ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Tony! Tony! Tony!, Plus Hilty, Bebe and More

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Tony! Tony! Tony!, Plus Hilty, Bebe and More A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth on the red carpet in the TOO-LARGE shirt
Seth on the red carpet in the TOO-LARGE shirt Photo by Aubrey Reuben

OK, let's discuss the Tonys. It was a day of triumphs and a day of devastation…and not just for Bret Michael's cranium.

Sunday morning I was still in Harrisburg, PA, where I had just done my show for three nights. I made sure I got up at 7 AM to catch my train back to NYC. The Broadway League offered me tickets to the dress rehearsal so I was planning on catching an 8 AM train that would get me in at 11:30, in time to watch the second half of rehearsal. At around 7:40 AM, I decided to check my ticket just to make sure the train was at 8 AM and not 8:03 or 8:04 and found out that it wasn't about what time the train wouldbe leaving, but instead what time the train did leave. 7:20 AM. I don't know how I got in my head that it was an 8AM train but I now know it's not fun to cry at 7:41 in the morning. Anyway, once I accepted I wouldn't be seeing the dress rehearsal because the next train would get me in after it ended, I moved on. Just like I "moved on" that I wasn't cast as the accompanist in Broadway's Master Class…AKA still devastated, 15 years later.

Speaking of tickets, I knew that Brian d'Arcy James' daughter, Grace (who goes to school with Juli) wouldn't be able to go to the Tony Awards so I asked the League to give her tickets to the dress rehearsal. Brian was so excited to tell Grace that she could come but apparently she was not interested. He explained that he would be featured in the opening number. Silence. Finally, though, she did agree to go…after he told her that Hair would be performing. Children are so adorable. And by "adorable," I mean unfortunately "not returnable."

There's more. Sirius/XM and the Broadway League sponsored a contest on my radio show where the winner was offered tickets to the Tony Awards dress rehearsal, the actual Tony Awards and the after-party. They also would get to "walk the red carpet" with me to the Tony Awards. Of course, for me, it ended there. I would not be allowed into the Tony Awards. I guess it was hard to find a seat for me to sit in because the Helen Hayes Theater is so small. Oh, wait…it was at Radio City Music Hall? Interesting. Anyhoo, we got a lot of entrants and Julie James, who programs the Sirius/XM Broadway channel told me that the winner listened to me all the time. Ah, I thought, it's always nice to meet fans of the show. So…my first sign that something was amiss was my phone call to her right before I met her. I wanted to tell her where I was and decided to haul out my "signature" expression from the radio show, thinking she'd get a kick out of hearing me on her cell phone. I called her and when she picked up, I said, "Is this the a-mahzing winner?" to which she replied, "Who is this?" Ouch. Oh, well, I reasoned, she's standing outside, I'm sure it was hard for her to hear me. Then I arrived and met her and her husband. Just as I knew he would, he asked if I minded taking a picture…you know how fans are. "Not at all!" I graciously responded and as I wondered whether I should stand on the right or left of the winner, I realized that I was being handed a camera. That's right…he literally wanted me to take a picture... of them. I thought, "Surely, I'll be in the second shot"… and I kept thinking that as they took the camera from me and put it securely away.

Now, backtracking, that afternoon I typically got ready the last minute and found I had nothing to wear to be on the red carpet. I grabbed the jacket and shoes that I wore in the Easter Bonnet Competition opening number (that they gave me to keep!) and the pants I got when Grease closed (the Vince Fontaine understudy wore them during "Hand Jive"). I didn't have a shirt ironed so I borrowed one of James' but it was way too big. I also couldn't find any hair product because it was still in my suitcase from Harrisburg and I had no time to shave. It didn't matter, I thought, because they told me that we had to be off the red carpet at 5:30 which I assumed meant that 5:30 was the time the real stars would start arriving and the paparazzi would start taking pics. I didn't care what I looked like walking down a red carpet surrounded by tech people setting up. Cut to, I set foot on the red carpet, and saw Brian d'Arcy James and Daniel Breaker in front of me. What the — ? That means that the real stars are here and so is the paparazzi! And I'm in a crazy outfit, I haven't shaved and my hair is a — CLICK! CLICK! That's right. Instead of being ignored by the paparazzi like I normally am, suddenly people are interested in taking my picture. I kept trying to explain that I didn't know I was supposed to look good and to please airbrush, but eventually just posed by pointing out my Easter Bonnet shoes which I thought were the best thing about my "look." Finally, I thought I should stop my negative thinking that the winner wasn't interested in meeting me and decided to give her a sincere, warm farewell…and as I turned toward her I discovered she had already left. That's right. She went in without saying goodbye. Oh well, it makes perfect sense that she was in a rush. The show was going to begin at 7 and it was already 5:20.

As for the Tony Awards themselves, I'm very happy that there were so many performances from musicals! It reminded me of the old days when A Chorus Line did the full opening number and "One" and Dreamgirls did the fight scene into "And I Am Telling You." Julia Murney and I were talking about the highs and lows of the show and she mentioned watching the show with Jen Cody. I thought that maybe Julia was backstage watching it because I knew that Jen was in the Shrek number. Turns out, once actors do the song they're in, they leave! They don't have designated seats in the audience and there's no room backstage. So after Jen performed in her Tony Award winning Shrek costume, her next big look of the evening was her pajamas as she sat in front of her TV with Julia. PS, she was watching it stag because her husband, Hunter Foster, was his sister's (Sutton) date for the evening.

My only comment about the Bret Michaels debacle is that right after he was hit in the noggin by the set piece, a Tony nominated actor was standing backstage waiting to go on and one of the head crew guys said to him, "That's what happens when you don't come to rehearsal."

*

This past Wednesday I interviewed 9 to 5's Megan Hilty at my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show. I always thought Megan was from the South, but turns out she's from Seattle and went to Carnegie-Mellon University. Near the end of senior year, the graduating class always comes to NYC and does a showcase for casting directors and agents. After the showcase, Megan got a call from Bernie Telsey Casting's Craig Burns who asked her to audition for Audrey in the Little Shop of Horrors national tour. She went in and got the part! Then…a few weeks later they asked her to come back so they could see what she looked like opposite the Seymour. Turns out, Seymour was Anthony Rapp and the age difference between them looked too kooky so her offer was reneged. Yay. She got her first life lesson about theatre before she even graduated school…AKA unless you signed a contract, it doesn't count. I always think about 1970's Applause that garnered Bonnie Franklin a Tony Award. She left the show when she got a new play and her replacement was hired to take over. Right before her replacement began, Bonnie's show fell through. The replacement hadn't signed a contract so the producers ixnayed her and gave Bonnie Franklin back her role. I'm sure it was fun for the replacement when she had to respond to all of her friends who wanted house seats to see her on Broadway. "Oh! Well…I'm not actually doing the show…it's a funny story… and by 'funny' I mean I'm devastated it's the '70s and they haven't invented Prozac yet."

After Megan didn't get Little Shop, she was asked to audition for Wicked. She went to see it and was completely overwhelmed by Kristin Chenoweth's performance. She didn't think that anyone would ever be able to take over for her. She showed up at the audition and decided all she wanted was to make them laugh three times. She did…and was asked to be the Glinda stand-by. She got the call just as was boarding an overnight (!) bus trip to Pittsburgh. It's always fun to be on a depressing midnight bus ride while a 22-year-old blonde girl is excitedly calling everyone in her address book to tell them that she got a Broadway show.

I asked about her biggest mishap onstage and she said that during "Popular" she would always improvise a warm-up before she'd try to change Elphaba's frock into a ball gown. One night she did a deep knee bend and did an enormous exhale. Unfortunately, she exhaled right into her body mic so it sounded crazily loud and it happened the moment that she hit the bottom of the knee bend, so it essentially sounded like Glinda had major gas problems. The audience started laughing hysterically and so did Eden Espinoza who was playing Elphaba. Megan decided to switch the blame and immediately chided Elphaba with a kind but stern, "Excuse you!" Brava. As for 9 to 5, she was in Toronto doing Wicked and her boyfriend mentioned to her that he heard about the show and thought she should be considered for the role of Doralee. Literally, the next day Joe Mantello called her and asked her to do the reading. The casts kept changing in the different readings but she kept her role all the way to Broadway. I asked her about Dolly Parton and, like everybody else, she said Dolly is the nicest most supportive person. Her best memory is at one point Dolly needed to teach her changes to one of the songs and took her into a rehearsal room. Since Dolly doesn't write down music, she had to teach Megan the melody by playing the guitar and singing it. Once Megan got it, Dolly started singing along with Megan, but adding a sassy harmony part, so they were essentially singing a duet. Megan was smiling pleasantly on the outside but inside she was thinking, "AH!!! WHERE'S MY TAPE RECORDER SO I HAVE A RECORD OF THIS INCREDIBLE MOMENT!"

*

I went back to see Hair yet again with James and Juli and thought it was even more amazing than the last time I saw it. Everyone sounded great and, yes, I admit I'm friends with Gavin, but even if I weren't I would think he's AMAZING! His acting is so natural and there were so many times where he didn't have lines that I watched him and I was obsessed with how he filled those moments. And he makes "I Got Life" so thrilling while singing it as his character and not just performing like it's a rock concert. I only have one note…for the audience. PLEASE, I beg of you, the end of the show should happen in silence! I won't say what it is, but it's a silent moment onstage that we're all supposed to take in, but every time I'm there, the audience gets uncomfortable with the silence and "feels bad" no one is clapping so they aggressively start applauding. Stop ruining the moment!

All right, tonight [June 15] is the NEW Nothin' Like A Dame with me interviewing, showing videos of and playing piano for Stephanie J. Block, Betty Buckley, Kelli O'Hara, Andrea McArdle and Audra MacDonald. Tickets at www.ActorsFund.org. Bebe came over last week to go over her song and gave a warm hello to my dog, Maggie. Every time I see Bebe I apologize to Maggie because when Bebe's movie, "Tadpole," was being filmed, Bebe called me and said she wanted Maggie to play her dog. I was so excited until the director told me that he wanted Maggie to calmly walk with Bebe through Central Park. Calmly? The scene would be Maggie pulling at the leash, trying to chase every squirrel that appeared and scavenging for any morsel of food within a two mile radius so I told them No. I still feel bad to this day, because like Megan with Little Shop and the Applause Bonnie Franklin replacement, I think Maggie told all of her friends when she first got the offer and she hasn't forgiven me yet for losing her the gig. The irony is, the first things I taught her were "Sit," "Stay" and "If you don't have a contract, it doesn't count." 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.)

Seth and Megan Hilty
Seth and Megan Hilty Photo by Shahar Azran
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