ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: When You Got It, Flaunt It

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: When You Got It, Flaunt It Hello! Happy post-Tony Awards. I'm actually writing this before watching it, so I can't give you my opinion of the show. I can, however, give my estimated opinion of the show.

Please stop with the Hollywood celebs and bring on the Broadway! I want longer performances from every musical, not four minutes and we're out. Remember Dreamgirls in 1982? We got to see the fight scene leading to "And I Am Telling You" and all of "And I Am Telling You"! These days, they'd skip the fight scene, and we'd only get a truncated version of "And I Am Telling You" to make room for a headache-y TV star to present.

Ladies and gentlemen….Dreamgirls!
"And I am telling you….you're gonna lo-o-o-o-ovme-e e-e-e-e-e!"
And now…Patricia Heaton.

Since I can't recap the Tony Awards, let me recap my week. Monday night I went to a celebration for a theatre company that is one year of age and awkward of name. Yes, the Jaradoa Theater has now been around for a full year, and they used the Vineyard Theater to show what they've been doing for the past year. They did scenes/songs from the shows they've put up (The Small of Her Back and Serenade) plus demonstrations of the volunteer work that they do. They go to senior centers and perform old radio plays in the way they were done in the old days, AKA sound effects and singing commercials. Anika Larsen did a commercial then launched into a short version of "Ain't Misbehavin'" adding a sassy high G that I loved hearing but feared could possibly cause someone in a senior center to have an angina attack from the fierceness.

They also visit public middle schools and work with students. Jaradoa will have one of their actors read a book to the class, and then two Jaradoa helpers will stop every few sentences to ask questions to help kids with reading comprehension. One of their great actors, Chris Harbur, read "Oliver Button Is a Sissy" to us, and there were some actual public middle school kids in the audience. He started reading the mother in his regular voice and the two Jaradoa helpers stopped him:

ANIKA/APRIL: "That's not how a mother sounds, right, everyone?"
AUDIENCE: Right!
ANIKA/APRIL: How does a mother sound?
KID 1: Nice!
KID 2: Soft!
Pause
KID 3: Jamaican. That's right. Chris then had to read the mother part as a nice, soft-spoken Jamaican woman…and he was amazing! Stella did get her groove back. Work! They also teach kids to write their own plays, and we saw a video of the kids and teachers who've benefited from Jaradoa. I was so moved when a middle-school teacher said that even though she's an educator, she didn't understand the value of the arts. But after seeing the changes in her students since Jaradoa worked with them, she now sees how important the arts are in school. She talked specifically about one of her female students who has special needs and had her play picked to be performed. Since then, the teacher noticed a total change in her confidence level and said she was now smiling around the classroom. Of course, hearing about her smiling started me crying. I'm a sucker for that kind of story. Yay, the arts and yay, Jaradoa! Maybe at next year's anniversary we can also celebrate their name change. Watch the amazing video about them at http://youtube.com/watch?v=xTqB2yEBoVM. PS, Chris is the guy doing the beatbox at the end. PPS, check out the actors in the video: Who are they talking to? Where are they? Why are they all sitting on pillows? Are they in someone's bedroom? Why is there a long line of 8x10's on the wall? Is it a stalker's bedroom? And, why is there a woman sitting next to the speaker in all the shots, nodding silently. Silent Bob? Silent Bobette?

On Tuesday I performed in a benefit that Judy Gold put together for the public school her son goes to (which is the same one Juli goes to). Andrea McArdle and her daughter Alexis performed and sounded fabulous. They're both doing Les Miz in the late summer with Andrea as Fantine and Alexis as Eponine. I love it! Triumph the insult comic dog performed and was hilarious. He talked about Judy Gold being a gay mom and said that while Andrea and Alexis are doing Les Miz, Judy and her sons are doing Miss Lez. He followed that with, "I'm not saying Judy is raising her sons gay, but Andrea McArdle is backstage right now singing, 'Your son'll come out…tomorrow.'" I wish I could tell you some of the jokes he said about me, but Playbill.com is a family site.

While leaving Caroline's on Tuesday the weather seemed crazy — super quiet, but windy and on the verge of something terrifying. I knew something was about to happen, so I raced to the subway to get home before it hit. And while I was on the subway, my block was hit by a tornado!!!! Seriously! One of the supers was standing on the street and said he saw a swirling mass of dust at the end of the block and when it cleared, a tree had been uprooted and was sprawled across the street! I couldn't believe it, but then Christine Pedi told me that her friend was leaving Carnegie Hall that same night and saw a twister going down 57th Street. Al Gore, please help!

At the Chatterbox I interviewed young Tony nominee from In the Heights, Robin De Jesús. I asked him where he was from, and he told me "a factory town in Connecticut." Huh? When questioned further, he admitted that just saying Connecticut sounds too middle to upper class, so he adds the "factory town" part to give him some street cred. He loved singing when he was a kid, but could not match pitch and essentially clanked, so he would pray to have a better voice. I asked whom he prayed to sing like and he replied immediately, "Ariel." I don't think he meant Ariel Sharon. He was working in a camp right after he graduated high school and heard about the auditions for the movie "Camp." It was an open call, and he kept getting called back. He gave his final audition on a Friday and knew he'd find out later that day. He was so excited when the casting person called him and said…he needed to come back Monday. Turns out, they had auditions in California and wanted to bring everyone in together. He went back, saw his competition and, after he auditioned, he was told they didn't need anything else from him. But the other guy was asked to stay! Robin was like "…um….I can sing something if you want…" and they were like, "That's all we need." He thought he definitely didn't get it, but on the train ride back to Connecticut, he pulled an Oprah's secret and decided that he did get it. The casting person called him later and said, "So…we'd like to offer you the film." He was too scared to think it was for the actual part, so he said, "In the ensemble?" She told him it was for one of the leads. I, of course, interrupted and asked why she told him with such low energy, and he readily agreed. He said that the only time she was filled with excitement was when she found out that someone he knew had her last name.

Let's compare/contrast.
(blank-faced) So…we'd like to offer a major part in your first film ever.
Versus
(Freaking out) Wait!!! The exact same last name as me!?!?!? No wa-a-a-a-a-a-ay!!!!!!!!

Robin loved working with the director, Todd Graff, and after the movie wrapped (as they say in the film world), Todd paid for the cast to come to NYC, stay in hotels, see two Broadway shows (!) and afterwards, they went to Planet Hollywood and he showed them 15 minutes of the film. I think that cost him the entire budget of the movie! One of Robin's co-stars turned to him while they were seeing the first cut and said, "Wait...it actually looks good!" They were super surprised it came out so well because the whole time they were filming they were told that the budget was non-existent and there would be no retakes whatsoever. After they stopped filming, Robin's friends told him that his hair was out of control (it was an enormous afro) and he needed to cut it ASAP. Right after that, Todd called and said that they got some extra money so they were going to do a bunch of retakes. Robin had to get his courage up to say, "I, um, sort of cut off all my hair…" Todd was not fazed and immediately figured out a way to solve the problem. Let's just say that you can tell the scenes in the movie that were re-shot because they feature Robin's crazy afro wrapped up in a bandana...AKA, a bandana covering Telly Savalas' head.

After "Camp," he thought he'd be getting some delicious performing offers. Unfortunately, he got offered Priscilla Lopez's signature song ("Nothing"). He worked as a waiter in Connecticut and finally decided to move to New York. Unfortunately, he couldn't get any work in the city, so he went back to his old waitering job in Connecticut and would commute back to NYC every night. It's like Elaine Stritch's fun story about having to commute every day because she was starring on Broadway and in a show in New Haven…but without the "fun" part, "show" part or "starring" part. He finally got a headache-y job waitering at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Factory in Times Square and a job at FAO Schwarz. The FAO Schwarz gig was known as the "perfect" job. It was designed for actors because you were allowed to sign out whenever you had an audition, and all you had to do was play with a toy all day long. He lasted three shifts. First of all, because he was new, they gave him the most headache-y toy…Yu-Gi-O cards. Then he realized that most people coming to the store didn't want to watch him play with the cards, they wanted to ask him where certain toys were located. Because he just started working there, he didn't know where anything was, so he had to keep telling customers to ask the other "toy players," who all wound up resenting him for constantly sending people over asking for directions. That was exacerbated by the mortification of people recognizing him from "Camp." It was very much like Boyd Gaines in the "Fame" movie. Remember? He's the hot actor at the High School of Performing Arts and after he graduates, some students are at a restaurant and he's their waiter. He tells them what's going on career-wise and then has to awkwardly segue to, "So, today's specials are…" Devastating.

Robin said that seeing Caroline, or Change changed everything for him because it made him realize that theatre and performing could be art and not just a gig. He made a decision to leave his agent and not take every job that came his way. He wound up getting Rent as the Angel understudy and featured ensemble. When he was in high school and heard the solo in "Will I," he said to his friends, "I would love to do Rent just to sing that small amazing solo," and that's the featured ensemble solo he wound up having! One of his friends told him that he'd be perfect for the role of Sonny in the reading of In the Heights. He asked his agent to get him an audition, and she called him back and said he didn't have to audition, he was offered the role! The director (Tommy Kail) and Lin-Manuel Miranda had both seen "Camp" and knew he'd be great. He did the reading, the workshop, the Off-Broadway production and now he's on Broadway!

I asked him how he found out that he was nominated for a Tony, and he said that he was about to perform on "Good Morning America" when the stage manager got a sheet of paper with all the nominations. He handed it to Robin and said, "You should look at this." Robin thought that the stage manager said that because he got a nomination, and he got so excited! But then he thought that he'd better not think it because if he looks at the list and his name isn't there, everyone's gonna see his face crack. He finally looked, saw his name and started sobbing uncontrollably, but then one second later curtailed all emotion because he had to perform and didn't want puffy red eyes. It was very Dreamgirls: "I got a show to do!" The most amazing part was that he knew he had a Tony nomination and he was performing a song from his Tony-nominated Broadway show on "Good Morning America" outdoors on the little island in Times Square, which is right across from…. Bubba Gump Shrimp Company!

Finally, I asked him what he was wearing to the Tonys, and the answer was a nice simple tux. He said he didn't want to pull a Todd Graff. I asked for further explanation, and he said that when Todd was nominated for playing Danny in Baby, he took a limo with his agent. His agent was mortified when she saw that he was wearing a tea bag as an earring (it was the eighties). She reached forward, and Todd said, "If you try to take it out, I have three more in my pocket." I wish there was a shot of him at the after party dipping his ear for three minutes in boiling water.

On Saturday night I saw "The Happening." Is it because I'm an M. Night Shyamalan fan? No! It's because I'm a Betty Buckley fan! I was getting very anxious waiting for her entrance and started chanting to James, "Bring on the Tony winner!" Unfortunately, I wasn't specific enough because suddenly Vicki Clark came on screen. While it was great to see her in a big fat feature film, I needed a Betty Lynn fix. Finally, she arrived. She plays a bizarre lady who lives in a big house, and she's amazing! Scary, totally real and ca-razy! Plus, she belts the hell out of her last scene. Well, it's not really belting…more like shrieking….but I'm sure she's hitting at least a D flat. She's still got it! I'm going down to Texas in early July to play three all-Broadway request shows with her, and I'm psyched! For tix visit http://www.lyricstage.org/nowplaying.shtml That's it for me. Tonight is the "music" challenge on the Legally Blonde reality show (on MTV), and I remember filming a lot of scenes that are hopefully not all on the cutting-room floor. To watch my deconstructing of the episode, go to www.SethRudetsky.com and, while you're there, check out last week's deconstruction. I made the bold choice of wearing a tank top, and my L.A. friend Jack Plotnick left me an emergency message saying, "Never again." Hmph. I always thought, "When you got it, flaunt it." I think his point was, "When you don't, cover it." Last Thursday, I was on the phone with someone from MTV, and I mentioned the girl who won the role of Elle Woods, and I was told to not mention her name in public! The executive said, "You're in Starbucks! Call her Agnes!" I complied but then thought: "What if people think I mean Agnes Moorehead?" Quite frankly, she'd be an amazing Elle. Pluses: Great humor, high belt, withering glares. Minuses: Dead. See 'ya next week!

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(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway" and the novel "Broadway Nights." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and hosts the BC/EFA benefit weekly interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama every Thursday at 6 PM. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

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Seth Rudetsky (bottom row, pointing to Anika Larsen) and members of the Jaradoa Theater Company
Seth Rudetsky (bottom row, pointing to Anika Larsen) and members of the Jaradoa Theater Company