Onstage & Backstage: Who Put Together a Benefit in Record Time? This Guy!

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Who Put Together a Benefit in Record Time? This Guy!
 
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Hello from West Hollywood! I've stayed at my friend Jack Plotnick's apartment with James for the last few days, because I got booked to do Deconstructing Broadway at Largo. The show went amazingly! And I had such a great audience including my friends Roger Bart, Steve Wishnoff, Kali Rocha and Colette Hawley, plus LA mucky-mucks like Ron Meyer (founder of CAA) Joel Silver (producer of "The Matrix") and Jay Landers (Barbra Streisand's A&R person).

Seth's lift to L.A.
Seth's lift to L.A. Photo by Seth Rudetsky

Speaking of Jay, he took me and James out to dinner, and his wife Despina told us such a fun story: When she went into labor for her first kid she was very nervous being in a hospital because she had never been a patient before. She bonded with one of the nurses, which helped her relax a little, but then the nurse told her that her shift was over. Despina began to cry (!) so Jay stepped in. He asked the nurse who her favorite singer was. She told him it was Barry Manilow. He asked her, "If I could get Barry Manilow to talk to you on the phone, would you stay for another shift?" She shrugged and said, "Sure," assuming it couldn't happen. Jay got out his cell phone, called Barry (who answered!) and asked if he'd help out and talk to Despina's nurse in the maternity ward. The nurse got on the phone, they chatted and he asked the nurse her name. Turns out, it was Mandy! Of course, he launched into the song over the phone, and Mandy wound up staying for another shift!

Speaking of kids, I can finally write about a big thing that's happening June 29 on Broadway. Around two months ago, I wrote about how the city cut funding to two organizations that help older foster kids get adopted. We started a Change.org petition which got a lot of signatures, but the funding didn't get restored. James had the idea to do a big show on Broadway to raise money for these two organizations as well as bring awareness to everyone that there are lots of foster kids out there looking for loving homes. We emailed Jordan Roth, who runs the Jujamcyn theatres, told him the situation and he immediately said he would donate a theatre to help! We picked the Kinky Boots theatre and decided we wanted to do the benefit while momentum about the issue was building, so we scheduled it for June 29.

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We went to various bigwigs who do big events and their first reaction was, "You mean June 29, 2016, right?" We then had to clarify that it was not in a year, but in two months, and they told us we were crazy. They said we had to get big celebrities right away and we also had to raise around $150,000 in sponsorship money to pay for the crew, musicians, flights for the celebrities, hotels etc. They also implied it probably couldn't be done. Of course, when people tell us something can't happen James and I get very stubborn and basically say, "Watch this!" We started calling and emailing people whom we knew would be supportive and within 10 days we had raised $150,000! We also started calling celebrities and Kristin Chenoweth was the first to say yes. The second one was Tina Fey. Take that! Then Phil Birsh from Playbill told us they'd be a sponsor and we'd get an ad in every June Playbill! Amazing! But then we realized that we needed more than two celebrities to be in the ad and we needed someone to design the ad. Ah! Soon we got the hilarious Alec Mapa signed on (who adopted his son out of foster care and will be starring in "Baby Daddy" on Showtime), plus Caroline Rhea who told us she is the best people to harass an audience to give money during a show, plus Patina Miller, Rosie O'Donnell, Megan Hilty and Sutton Foster! I then called SpotCo who does amazing ad campaigns for Broadway and they designed us a fantastic ad in one day! But then we got a phone call from the Jujamcyn's saying that June 29 was the beginning of the July 4 week and Kinky Boots went to a holiday schedule…meaning they were going to have a show on June 29. We had to get another Jujamcyn theatre ASAP so we could make the Playbill ad deadline. I called producer Kevin McCollum and he immediately agreed to let us use the St. James theatre where Something Rotten is playing. Yay! The fabulous SpotCo ad went in and you can see it on the side of the column!

James wants to make sure we have people there associated with foster care so he started doing research and came across the film "Antwone Fisher," which is about a kid from foster care who went into a life a crime at 18 but then turned his life around. It was directed by Denzel Washington and written by the real-life Antwone Fisher. James emailed his website and Antwone agreed to do the event! We just met with him today in Marina Del Rey, and I did a long interview with him that will play on my SiriusXM show. He told us that his dad was murdered a few months before he was born and his mom was in prison. He spent his childhood in foster care where he was abused and when he was 14, the foster family didn't want him anymore. Sadly, it's very difficult for older kids to get adopted (that's why we're having the benefit), and the only place that could take him was a reform school! Even though he was a good kid. When he graduated high school, he was "emancipated" meaning the state no longer had any responsibility for him. He therefore had no money and no family. And even though he did very well at school, his report cards had "reform school" printed on them so he couldn't get a job. He became homeless right away and started working for a hustler/pimp named Butch. He would go with the guy to collect money from his prostitutes. Antwone would hand out different addresses printed on index cards to different men and collect money from them. He didn't know what the addresses were for. One day, a man didn't come by to pick up one of the index cards and when Butch found out, he beat up Antwone for not being a good business person. Instead of being furious with Butch, Antwone was upset he disappointed him. Antwone asked another person why those cards were such a big deal to Butch. The person told Antwone that some heroin addicts are so desperate that, if they can't pay Butch money, they sell their children instead. Those cards had the address of kids that were being bought by adults. When Antwone heard that, he quit working for Butch and became homeless again. He was homeless for almost a year (in winter in Cleveland) and finally joined the Navy. There's much more to the story, especially about how he got his story sold to be a film, but to find out, you should get his book or see the film! Visit AntwoneFisher.net. for more! And come see him June 29 at the St. James! Get tix here!

Another former foster kid who's going to be part of the benefit is Charlene Tilton from "Dallas." I interviewed her as well while I was out here and found out she's a huge Barbra Streisand fan. More on that in a moment. She first told me that when she was 5, her mom had a nervous breakdown so she went into various foster homes where she suffered a lot of abuse. She lived with her mom again when she was 8 but when she was 14, her mom had another breakdown and had to be institutionalized. Charlene swore she would never go back to foster care so she forged some documents and started living on her own! She got an agent from doing a play in high school and her first film audition was for "Freaky Friday." They asked if she could water ski and she bragged and told them she had won water ski competitions. Of course, she had actually never water-skied before. She got the gig and when they got to the water ski section, she hoped for the best, got on her skis and promptly fell in the water. Devastating. But then she saw that Jodie Foster also fell even though she had a water ski trainer for the film. Hmm…she got back on the skis…and wound up staying on for the whole shot. Brava! Turns out, lying sometimes pays off! Here's a clip of her from the film. She's the crazily pretty blonde on the left.

Seth, Charlene Tilton and James
Seth, Charlene Tilton and James

Soon she got "Dallas" at 18 years old and stayed on the show for years. And, like I said, she is a Barbra fanatic, and flipped out because Barbra was editing the film "Yentl" where she was shooting "Dallas." Charlene would constantly stalk Barbra in the commissary but was too scared to say anything. One day, she found out that Patrick Duffy was going to have lunch with her and Charlene begged him to bring her Barbra's used napkin (!). That afternoon, they were filming a scene where Charlene was crying (as usual) and Patrick added a line saying that he knew what would cheer her up. She didn't know why he was improvising, until she saw him bring out, not only Barbra's napkin, but her whole tray of leftover food! Charlene was so happy! Larry Hagman offered to give her shellac so she could preserve it forever, but she was satisfied saving the used can of Tab. Seriously. Regardless of Barbra's pending order of protection against her, Charlene will be in the benefit as well.

And, for you "Kimmy Schmidt" fans, not only Tina Fey, but Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski will be performing as well!

Finally, there is a Tony Award "pop up store" on 46th Street in the Paramount Hotel, and I'll be there Wednesday at 6PM reading from "Seth's Broadway Diary" which Priscilla Lopez and Julia Murney, both of whom have amazing stories featured in the book. Afterwards, I'll be signing books so come visit! Here are deets. And now, happy pre-Tony Awards week, and peace out! (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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