had to belt for the first time and didn't quite know how to do it. She said she thought to herself, "I think I'll sing…but yell a little bit"… and it worked! The morning she was nominated for a Tony, she was woken up by a friend calling to tell her that she was nominated for a Tony. She thought he was crazy and explained that the show was nominated for a Tony. Her friend apologized and told her to go back to sleep. Then her Mom called to tell her she was nominated, and she was outraged her mom was calling so early. She was 20 years old and in that "My mom is so annoying" phase, so she said, in full brat, "I wasn't nominated, the show was…and you know my Broadway schedule. Don't call me before noon!" She had had it by that point and turned her phone off. When she finally woke up, she had a hundred messages congratulating her…and finally believed it.

I asked her what was up with her missed performances during Into the Woods. Turns out, they made her do a pratfall as Cinderella where she would leap onto a moving staircase and land in a pushup position. The show tried out in L.A., and as soon as she did the pratfall, the crew guys all said it was too dangerous. But, "the powers that be" told her to keep doing it…and, of course, because she was only 20 and didn't question authority, and she was getting a laugh, she continued. One night, she did it and actually heard her neck snap, and by the end of the show, she couldn't move her neck at all. She went to a doctor the show set her up with, and he said that she had three herniated discs…but she could keep doing the pratfall. What?? Things started getting worse (her whole arm went numb for a while, and soon she'd walk around in a neck brace during her off hours). Finally, the doctor told her she couldn't do the show anymore. She left the show and wound up getting cast in Nine. She started rehearsals, and one horrifying day she was lying on the floor at her mom's house and suddenly couldn't move her lower body to get herself up. Mary Stuart Masterson sent her to a different doctor, who said she had to get surgery the next day. Laura hemmed and hawed 'til he said that her back was in such bad shape that if she left and someone accidentally pushed her, she could be completely paralyzed! To get to the discs, the surgeon had to go through her throat first and push her vocal chords aside. Laura had to sign something saying that if it ruined her voice, she couldn't sue him. Devastating. The good news is the surgery worked, and her voice is still a brava! But for those people who dish actors for missing shows, just know that most actors I've interviewed want to do all eight shows a week and are devastated whenever they have to miss. I don't know any principal people who miss performances because they don't feel like showing up. However, I do know some young ensemble people who are in their first Broadway show and are like, "I was totally out last night partying and I'm really tired so can't show up today. But we're all watching 'Project Runway' later, so come over!"

Laura said that Patti LuPone broke her toe recently, but is still doing the show…however she has to wear ugly-a** Isotoners. Boyd Gaines got everyone to make Patti a statue made out of Isotoners and then presented it to Patti…as the IsoTony. I wonder if Patti was like, "I've had to wait 29 years since my last IsoTony…"

I asked Laura about my two favorite parts of Gypsy: the cow and "Little Lamb.". In "Dainty June and Her Farmboys," Laura's "moo moo moo moo" is so without any personality it's hilarious. Turns out, during rehearsals, she didn't know she had to do it, so she'd watch the number and do the moos "to be nice"…as in "Okay, at this point someone will go, 'Moo moo moo moo.'" When she found out that she had to do it, she decided to keep that same lack of affect, and I can't wait for the CD so I can hear it every day for a laugh. I'm not the only one obsessed…Laura said she's investigating how to make the moos a ringtone because all of her relatives from Jersey are obsessed with it as well. As for "Little Lamb," the song I always avoided more than Phase One of the South Beach Diet, but I now love — she said that Sondheim told her that the words are just there to talk herself out of being sad. Even though it's not how most actors approach songs, she ignores most of the words and just focuses on the feeling. The only words she really means are "Little Cat, oh why do you look so blue? Did somebody paint you like that? Or is it your birthday, too?" The rest of the song for her is just about a girl who's been ignored her whole life, has some attention for a fleeting moment and is back to being alone again, trying to comfort herself. I, of course, brought the score with me and made her sing it for everyone, and she was fantastic!

Finally, I must discuss [title of show]. I've known Hunter Bell for years because he used to come to the comedy shows I'd do with Jack Plotnick. Then I got cast in a Rite Aid industrial and found out that he was cast as well. I thought, "Hunter Bell? That guy who's always in my audience? I didn't even know he was really in the business. Hmm….I guess he'll be okay." Well, we got to rehearsal and after five minutes, I was like, "Oh my God! He's a comic genius, and I don't deserve to be onstage with him." I couldn't believe how talented he was. Then I went to go see the first incarnation of [title of show] at NYMF and became completely obsessed. I saw it at Ars Nova, I saw the backers audition at Chelsea Studios, and I saw it numerous times Off-Broadway at the Vineyard. Every time I see it, I laugh so hard, yet I'm so moved by it. When the cast found out it was going to Broadway, they asked me to come to opening night. Imagine how devastated I was to find out it's during the week I'm on the Rosie cruise. I thought maybe I could get off the ship and then fly back by helicopter, Lucy style (anybody remember when she went to Europe?), but no go. Instead, I made sure I was flying to Texas on a Sunday, so I could see the first preview of the show on Broadway Saturday night.

I'm so happy I did that because there was something so incredibly moving about seeing that first performance. First of all, the theatre was packed. As soon as it began and Larry, the music director, walked out onstage, the crowd went wild. So many of us had waited so long for the show to get to Broadway, we were so excited it was happening in front of us. I was there with James, who had never seen it before. I was terrified. He's told me that he doesn't usually like shows that have any kind of self-referential material. Would he like it? If he didn't, how much notice would I have to give to break up with him? Suffice it to say, I turned to him near the end of the show, and he had tears in his eyes. Yes! We could stay together. I have to say that I get annoyed when people call the show "inside." Yes, it's about the process of writing a musical…and A Chorus Line is about the process of auditioning for a musical. Is that too inside for people to understand? [title of show] is really about what holds us back from true self-expression and how one measures success. Of course, people who know nothing at all about Broadway won't get 100 percent of the jokes, but so what? They'll get all the other ones. I had never seen the movie "The Red Shoes," which is mentioned in A Chorus Line, but I still loved the show when I first saw it. The most amazing part about seeing that first preview was that after the cast sang the song near the end of the show with the brilliant lyric "I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than 100 people's ninth favorite thing," the whole audience stood up. We were saying that we agreed, and that we were so happy for them, and that we welcomed their show to Broadway. I don't think I'd ever seen an ovation before the end of a show last for so long. I spoke to Kevin McCollum, one of the producers, after the show, and he said what's unique about this show is that the audience provides what the cast wants. Their "I want" song is, we want to put our art out there and have it accepted, and then we accept it, which makes the audience the protagonist of the show. Unfortunately, I didn't fully pay attention in AP English, but I essentially got what he was saying. After the show, we went backstage with a slew of celebrities (Donna Murphy, Stephanie J. Block, Brian d'Arcy James, etc.) and got to hang out with the cast. That was fun. Leaving was not so much fun. There were so many fans at the stage door, we literally couldn't exit. It was like those photos of Beatles concerts. We had to find another way out, which we eventually did, which led to us going to bed at 2 AM...and getting up at 5:30, which is how I began this column.

All right, everyone, I'm finishing up this column looking out at Betty's beautiful ranch and I have to go run to rehearsal. When you get a chance, visit and watch some of the hilarious videos at www.titleofshow.com and then come visit me in Texas!

*

(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.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

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The crowd outside <i>[title of show]</i>
The crowd outside [title of show]