ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: West Coast Reunion, Plus a Disaster! Disaster Averted

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: West Coast Reunion, Plus a Disaster! Disaster Averted A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Andrea Martin
Andrea Martin

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I'm writing this on an east-bound airplane, about two hours away from New York. I was in L.A. for 10 days and I'm finally heading home. I started my West Coast excursion by doing Andrea Martin's show in Costa Mesa, CA, which is around an hour from L.A. She jokingly informed the audience that she's hitting all the hot spots in this leg of the "Andrea-Martin-I've-Run- Out-Of-Options-Tour-2012." Juli's vacation coincided with the week I had to be in L.A., so she and James flew out to be with us. We went to Knotts Berry Farm and, thankfully, Jack Plotnick came along because even though James is willing to go on some scary rides, Jack will go on everything. I literally feel nauseated on anything so the only "ride" I went on was a glass-enclosed room that went in the air. Its main function is to give people a view of the park so they can decide what rides they want to go on. I saw all the rides and I chose nothing. It was a similar experience to getting your college course catalog and not signing up for any classes. Or, taking the courses I did my freshman year at Oberlin: piano and mime.

We spent the week staying as the guests of Max Mutchick and his husband Erik Hyman. They're both so high-powered it's crazy. Max just had a pilot picked up and was in the middle of final casting and Erik is an entertainment lawyer who represents everybody. We'd have breakfast with them every morning right before they'd rush off to their respective offices and I've never felt lazier and less connected. Max's sitcom is going to star Michael Urie, and he gave me the scoop that it's also going to star Brandon Routh (of the recent "Superman Returns") and Lucy Davis, who played Dawn on the original British "The Office." I'm completely obsessed with her and cannot wait to do the pilot with her! Oh, wait. I wasn't offered a role. Or an audition. But perhaps that's because Max knows I'm now simply "offer only."

Lucy Davis

That's right, I was offered a part on NBC's "Smash" with no audition! All right, now I shall clarify what really happened. The "part" I was offered didn't have a lot of lines. Actually, the "s" is unnecessary at the end of the word "line." That's right. It was for a person who says one line! I guess they know I'm an expert at the ol' one-liner. Anybody? And, though it's my first TV offer since my unplanned appearance on "Cash Cab," I turned down the role. Why? Because I have jury duty! Yay! I've already postponed and I'm too terrified to do it again. The "good" news is I have jury duty on Tuesday…which is also my birthday! I'm sure I'll remember this birthday for years. It's always the headache-y birthdays that remain in my memory. Like the one where I played a put-in rehearsal for Grease. I don't even remember who the new cast member was that joined "Rydell High" that day. But it's a safe bet that in real life they were 20 years out of high school.

Speaking of Grease, I saw a bunch of fellow Greasers on Monday. Kevin Chamberlin, who's out here starring the TV show "Jessie," threw a party so I could see all of my L.A. friends at one time. Marissa Jaret Winokur, Christopher Youngsman and Jen Cody were there (we all did Grease together on Broadway). Jen and Kevin were regaling us with stories of Seussical. Jen said that at one point someone got fired every day, so at night they would haul out their video camera and play "Seussical Survivor." In other words, they would meet after dinner and each would show the camera a piece of paper where they had secretly written down the name of the person they thought was going to get fired the next day. Of course, Jen was always right. Kevin is loving doing a show on the Disney channel. First of all, they do 30 episodes per season (!) and when you sign a TV contract with them, you also sign to do four films. Plus Kevin gets to direct one episode of "Jessie" per season! He let us come to the set to watch filming and we loved it, especially Juli. There's a girl on the show who's nine years old (!) and had a ton of lines in the episode we saw. And she nailed them. How come I can't memorize my lines for Disaster! and I wrote them?

Seth with Jack Plotnick and Paul Castree
Photo by James Wesley

Speaking of which, we had a cra-za-zy weekend at the show. First of all, Clif Thorn had a family emergency and couldn't play Tony. Tony is the antagonist of the musical. He owns "The Barricuda" which is the casino that floats in the Hudson River (attached to a pier) and he ignores my warnings that he's drilled the pier directly into a fault line. I found out Friday that he couldn't do the show. Because we're basically a Mom and Pop show, we have no understudies. So, Jack (who wrote the show with me) took the red-eye from L.A. and arrived Saturday to learn the part for the Sunday show. We also had one more problem: Kathy Fitzgerald plays Shirley, the older lady who's on vacation with her husband to celebrate his retirement. Kathy is currently rehearsing to play Mama Rose in Arizona. She asked the cast to switch their day off in order for her to fly in Sunday morning and do the show Sunday night. The whole cast voted yes, but the union said that a day off cannot be switched during tech week. So, we had no Shirley. Well, many years ago when I was first talking about this show with my friend Drew Geraci (from Forever Plaid), we joked that he would play an older lady in the show. And, on Sunday night, that joke became a reality. That's right, Jack was on for Tony and Drew was on for Shirley! What's even more crazy is that Shirley's husband in the show is named Maury (played by Tom Riis Farrell) and Drew played Maury the first week because Tom wasn't available. So, Drew has gone on for both halves of the married couple! Denis Jones (our director) made an announcement to the audience telling them why the show had two last-minute cast replacements. I was backstage early in the show and heard the audience go wild. We didn't know what happened and turns out it was because Drew made his first entrance. He literally stopped the show when he came on in a blonde wig while wearing a Mrs. Roper muumuu. Drew had a week's notice but Jack only had two days. I told him to carry his script but he was completely off book. It was amazing. The performance played on a deeper level to us because Drew and I had conceived the idea for the show years ago, and Jack and I wrote it, so it was so meaningful to have us all on at the same time.

Kathy as Shirley and Drew as Maury

We've made some trims and the show is in such good shape. The first week, we felt the show was too long and Saum Eskandani, who plays a variety of roles in the show, told me that Jack and I would have to "kill our babies." This is a reference Mike Nichols uses when he asks people to cut specific bits, even though the actor enjoys them. Yes, sometimes it's necessary to cut stuff in the show you love to make the show better. Well, at one point in Act One, Saum plays a handyman who falls into the blades of a massive fan when a tremor hits. It was one of the bits I decided to cut for this Sunday's show and Saum wrote me an email asking me to keep it in because it got such a big audience laugh. I reminded him that he was the one who told me to "kill my babies"! He wrote back, "I didn't mean that you should kill one of my babies!" Busted. P.S., It was so thrilling to be sold out even though it was Oscars night and now we've extended for three more Sundays. Get tix and info at www.DisasterMusical.com.

And finally, for years my father has been telling me about trips that Broadway lovers take to New York City. People from all over the country come to see shows and get some inside Broadway experience from experts. He's been begging me to start my own tour and I've been effectively ignoring him. Well, finally, I'm doing it! I'm hosting my very first Tony Award weekend in New York City. It involved so much organizing that my head is officially spinning. People can sign up and get airfare, hotel and then see three Broadway shows. Plus, I'm hosting the entire weekend, meaning I'll be doing one of my one-man Broadway-themed shows as well as putting on a big belty show with four Broadway divas and doing two Chatterboxes with two Broadway stars. And I'm hosting a private viewing of the Tony Awards that will be replete with my sassy signature side comments/trivia/inside scoop/dish. Sign up at www.BroadwaySpectacular.com. And mail me some Tylenol ASAP. 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.)

Juli and the cast of "Jessie"
Juli and the cast of "Jessie"
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