ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Visiting Sutton Foster Backstage; Loving Linda Lavin; the Return of Chatterbox

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Visiting Sutton Foster Backstage; Loving Linda Lavin; the Return of Chatterbox A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Seth and Eliana with Sutton
Seth and Eliana with Sutton

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I am writing this end of the year wrap-up/looking-forward-to-the-new-year column in Provincetown at the lovely Anchor Inn Beach House with my fireplace a-burnin'. Ahhhh. So…here's all the fun stuff that's coming up this year. First off, I am bringing back Seth's Broadway Chatterbox! I stopped it when I was doing [title of show] at the George Street Playhouse because I had to leave NYC at 6 PM to make the curtain. After the show closed, I decided to take a little breather from the Chatterbox because I'd been doing it for 11 years and was slightly exhausted. Well, my "little breather" had the essence of the father "going out for a pack of cigarettes" and then completely skipping town because I took a year off from the show. But now, it's finally back. If you don't know, Seth's Broadway Chatterbox is a weekly live talk show (with delicious performances) at Don't Tell Mama in midtown.The $10 admission fee goes to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Proceeds from sales of DVDs of the show go to BC/EFA, too. There are so many DVDs to choose from at www.SethsBroadwayChatterbox.com, and here's a highlight of one of them: Raul Esparza singing an impromptu version of "Defying Gravity." My first show will feature the cast of Lysistrata Jones (along with the book writer Douglas Carter Beane) Make reservations by calling (212) 757-0788.

The week began with my adorable nieces visiting NYC with my sis and her husband. Eliana (the younger one) and I went to see Anything Goes and loved it. After the title song, Eliana was so completely breathless that she literally wanted her inhaler. I don't know if she was over-excited from the amazing Broadway dancing or if she inherited the patented Rudetsky co-dependence — connecting too deeply, emotionally, with the out-of-breath dancers that she herself couldn't breathe. Either way, I'm passing along the number of my therapist. After the show, we went backstage and chatted with Sutton Foster about the TV pilot she recently filmed. It's called "Bunheads" and she plays a Las Vegas dancer who hits bottom when she tries out for the Vegas production of Chicago and doesn't get it. She goes on a bender, marries a random guy, moves to his small town and finds herself teaching at the local dance studio. I asked her if she had to audition and it was sort of yes/no. In other words, she had to fly out to L.A. for an audition but she was the only one being considered for the role. Brava! She knew she had to take the pilot because it was written by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created TV's "Gilmore Girls," which was Sutton's favorite TV show. Sutton took a picture with me and Eliana after the show completely sans make-up, or, as she told us, "keeping it real."

Linda Lavin

I interviewed Linda Lavin on my "Seth Speaks" radio show and found out she's from Portland, Maine, like Andrea Martin. Who knew that town was a hotbed of future Tony winners? Linda made her Broadway debut in A Family Affair. Even though she was in the ensemble, she got a great mention in the New York Times. I asked if that jump-started her career and she said it actually did nothing whatsoever. But doing that show started a great professional relationship between her and first time director…Harold Prince! Up until that point, he had produced, but never directed. A few years later, Linda was trying to find a job. When Hal found out, he offered a gig in the ensemble of She Loves Me on Broadway. Unfortunately, on the day she was supposed to begin, the show closed. Yay show biz. I myself was supposed to learn the keyboard book to the Cy Coleman musical Welcome To The Club, and when I showed up, I could not figure out how to get the stage door open. I finally figured out that it wouldn't open because it was locked — because the show had closed. Excellent. Linda and Hal continued their good relationship and she felt so comfortable with him that she had no shame in campaigning for a big role in his musical It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman!! She had photos taken of her looking like Lois Lane (in phone booths, etc.) and she sent Hal a mocked-up "Superman" comic strip starring herself, and asked him to consider her for the role. He told her a flat-out NO…but he followed that statement by telling her that he wanted her for another role — the sassy sidekick, Sydney. That was the show in which she got to introduce the song "You've Got Possibilities." I am obsessed with her performance on the CD and did a full deconstruction of it.

Linda talked about the ups and downs of the business and how arbitrary it is. The TV show "Alice" was based on the film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (a struggling singer working as a waitress while she raises her son), but the script was not being turned into a TV show because they couldn't find anyone to star in it. Alan Shayne, who was a casting director, and then became head of Warner Bros. TV greenlighted the script and told them to hire Linda Lavin. Everyone told him that the show wasn't funny, and he said Linda would make it funny. She got the gig and her whole life changed. That story is one of those "there's stuff going on you don't even know about" stories because when Alan was a casting director, he had apparently seen her work throughout the years but had never called her in for anything. Yet he wound up calling her in for the biggest gig of her life! Linda said that throughout the series, and to this day, women come up to her and tell her that they struggled with issues similar to Alice and would find strength from watching the show. Essentially they would say, "If Alice can do it, so can I." The show was also tackled social issues from the get-go. On the second episode, a football playing buddy of Mel (the diner's owner) goes out on a date with Alice. He doesn't want to kiss her and finally tells her that he's gay. She then has to deal with her own homophobia issues because she's uncomfortable letting her son go on a fishing trip with him. This was in 1976! Brava!

Lavin and Jonathan Silverman in Broadway Bound.
photo by Martha Swope

Linda starred in Neil Simon's Broadway Bound. I told her that I heard he can be cranky. She said that wasn't true and that he's always been wonderful and, in Broadway Bound, he wrote her a beautiful 16-page monologue. I said that a 16-page-monologue actually doesn't sound wonderful. It sounds incredibly stress-producing. It obviously wasn't to her because it won her a Tony Award. But that show was also the site of a classic mishap for her. During the show, she was able to go offstage during one scene and it always timed out to be when "Designing Women" was on TV. She always had enough time offstage to watch a scene up until the commercial break and then she'd go back onstage. Well, one night "Designing Women" was particularly riveting and she somehow found herself watching the next scene. Suddenly, she was snapped out of her reverie when she heard Jonathan Silverman and Jason Alexander on the monitor saying, "Boy, I wonder where Ma is…" She had a mug of tea in her hand and she remembers hearing it shatter as she dropped it. Then she said she felt like a kid who's late for school and decides maybe it's better to not even show up. She thought, "I'm already so late for the scene and it will be so mortifying when I come on…perhaps I'll just skip it." Then she changed her mind and ran like a lunatic up the stairs to the stage. When she got onstage, Jason and Jonathan sassed her by asking, "Gee, Ma…where were you?" She babbled something about a neighbor needing help and the show went on. After the story, I needed Eliana's inhaler.

This weekend I did Ana Gasteyer's fantastic show in Provincetown. Ana is on the TV show "Suburgatory," but she's still a Broadway baby. In her show, she sings such fun songs and they're all in such crazily high keys. Literally belting F's. However, besides the belting, my other fave part is her reading of Barbra Streisand's "My Passion for Design." Ana reads it while making seemingly supportive comments that are hilarious. She talks about how the book is inspiring for everyone, no matter what the amount of free time you have or what your income level is. For instance, Ana says, showing a picture from the book, if you need a little pick me up, why not do what Barbra did and build an entire millhouse? She then talks about the underground mall Barbra built beneath her house and the "store" completely filled with dolls. She adds, "And I, for one, cannot think of anything more appropriate in a vast, childless house than an entire basement filled with dolls."

I did an end-of-the-year wrap-up video of my favorite moments from my Playbill "Obsessed!" series. Check out Carolee Carmello, John Tartaglia, Brian d'Arcy James, Andrea Burns, Sierra Boggess and Marc Kudisch with a little high belting from Juli as well!

And on that note, Happy New Year! And I hope you keep your New Year's resolutions slightly longer than my friend Adam Pascal, who's starring in Memphis and always amuses me with his Facebok postings. At the beginning of the day, his Facebook status was: My new years resolution (it will be hard) no more negativity on Facebook. Its ugly...mouth shut! mouth shut!. That was followed a few hours later by: Well I'm off to a bad start. Hey morons, a play is not a movie. When you talk to us while were working, we can hear you. It's horribly distracting. Shut the f**k up you stupid uncultured fool!. Yay! Now I can feel better about breaking any of my resolutions. Peace out!

(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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