Onstage & Backstage: What Happened When Grease's Pianist Spilled Coffee on His Keyboard?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: What Happened When Grease's Pianist Spilled Coffee on His Keyboard?
 
Seth relives his days in the pit of Broadway's 1994 Grease revival and shares his own high school theatre days. Plus, Disaster! is in tech!
Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky

We just had our first day off since tech began and I'm sitting watching Grease: Live with some of the Disaster! cast. We all screamed when we saw the part featuring William Ivey Long who designed the costumes and who is also designing our Disaster! costumes. Watch!

Then we screamed when the Disaster! commercial played.

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Watching Grease brings back so many memories. I started subbing for that show back in 1994 when it was in previews on Broadway and then took over and played for around two years. So many hilarious things happened: Once, Steve Marzullo, the regular pianist, spilled his coffee on the keyboard. He was terrified he broke it, but it wound up sounding totally normal. Phew. Until Act Two. For some reason, all the sounds on his keyboard weren't affected except the one that played "There Are Worse Things I Could Do." He played the first chord and it transposed the song… up a third! So Broadway alto Rosie O'Donnell had to sing it in Kristin Chenoweth's key. I'm not saying that's why the show closed, but let's just say it's not running anymore.

I also remember how much fun it was backstage. Usually, when you play in a Broadway orchestra, you're in the pit for the entire act. For Grease we were allowed to leave the pit whenever we wanted! It was so fun…I could walk out after "Summer Nights" or any song and chitty chat with the cast while they were offstage. I just had to make sure I was back in time to play and, not surprisingly, there were many times I was racing back to the pit while the cue for the song was being spoken onstage! There was so much great singing in that show…especially Billy Porter. If you've never heard him sing "Beauty School Drop Out," get it from iTunes asap. BRILLIANT! It's also the very first deconstruction video I ever did! I called it an "analysis" back then. Watch!!

It's so fun to have Paul Castree in Disaster! He played Eugene in Grease. Here is the cast for a TV event with Paul as Eugene and the Rizzo understudy on…yet they used the cast recording so she has Rosie O'Donnell’s voice!!

Enough of Grease. Jack (my co-writer and director of Disaster!) told me that his high school theatre teacher from Ohio was coming to New York and he asked her to watch rehearsals. I thought that was so fantastic, I invited my high school theatre teacher, too! I had one really great year of high school theatre when our regular teacher was on sabbatical, and Mary Hall came to teach during sophomore year. Back then she was Ms. Wilamowski, but she got married by the end of the year and became Mrs. Hall.

First of all, she picked the coolest fall musical ever…Company! We thought we were so hip for doing it…not that I comprehended one single aspect of the show. I was only 14! Let's just say my entire understanding of that show was that it was about a person. Anyhoo, I've been in touch with her and our little theatre group throughout the years and I emailed her to see if she'd like to watch a rehearsal. She wrote me back right away and came during our first day at the Nederlander.

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Backstory: One of the roles in which she cast me that year was "the man who dies" in The Fantasticks, opposite the brilliant Eric Ronis who played the old actor. I cannot tell you how much I loved doing that musical. However, if you know the show, you know that the two characters come out of a trunk that sits onstage and is full of props. Well, I played piano for the show Off-Broadway, and (spoiler alert) the trunk is actually missing the entire back so the two actors crawl into it about five minutes before they're revealed. We did our show in the small theatre in our high school, so there was no way for us to sneak in without being seen. We had to be in there for the entire first part of the show. And in order to make sure the audience didn't see us, we had to get in before the audience arrived! So we were crammed in that trunk around an hour! Not since Room. But I remember how much fun it was to do that show.

We also did The Night of January 16th, a play written by Ayn Rand (!). Seriously! I had two roles…one of them an elderly Swedish handyman. I loved that show, too, because 12 people from the audience were chosen to be the jury and there were two endings, depending on how the “jury” ruled. I remember that if the jury voted that our leading lady was guilty of murder, I was supposed to jump up and suddenly admit, "I keeled heem! I keeled Bjron Faulkner!" Anyhoo, Mrs. Hall showed up at the Nederlander to watch tech and gave me two photos for my dressing room: one of me from The Fantasticks and one of me from The Night Of January 16th. She wrote me such a lovely card that said, "To Dreams Coming True…Hewlett High School to Bway." So wonderful!

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Speaking of dreams coming true, I have to go back to tech rehearsal! Today we rehearsed the band and they sound amazing!!! Tomorrow we bring in all the actors to sing through the show and I can't wait. If you want to hear a little of what the vocals sound like with the band, here's a short recording we did for a commercial. It's the amazing Lacretta Nicole singing "Knock on Wood," the finale of Act One.

She came off the Book Of Mormon tour to do Disaster! and it's her Broadway debut.

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We start previews a week from Tuesday! Feel free to use my delicious discount SOC1, which will get ya $69 tickets.

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