Onstage & Backstage: Which Legendary Composer Did Barbara Cook Swear At During Rehearsals?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Which Legendary Composer Did Barbara Cook Swear At During Rehearsals?
 
In the latest installment of the life of Seth Rudetsky, we learn stories of the acclaimed careers of Vanessa Williams and Barbara Cook.
Megan Hilty and Seth are headed to Boston!
Megan Hilty and Seth are headed to Boston!

I was home in NYC all weekend! Delish. But I'll be a-travelin' from now on, and here's some of the schedule: On Friday I'm heading up to Boston to do a show with Megan Hilty to raise money for their Gay Men's Chorus. If you want a smidgeon of what we're doing, here is the full-length "Obsessed" I did with her where she is hi-lar and sings up a storm. Watch!

In October, I'm music directing and hosting the big gala at The New Jersey Performing Arts Center which will be all-Sondheim and star Tony Yazbeck, Judy Kuhn, James Monroe Iglehart and Vanessa Williams. With a special appearance by Len Cariou!

Vanessa Williams and Seth
Vanessa Williams and Seth

Speaking of Vanessa Williams, she and I did the final Broadway at Town Hall series in Provincetown and she was so fun. I asked about her early recording career, and she had some crazy stories. At one point she was working with producer/writers Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and L.A. Reid who were just starting out. Vanessa was putting together her first album and went to their apartment to hear some possible songs. They played her a song called "Girlfriend." which she loved. While she was sitting at the piano singing it with them, another woman named Pebbles walked in. I'm obsessed with the bizarre, yet pointed, dialogue they had.. .

PEBBLES: Wow! That's the jam.
VANESSA: I know!
PEBBLES: (emphasizing her point) No. That's the jam.
VANESSA: (confused) I know it's the jam.
Silence.
Here's the actual subtext of what the conversation was:
PEBBLES: Wow! That song is great!
VANESSA: I know! I'm using it on my first album.
PEBBLES: Are you? I'm not sure you are. Because I really think that song is amazing.
VANESSA: Huh? You're not sure I am? I just told you I was.

Cut to: "Girlfriend" became Pebble's first hit single. She also wound up marrying L.A. Reid! But Vanessa wound up collecting lots of other options for songs on her first album. At one point, her UPS guy (!) handed her a tape and asked if she'd listen. She said yes… and that's how she got "Can This Be Real" for her album! She talked candidly about how those nude photos (which, by the way, she never signed a release for!) affected her for years. At one point she was going to be a voice in a Disney film and a major executive put the kibosh on it and told her people she'd never be appropriate for Disney. And this was years after the photos came out! But apparently the powers-that-be felt it was OK for her to do a pop cover of a song, and that's how she recorded "Colors of the Wind." And got to sing it on the Oscars! Watch:

She talked about what a thrill it was to do Kiss of the Spider Woman and how Chita Rivera sent her an opening night card that said "Welcome to the web." So gracious. And, quite frankly, creepy. Vanessa also mentioned doing Sondheim On Sondheim at The Roundabout and how hard the music was. The first day of rehearsal everyone sat down to start learning the tunes and Vanessa told us that even though Barbara Cook is a great musician, she was having as much trouble learning the music as anyone else. Vanessa laughed and said that every time there was some crazy Sondheim interval, Barbara would lash out with, "God damn you, Stephen!" and much worse. Vanessa was so obsessed with it that she started writing down everything Barbara yelled out, and her score is now annotated in pencil with every curse Barbara said! I told her she needs to eBay that score ASAP. Speaking of Barbara Cook, watch my deconstruction and imagine this glorious voice cursing Sondheim! I'm sure every F bomb had amazing placement.

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Vanessa did something really fantastic last Friday. Because Cantor Fitzgerald lost so many people on 9/11, they've started a yearly event where they give a ton of money away. Celebs come and represent different charities and at the end of the day, each charity receives a lot o' money! One of the charities chosen this year was "YouGottaBelieve" which is a great organization that helps older foster kids find permanent homes (James and I put up a big benefit for them in June). They asked us if we could find a celeb to represent them for Cantor Fitzgerald Charity Day, I emailed Vanessa and ten minutes later she said yes! She showed up looking stunning and made the rounds of the trading floor. On Charity Day, traders hand celebs the phone and have them do deals. I had a total anxiety attack watching it but Vanessa couldn't have been calmer; she literally did a deal with Deutsche bank for one thousand dollars. Oh, I'm sorry, for one million dollars. Nope. I meant One Billion Dollars. I still don't understand what was being negotiated but it featured her looking at the actual broker who would tell her whether she should change her number and her saying sternly, "I'm sorry! That's my best offer." It was crazy and amazing! I took a photo of her doing the deal and the aftermath when it was announced it was for a billion bucks. And now You Gotta Believe is getting some much needed money to help foster kids!

Seth and Jackie Hoffman
Seth and Jackie Hoffman

I had a bunch of fun people on "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM talk show. First Jackie Hoffman came by to promote Celebrity Autobiography, which is happening this coming Saturday at the Triad. She was talking about sleep issues and how her doctor warned her not to take Ambien if she had to wake up to do a morning show. If not, she might say things she's not aware of. "Now he tells me!" she lamented Apparently, during an appearance on a national morning show she told a producer he had an "ugly baby." I then asked if it was the Ambien or just her natural aversion to children. Pause. "Good point," she replied.

Seth with Laura Osnes and Corey Cott
Seth with Laura Osnes and Corey Cott

I also had Laura Osnes and Corey Cott on the show and Corey talked about doing Gigi when an understudy went on. Victoria Clark was out and Madeleine Doherty (who was the original little old lady in The Producers and was hilarious) was on. The song "The Night They Invented Champagne" has lots of glasses toasting throughout it. Well, you may not know it, but understudies don't get to practice with props very often. So, on the very first toast, Madeline used perhaps a little too much vigor and completely shattered the glasses! Much of the song requires toasting and holding up glasses so Madeline knew they needed replacements. She quickly left the stage to get new ones and Corey and Vanessa Hudgens were left to improv during that time. He said their improv sounded like this: "So…yeah…" Regardless, Madeline got new glasses and the number went on deliciously. P.S. I asked why the h*** they were using real glass, and he said they tried plastic during rehearsal and the clinks that are supposed to heard throughout sounded like what they were: plastic touching plastic. Hm… "The Night They Invented Dixie Crystal Clear"?

Seth and Darren Criss
Seth and Darren Criss

I also had Darren Criss on the show talking about his upcoming Broadway extravaganza. He's put together an outdoor music festival on Sept. 27 like Lalapalooza (PS, I don't even know what that is), and it's going to be tons of great Broadway people doing their acts! It's on a pier with lots of food and a Marie's Crisis piano bar you can go to whenever you want. The performers are going to be him, Lea Salonga, Aaron Tveit, Laura Osnes, Leslie Odom, Jr….and me! It's the same day as the Broadway Flea Market, so go there first and then come to Elsie Fest. Why is it called Elsie fest, you ask? Darren based it on the lyric "I made my mind up back in Chelsea, when I go I'm going like Elsie." But in case he's not allowed to do that because of copyright laws, he based it on a high school friend named Elsie who was a fun-loving girl. The Broadway Flea Market info is here, and info/tix for Elsie Fest is here. And, they're both connected: a portion of the proceeds goes to Broadway Cares!

My other guest was Julie Garnye, a great singer I met back in the early 2000's. She immediately fessed up to my audience that her last name is completely fake. Around 15 years ago, she had just gotten married and her maiden name was Arbagey and her husband's last name was Wrona. Her husband asked her what name she was going to use and she couldn't decide. Both were slightly headache-y (she actually got mail addressed to Mrs. Wrong). This conversation happened to be during a big film festival in France and at the next table were Joel Grey (!) and James Garner (!!) who both had films playing. Her husband told Julie to ask them for professional advice. She actually walked up to them, told them she was having problems on what name to use and they promptly told her… neither. Then, in walked Clint Eastwood (!) and they all put their heads together. It was finally decided that she should combine the last names of James Garner and Joel Grey. Garn-ey. But, since she was in France, she should make it French style and reverse the ey and add an accent aigu. Hence Garnye.

A few years later, she was backstage and Easter Bonnett and saw Joel Grey! She started to ask if he remembered her and he didn't. Then she showed him her Equity card and suddenly it all came back to him and he yelled, "You actually did it!" When I did my concert of Hair for the Actors Fund in 2004, she was part of the ensemble (AKA Tribe). They were all amazing singers and then I had Broadway celebs singing all the solos: Lillias White sang "Aquarious," Adam Pascal sang "I Got Life," Raul Esparza sang "Hair," Jennifer Hudson sang "Easy To Be Hard" and many more. Well, at the last minute, Idina Menzel (who was still belting Elphaba eight times a week) got sick and I had to get a replacement. And I mean last minute. I told Julie she was on…at around 6 PM! We had never even rehearsed that section because the tribe wasn't in it so she had to frantically learn the lyrics during right before the show and then again at intermission. But she did fantastically and when word of what happened spread, she immediately got an audition for Wicked and got signed with an agent. Brava!

And, someone recently asked me about my memoirs. What the-? I haven't published my memoirs! They thought my new book "The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek" was about me. It ain't. It's about someone similar (Jewfro, love handles) but the story is all original. It's a Broadway-themed/comedy/mystery. And you can get it right here.

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Speaking of my young adult book, I was invited by another young adult author, Emmy Laybourne (who wrote the "Monument 14" trilogy) to do her cool event called Spine Out on Thursday night. It's a bunch of authors who get together and read personal essays, and I feel very New York doing it because it's at the hip Dixon Place! Info/tix here.

OK, I'm getting ready for Rosh Hashanah dinner so I must start cooking (AKA heating up the food I ordered). Peace out and Happy New Year!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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