Onstage & Backstage: Why Did Stephen Sondheim Sleep in a Bunk Bed? And More "Camp" News!

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Why Did Stephen Sondheim Sleep in a Bunk Bed? And More "Camp" News!
 
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

This was the week of the kid! I just returned from Stagedoor Manor, which was immortalized in one of my favorite movies, "Camp." In the film, it was called "Camp Ovation" but it was based on Stagedoor Manor and actually filmed there as well. I was visiting the camp as part of my book tour. What book, you ask? Why, my brand-new young adult book called "The Rise And Fall of a Theater Geek"! I've been promoting it over the last few weeks and recently tweeted, "My new book is about a 16-year-old boy with a Jewfro who's obsessed with Broadway. AKA all of us." Immediately Debra Messing tweeted back, "That was me as well!" Hmm…how come her Jewfro turned into long, luxurious hair, and mine just got thinner? Regardless, you can get my book by clicking here or visit ye olde local bookstore!

Anyhoo, the camp bought a ton of books to give out and I went up there to give a talk to all the campers. It's a camp I would have loved to go to as a kid since all they do is non-stop theatre, all the time. Right now, off the top of my head, they're doing Carrie, Bye Bye Birdie, Nice Work If You Can Get It plus a slew of plays. Besides my talk with the campers I also interviewed Todd Graff, who wrote and directed "Camp." He went there as a kid and told me he showed up on the first day, sullen and assuming he'd be made fun of there just as he was in school. Instead, he walked in on a group of kids crowded around a piano, singing the opening number from Company and knowing each "Bobby" from a "Bob" to a "Rob-o". He immediately realized he'd finally found a place to fit in. He said the only weird thing about hearing those kids sing that opening was that none of the boys' voices had changed. I wanted to make a joke that all the boys must have sounded like original Company cast member Teri Ralston, meaning they all sang soprano, but by accident I said that all the boys sounded like Elaine Stritch… which is actually the opposite of the joke I wanted to make (i.e. they all sang bass). Anyhoo, he loved Stagedoor Manor and eventually came back as a music director. Not surprisingly, the first show he worked on at the camp, (mind you, it starred a bunch of teenagers) was Follies. So hilariously inappropriate!

When he was a late teenager he got cast in an Off-Broadway musical called American Passion. The show also had Robert Downey Jr., Martha Plimpton, a very young Jane Krakowski and many other kids. There were tons of problems with the show, and Todd said that instead of fixing the script, the powers-that-be chose to fire most of the kids before opening night. Not surprisingly, the show closed directly after opening. But during previews, the composing team Maltby and Shire came to see the show and asked Todd to audition for their upcoming Broadway show. That's how he got Baby, playing Danny opposite Liz Callaway. I told him I love, love, love that score. Especially "Two People In Love." He remarked that he always enjoys a big song and dance number featuring a nine-month pregnant woman. He wasn't kidding…here's a video from yesteryear!

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Eventually, he started writing Hollywood films but often the director wouldn't have the same vision as he did, so he decided he wanted to write and direct a film. He wrote "Camp" and cast a bunch of amazing kids to star. As for my favorite cast member, he told me that his cousin is Randy Graff and went to see her in High Society when it was on Broadway. Randy had taken the young girl in the cast under her wing and the girl would often come to family functions (calling him Uncle Todd to this day). Todd realized how amazingly talented she was and wound up casting her as the psycho camper named Fritzi. If you don't know, I'm talking about the fantastic Anna Kendrick, and here is the hilarious scene where she sabotages the girl playing Joanne in Company after tricking her into drinking Woolite. Todd is very proud that "Camp" also has Stephen Sondheim's only film appearance. His scene was shot at night and afterwards they went to take him to his hotel but he said he'd rather be like the other actors. Meaning, he actually slept in an actual Stagedoor Manor bunk! Even I draw the line at rustic cabin living, and I've never set foot in Turtle Bay. Speaking of the real Stagedoor Manor, Todd always thought it was hilarious Once on This Island is about the racial tension between light skinned and dark skinned blacks, and they performed it at the camp with no actual black people. He did an homage to that production in "Camp" where he shows a scene from Dreamgirls featuring the song "And I Am Telling You" inappropriately being sung by a very white Effie. The appropriate part, however, is that Curtis is played by a black boy. The inappropriate part is the boy is literally eight years old.

Anyhoo, the news that made me so happy is that Todd is working on "Camp 2." People have always asked him to write a sequel but he didn't know how to make it work until he decided on this: It's about a bunch of campers at Camp Ovation who know about that the movie "Camp" is about their camp. They watch YouTube clips of it and some of them hate it, some of the love it and lots of them sing songs from the film to audition for shows at their camp. The plot of film winds up bringing all the new characters in contact with the actual actors who played the characters in the original film! Yes, all the originals are going to make an appearance as themselves! Not since [title of show] has something been so meta, and I say brava! To find out more about the film as well as help crowd fund it, go to Camp2TheMovie.com.

Back to the week of the kid: The Broadway benefit James and I are putting up to raise funds to help older foster kids adopted is really close! It's June 29 and we not only have Broadway stars like Kristin Chenoweth, Megan Hilty, Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski, Andrea McArdle, Sutton Foster and TV folks like Charlene Tilton and Tina Fey, but we just added Chris Jackson, AKA George Washington from Hamilton! James and I made an appearance on NBC with Janice Huff to tout the event, and I loved the interview she did with us. My friend Colette Hawley, though, busted the fact that I wore sneakers. I never thought they'd show on camera! I assumed it would be filmed from the chest up. If I had known it was going to be a full-body shot, I would have put on a man-corset as well. Watch here and get tix here: YouGottaBelieve.org.

Back to the week of the kid. We found out when Juli was in second grade that she's dyslexic. Her public school was not giving her the help she needed at all and we were told by many, many people to try as hard as we could to get her into a special school in NYC that's supposed to be amazing for dyslexics. We had her tested and interviewed, and she got accepted. James hired a lawyer like you're supposed to do and the city deemed it necessary for her to go to a special school and that meant the state would pay $31,430 (!), the bulk of the school's yearly tuition. James' mom is a certified academic language specialist and she told us that this so-called amazing school had teachers that weren't trained enough. We thought she was being crabby and a know-it-all and we reminded her that everyone says the school is amazing. Nevertheless, we asked for the school to test Juli's reading after the first semester to make sure she's improving. The school told us that they never did that because the kids always improve, but we told them that it would make us feel better if we could know exactly how much she was advancing.

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Cut to; after months at the school, Juli got tested and hadn't improved at all. We discovered that everything James' mom had said was correct. We then found out that many other kids also weren't learning how to read very well but most parents didn't want to rock the boat by challenging the heads of the school. Juli started tutoring with my mother-in-law after school. We soon found out that many other kids in the school have to have tutors even though the whole purpose of the school (and its $31,430 tuition) is to have specialized teachers so the kids don't have to have tutors and can have fun after school like other kids without dyslexia. After Juli tutored for three years with Elizabeth, Juli got her reading on grade level. The state renewed her tuition again for the specialized school but we felt she would never achieve all she's capable of by being at a school where the bar was set so low. So, we took a risk and took her out of the private school and put her in a regular public school. I was incredibly nervous that she wouldn't be able to keep up with the schoolwork of kids without reading issues but not only did she thrive, the most incredible thing happened last week: She graduated 8th grade with a good average! And she won the school's art award! Next year she begins high school in a school that specializes in art, and we are all incredibly proud of her.

This week, I fly to Canada to do two shows with Andrea Martin, come back and rehearse for the benefit and do a "Chatterbox" with the stars of Matilda the Musical and then I fly back to Provincetown and do two shows with Laura Osnes. I asked her recently about the part in Cinderella where she rips off her rags and is suddenly in a full ball gown. She said that William Ivey Long designed that brilliance but didn't want to give it away on the Tony Awards. So, for the scene she performed on TV, he made a totally different dress. Laura said that dressers had to put it on her and then fold it 24 times (!) for it to fit underneath the raggy dress. It was so tightly wound that when she pulled the string to make it suddenly appear, it didn't work at first. Terrifying live TV... Watch! And come see us live when I'll be wearing a dress folded 24 times (?) at PtownArtHouse.com. 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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