ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Xanadu and Zanna, Don't!

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Xanadu and Zanna, Don't!
 
This week I finally started rehearsing my part in The Ritz.
Cheyenne Jackson joins the cast of Xanadu.
Cheyenne Jackson joins the cast of Xanadu. Photo by Ben Strothmann

If you’re like my mother, you're thinking, "Why do you need to rehearse for two lines?" (direct quote, 8/25/07) But besides my two sentences, I have a variety of things to do throughout the show, so, stop being mean, Mom, et al.

First of all, Monday was our "meet and greet." We had our official Equity meeting where we took a vote about whether lunch should be an hour or an hour-and-a-half. Why? Who needs that much time? Is that for people who want to rehearse in the morning then quickly pop over to the Hamptons for a seafood salad? Is there any evidence of a company ever voting for a hour-and-a-half lunch? Is it a holdover from when the company of the original Romeo and Juliet needed time to saddle up their horses and ride over to Bristol for the lunch special? Was there even Equity in Shakespearean days? Ye olde Equity?

Then we walked around and investigated our dressing-room assignments. For those who have been chomping at the bit, yes, I am sharing a dressing room with Ryan Idol. I'm sure I won't feel inadequate on every level.

The most amazing thing is that we're actually rehearsing on the set! The Ritz is a farce, and if we tried to rehearse it in a studio, it would just be all of us trying to stay within the lines of a floor covered in different colored tape that somehow represented a multitude of doors and three different levels. Every two minutes would be the stage manager interrupting with, "Rosie, the yellow tape is the second floor and the green is the top level, so stay on the blue" or "Brooks, you just walked through a wall."

Anyhoo, our sassy director, Joe Mantello, pleaded his case and Scott Pask, our fabulous set designer, built an amazing multi-leveled set that we're having the best time gallivanting on! The cast is super nice, and everyone shares the same anxiety about having to wear a towel onstage. Except for, it seems, Ryan Idol, who donned his towel for all of Saturday's rehearsal. Suffice it to say, there was much distraction amongst certain male members of the cast, and I briefly had no memory of what my two lines were.

Speaking of distraction, this week I had a Chatterbox with Xanadu's Cheyenne Jackson. He was born in Idaho (no relation to Larry Craig). After he graduated high school, he decided he needed to move to the big city. He took New York City by storm because he wanted to conquer Broadway. Oh, I'm sorry. I mean, he moved to Spokane because it had two gay bars.

He eventually moved to Seattle and did a show with Marc Kudisch where he was Marc’s understudy. Marc told him that if he ever moved to New York, he would set up a meeting with his agent. Cheyenne moved, and Marc's agent signed him! His first audition was for Thoroughly Modern Millie. He said it was his best audition ever because he didn’t know what was at stake. No one knew who he was, so there was no expectation in any way. He got called back and had to tap, which he doesn’t do. So, he just "sold it" upper-body wise and promised Rob Ashford (the choreographer) that if he got the part, he’d learn how to tap. They brought him in for a final audition on the stage of the Marquis where Millie was playing. After he sang and read again, director Michael Mayer walked up to him with the creative staff and said, "Well, this is a story for Broadway.com. A small-town boy moves to New York, has his first audition and books the job. Cheyenne, you’re coming to Broadway!" (Note to Michael Mayer, I guess it's also a story for Playbill.com.) Cheyenne started crying, and they all hugged. Then, as Cheyenne was leaving the theatre, he ran into Kudisch backstage. Kudisch was playing Trevor Graydon and didn’t even know Cheyenne was auditioning.

KUDISCH: Cheyenne! What are you doing here?
CHEYENNE: (Crying) I'm your new understudy!
KUDISCH: (Crying)
ME WRITING THIS: (Crying)

I asked him how devastating it was filming "United 93." He said that the only comfort was the fact that there was only one other passenger in his section, and it was Chip Zien, so he was able to spend the whole time pumping him for Into the Woods dish.

POSSIBLE SCENARIO
FILM DIRECTOR: Cheyenne, I called "action"!
CHEYENNE: But I must first know if Joanna Gleason's "Moments in the Woods" trumped Phylicia Rashad's "Last Midnight"!

Cheyenne also said that even though he loved doing the workshop of Xanadu, he didn’t want to do it on Broadway because it would conflict with a film he wanted to do and because Jane Krakowski wasn't doing it. She played Clio/Kira opposite him in the workshop, and he couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the part. He was devastated saying no, but he also told his partner that he felt it would come back to him. So he wound up filming his next movie and then, a week before the Broadway opening, director Chris Ashley called him late at night and told him that James Carpinello broke his leg and they were supposed to open in a week. Cheyenne still didn't feel comfortable doing it with another Kira, so he went to see it. He saw Kerry Butler and thought she was totally different from Jane, but amazing! He immediately said yes and relearned the part and all the changes that had been made since the workshop. He ran through the show on Thursday because he was supposed to start the next day, but after the run-through, the creative staff asked him if would go on that night because they knew that the Friday audience would be full of internet posters, and they wanted to give him a performance that wouldn’t be immediately followed by CarpinellloLover45 posting "Just Back from Xanadu" on All That Dish.com.

Right now, I am writing this from beautiful Salem, CT. Dev Janki —the award-winning director-choreographer of the brilliant Zanna, Don't — has a family owned house that he rents every summer that can literally sleep 30 people. It’s not a mansion — it’s more like bungalows, and he's been having these retreats for his friends since 2001. Andrea Burns, Peter Flynn and Robert Tatad used the proximity to Westport, CT, to go to the Westport Playhouse to see Billy Porter's Sondheim revue, Being Alive. I've never heard such raving. The phenomenal singing, the brilliant James Sampliner music arrangements/ Michael McElroy vocal arrangements and especially the last 20 minutes of the show that Andrea said made her head explode. I'm devastated I couldn’t go. It better hit Manhattan ASAP! Brava, Billy!!!

Going to Dev's is always the highlight of my summer...and the highlight of my dog's year. She runs around non-stop, and when she gets back to NY, sleeps for two days straight. The best part is it's always teeming with musical theatre people, and every meal is rife with hilarious stories about onstage antics. I was obsessed with James Hadley's story about Debra Monk’s understudy in Thou Shalt Not. They were having an understudy rehearsal, and the stage manager literally said, "Let's take it from the stroke." The Debra Monk character has a major stroke during the show that cues a dance number.

It's always embarrassing to have a stroke onstage, so the understudy said her line with little conviction and then muttered, "…And … then I have a stroke." Suddenly, CUT!

MUSIC DIRECTOR: I need the actual full stroke. You need to say, "Ooh, ooh…ah"…twist your mouth to the left..and then the music comes in.

The understudy looked mortified that she had to do it again. She said her line once more, but this time added a lackluster "Ooh, ooh, ah…" Suddenly, as her mouth was contorting, CUT!

MUSIC DIRECTOR: I need it louder! Of course, by now, the ensemble offstage was laughing hysterically. The understudy finally did her complete stroke/became paralyzed, and the ensemble entered and circled her while trying to contain their laughter. They spun her around in her wheelchair, and when her back was to the audience, she came out of her paralysis just long enough to give her fellow cast members the finger.

Let me sign off by saying Happy Labor Day, everyone! And by the way…shout out to all the kids that read this column. Let me just say that it’s amazing to be an adult and be able to enjoy your Labor Day instead of it being the bridge to the devastation of school beginning again. There is hope, trust me!

*

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com. His first novel, "Broadway Nights," is due in the fall.)

Cheyenne Jackson and Seth Rudetsky dish at the <i>Chatterbox</i>.
Cheyenne Jackson and Seth Rudetsky dish at the Chatterbox.
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