ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: We're Having a Heat Wave

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: We're Having a Heat Wave A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Merwin Foard
Merwin Foard

Oy, the heat! The good news is I'm escaping the scalding weather at the end of the week and flying to Iceland. Oops. I meant Mexico. Why? What was I thinking? Going from crazy scalding hotness to crazy scalding calor-ness. The reason I'm going to Ixtapa is I'm doing the first rFamily Vacation at Club Med. I know Club Med sounds very twenty-something-single-person-in-the-80's, but James and I went to the website, and it looks fantastic. Of course, most of the activities are outside, so I'm planning on spending most of my week firmly ensconced[AUDIO-LEFT] in room, reading in front of the AC. Or, as they call it in Mexico, the A/C (pronounced "Ah/seh"). Speaking of rFamily, I interviewed Audra McDonald (who's performing at Club Med with me) for the new Playbill Video features I'm doing and made her tell a hi-lar story about Chaka Kahn not knowing who she was. Check it out by clicking here.

My Chatterbox happens every Thursday, so naturally when Wednesday came around, I still hadn't booked it. I happened to be walking by the Addams Family theatre and saw Carolee Carmello and Merwin Foard were sitting outside the theatre eating lunch pre-matinee which made them perfect victims for my "Will you please do my Chatterbox tomorrow" speech. Thankfully, they fell for it. I met Merwin at Candlewood Playhouse right after I got out of college…in1989! That's more than 20 years ago. Holy botox! That summer, he played Lancelot and Terrence Mann was King Arthur. Unfortunately, we were doing Annie. Wow. I don't know where that joke came from…it's much more surreal than I usually go. Anyhoo, one day Terry (as we who did summer stock with him call him) asked Merwin if he'd ever been in Les Miz. Merwin said that he auditioned many times for Enjolras, but never got it because the music was a little too high. Terry said that the role for Merwin was Javert. Merwin agreed but told him that they never call him in for that because he's only in his twenties. Terry convinced him that he needed to get an audition, and Merwin called his agent who, of course, said that the casting people only want him for Enjolras. Merwin asked him to do whatever he could to get the Javert audition. Finally, Les Miz needed a replacement and Merwin went in. As soon as he finished singing his Javert song, the director literally asked him, "Where have you been?" Answer: auditioning over and over again for the wrong role. So Merwin owes Terry Mann for his lo-o-o-o-ong Les Miz career. PS, this is exactly what happened with the original Broadway company. Terry had just finished playing Rum Tum Tugger and wanted to be seen for Javert, but the casting people would only see him for Enjolras. He knew they would never call him in officially for Javert, so he decided to make his Enjolras audition like a Javert audition! He wore dark clothes, slicked his hair back and sang a dark, serious song. He told me that Boublil and Schonberg (who wrote Les Miz) were sitting at the audition table, and he literally saw them look at each other in the middle of the audition, point to his picture and mouth, "Enjolras?" to each other and then shake their heads. Then they nodded and mouthed, "Javert!" The life lesson? Sometimes you have to push your way in. The further life lesson? Sometimes, you can beg and beg, but Lend Me a Tenor still won't see you. That's right…still carrying that resentment. Speaking of resentment and Javert: First Norm Lewis told me I was forbidden from telling anyone he was playing Javert in the 25th anniversary Les Miz concert in London, and I didn't…only to see it announced one day later. Then, he told me I couldn't tell anyone he was taking over the role in the West End. I held it in for weeks and didn't say anything, waiting for the go ahead. Cut to: I just went on Facebook and his status update is "So excited to make my West End debut tonight in Les Miz"! I wasn't allowed to say anything until the first "Look down" was sung? Annoying! Or , should I say, Annoy-euse.

Continuing on the "forcing your way into an audition theme," Merwin's first big audition in New York was for the 80's revival of Show Boat. He walked into the audition and stood in a line while they "typed" people out — which means that after giving you the once over, they let the people go who aren't the right type. For some reason, he was ixnayed. He was completely miffed because the audition notice said they were looking for tall males who had a legit voice. He's 6'5" and opera-trained. Well, if you were typed in, you were supposed to go to the Equity monitor and give your number and then you'd get an audition slot. He decided that they had made a mistake when he was typed out so he went to the monitor, gave his number and got an audition time. His friends said that he was crazy; the casting people would remember he was not asked to stay, kick him out and never call him in again. Merwin decided to take the chance. He took off his sweater, tried to make his hair look different and avoided looking at anyone from the audition room. Finally, they called him in, he sang and got the gig! Typical. However, he felt the need to come clean to the artistic team for his audition shenanigan. A few weeks into the run he finally admitted to the music director that he wasn't actually asked to audition. Turns out, they all knew as soon as he walked in! But, they decided that they would see him because he had so much chutzpah. Of course, Merwin isn't Jewish, so I think he said "gumption" or "vim and vigor" in his version of the story, but this column is through my Hebraic eyes. As a matter of fact, I've now decided to refer to Merwin as Moishe.

Back to Les Miz. Merwin (Mendel?) also talked about taking over the role numerous times. Once when he was playing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, he gave his notice because he was asked to replace a Javert in Les Miz who was leaving. He did his final Beauty… on Sunday night and started Javert the next night. After the show, two college students waited at the stage door and said, "We saw you in Beauty and the Beast yesterday and loved you in Les Miz today. What show are you going to be in tomorrow because we'd love to come?!"

Carolee talked about doing the initial readings of Parade and how much she loved the part of Lucille. One day she was on the set of "Remember WENN," which was a TV series she was a regular on (written by Rupert Holmes). She walked by Amanda Naughton's dressing room and heard the tune to a familiar song. She then realized it was from Parade. She then realized that Amanda was learning it because they were looking to get a new Lucille! Hal Prince called her and told Carolee that they were going a different way. One of the ways he said they were going was a more heavy, bigger Lucille, which was interesting considering that Amanda Naughton is a size zero. That's heavy? Maybe they were planning on offering the role of Leo to the Olsen twins and needed a full-figured contrast. Regardless, they couldn't find the right person, so Hal called again and asked if she'd do the reading as a favor. Well, whatever she did made them re-think the re-thinking of the role, and she was offered the part. And got a Tony nomination! I guess it's a good thing the Olsen Twins couldn't get out of "Two Of A Kind."

On July 5, I did the first of my monthly shows at the Triad, and it went great! My special guest was Mandy Gonzalez, who's now playing Elphaba in Wicked. She told me that the heat wave affects how the fog works onstage. Apparently, it's not dissipating like it normally does, so during "As Long As Your Mine" she's singing to Fiyero, who's obscured by a smoke screen. I thought she was exaggerating until she told me that at one performance she literally couldn't find her broom onstage! Hmm… It's either the heatwave affecting the fog or Elaine Stritch is outside the A Little Night Music theatre… "warming up" by smoking a pack of cigarettes.

Speaking of warming up, the next time I write will be from Mexico. Paz 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.

Terrence Mann, Wesley Taylor, Carolee Carmello and Nathan Lane in <i>The Addams Family.</i>
Terrence Mann, Wesley Taylor, Carolee Carmello and Nathan Lane in The Addams Family. Photo by Joan Marcus
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