Onstage & Backstage: Tony Yazbeck's Audition Saga and the Mystery of Jeremy Jordan's Underwear

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Tony Yazbeck's Audition Saga and the Mystery of Jeremy Jordan's Underwear
 
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
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Seth Rudetsky Monica Simoes

Greetings from beautiful San Francisco! Whenever I do a show out of town, people always ask how I like their city. A lot of times, I fly in, go to my tech, do my show and leave, so I don’t get to see any of their city. Basically, every city looks the same when you’re there for a few hours. However, even though I’m not here very long, it’s long enough to love San Francisco because it has so much flavor, or “flava” as the kids say. Or said in the mid-‘90’s. I’m staying at the Mark Hopkins Hotel on the 12th floor and have an amazing view of the city. Even though all I’ve done is walk to brunch, I immediately knew I was in San Francisco because I had to climb Mount Everest to get to the restaurant. Only in this city are there streets where the incline is the same as what I set on the treadmill (9.5). It’s so beautiful here…and my calves are killing me.

Back to the last city I was in: Tampa. If you remember from last week’s column, I flew there on Sunday so I wouldn’t be delayed by the Monday storm. I hosted a great event at the Straz, where all the new touring shows that are coming in for this season were highlighted. There were no planes that left at night from Tampa after my event, but they were kind enough to arrange car service to Orlando, where there were a few flights. The car was slated to pick me up at 7:30 PM so I could catch my 9:45 PM flight to Newark. Well, during the day, one of the guys who works there told me I should just stay in Tampa because it’s going to be near impossible to make my flight. I told him I wanted to try to make it nonetheless. He warned me that I had to leave exactly at 7:30. He specifically told me if I left at 7:31, I wouldn’t make it. He also warned that once we got to Orlando, the Disney traffic would be horrific. Yay? Of course, the show I was hosting went past 7:30, and I left the theatre around 7:40. As I approached the car, the driver had her lips pursed and she was slowly shaking her head. I said, “What does that face mean? I’m not going to make my plane.” She replied with a sigh, raised one eyebrow and said with a shrug, “I’ll try…” Suffice it to say, there was no traffic at all and I got to the airport with plenty of time! I then found out my plane was delayed. It kept getting pushed back more and more, and it was already a late flight to begin with! James called me to commiserate, and I told him I had heard a “last call” for a Jetblue flight to JFK and told me to get on it ASAP. I raced over to find Gate 7 to see if they’d let me join the flight. For some reason, the gates went 11, 10, 9, then 3, 2, 1. Crazy! I finally found the flight to JFK, and they told me I could join the flight. They also told me it was leaving at 1:15 AM. Not arriving at 1:15 A.M., leaving at 1:15 A.M. It was only 10 PM! I called James, and he told me I was wrong because there was a flight leaving at that moment from Gate 7! What the-? I looked around and realized I was at Gate 8! There were two planes going to JFK! I ran to Gate 7, and they said that no one else could get on because they needed to leave right then and there. I don’t know how, but after begging and schmoozing, I actually got on the flight! There were so many people clamoring to get on that I expected to have a horrible middle seat on a packed plane. Turns out, it was 50% empty!

They closed the plane to more passengers because they had to leave at a certain time or there wouldn’t be a runway available for them to land on in NYC. The good news is, it was so empty that not only did I have an empty row, I had four empty rows! My row, the one behind me, the one on the side and the one in front were all vacant. I haven’t seen that many empty seats since (fill in name of unsuccessful Broadway show). Speaking of Florida, I’ll be in Ft. Lauderdale at the Parker Playhouse for Valentine’s Day with the amazing Cheyenne Jackson! Get tix at ParkerPlayhouse.com. Here’s my deconstruction of his phenomenal placement and riffs in Xanadu.

When I got back to New York, I recorded a superfun Seth Speaks for SiriusXM. First, producer Stewart Lane came on the show to talk about his new book "Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way." It’s a great read because it’s researched so well yet doesn’t feel academic. I asked him how he first loved theatre, and he told us that when he was a kid growing up on Long Island, he had a friend whose dad didn’t work during the day. He asked his friend why his dad was home, and he found out it was because he worked in show business at night. Already, Stewart was interested. He found out the kids’ dad had done a TV show but was now doing a Broadway show. They invited Stewart to see it, and it was his first. He loved the whole Broadway experience starting with the fact that the ticket in his hand didn’t read “admit one,” but instead had the name of the show printed on it. He wound up loving the show and afterwards, he went backstage to see his friend’s father’s dressing room where everyone was smoking a cigar. I couldn’t take the suspense anymore about the show, and the actor and Stewart finally ‘fessed up that the show was Little Me, and his friend’s father was Sid Caesar! Holy cow! The closet thing I had to a showbiz dad in my neighborhood was my father’s friend Sidney, who didn’t work in Brooklyn like my parents, but went to exciting Manhattan every day! He wasn’t going to Manhattan to do theatre, yet there was a showbiz aspect to him being in the city. You see, every week the newspaper Backstage would have auditions listed and one could only get it in New York City. So, Sidney would pick up a Backstage in the big city and drop it at our house. That’s how I found out about all the auditions I went to as a kid. And how I learned to handle non-stop rejection. And by “handle,” I mean “go into a clinical depression."

I also had Jeremy Jordan on my SiriusXM show, talking about his new film, "The Last Five Years," in which he stars opposite Anna Kendrick. He said he filmed his first sex scene in that movie! I asked if he was in ye olde birthday suit, and he told us he was wearing underwear. At first. Turns out, it was black underwear and the sheet was white, so his “tightie blackies” could be seen through the fabric. They stopped filming to find him another pair of underwear, but they were only able to find white leggings for women (!) which they cut up and he wore. So, when you see the moment when he and Anna are in bed, just know that underneath the covers, he’s basically wearing a skort.

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At my Chatterbox, I had the multi-talented Tony Yazbeck. When he was a little kid, he auditioned and was cast as a replacement boy in Tyne Daly’s Gypsy on Broadway. He thus became obsessed with the role of Tulsa and made it his goal to play that role one day. Lo and behold, years later the revival of Gypsy was announced, and he knew he had an in because he had worked with Jerry Mitchell, the choreographer, before! He went in to audition and…didn’t even get a callback. He was pretty upset because he assumed that was his last chance to ever play the role on Broadway. After all, there couldn’t possibly be another revival just a few years later. Or could there be? Yes, after the 2003 Gypsy with Bernadette Peters, they suddenly announced a version with Patti LuPone was coming to New York. This time, Tony was determined to nail his audition. Unfortunately, he couldn’t actually get an audition. That’s right, he tried and tried to get seen but was kept out. Finally, he called up a girl (who was now a woman) with whom he had done the 1989 production. He asked her if she knew how to contact Bonnie Walker. Bonnie had worked on the Tyne Daly production and was connected to this upcoming revival. His fellow castmate told him that she actually happened to have Bonnie’s number! Tony called her and said, “Hi! I’m Tony Yazbeck and I was a kid in the 1989 production of Gypsy.” Well, before he could say anymore, she immediately told him she didn’t remember him and wanted to know why he was calling and basically tried to end the conversation. He tried a different tactic and told her that maybe she remembered his mother (!). He mentioned that she used to come to rehearsal with his sisters and she was kind of wacky. Immediately, Bonnie remembered his mom and the fact that Tony was a replacement! Tony asked if she could somehow get him an audition to be Tulsa. She told him to tell his agent that she OK’d it and offered to coach him for a half hour the next day.

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Well, the next day was the audition and, turns out, it also happened to be the final callback! Bonnie worked with him on fine tuning the dance (which he already knew), and suddenly he was lined up with the fellow Tulsas who’d been coming in from the beginning of the audition process. He was the last one in line and was chilling out because he knew it would take a while to go in….when suddenly his name was called! Ah! He was totally not expecting to go in! But, he pulled it together and did the scene and song for Arthur Laurents. When he was finished, Arthur Laurents was crying and told him that he was exactly what they were looking for. Yes, after being denied the chance to even audition, he got the gig! It’s a great message for actors out there; the so-called powers-that-be don’t always know if you’re right for a role, and you sometimes need to fight your way into an audition. I’ve heard these kinds of stories so many times (see Terrence Mann in Les Miz and Rebecca Luker in Music Man). Right now, Tony is starring in On The Town, where he gets to sing and dance up a storm. Take a gander at how great all three sailors are in this video, and go see the show!

 

Now I’m on the plane back to NYC. My show with Megan Hilty went great. She flew in that morning because she had a show at Jazz at Lincoln Center the night before. That means our 8 PM start was 11 PM New York time for her. And yet she still sounded amazing! Her parents and husband were with her as well as her four-month-old baby, Viola. I called her hubbie Brian out to the stage to do a duet of “Suddenly Seymour” with Megan and he came out…wheeling the baby carriage. I assumed it was a joke, but ‘twas not; turns out, every time he stopped rocking Viola backstage, she started crying. So, he and Megan did all of “Suddenly Seymour” while one of them kept one hand on the carriage. Not since Hands on a Hardbody. And, Brian was right. The rocking worked! Viola slept through the entire song, belting and all! Either she’s a really good sleeper or the rudest audience member ever. Either way, brava and peace out!

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