ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Xanadu's Holy Rollers and More

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Xanadu's Holy Rollers and More I am sitting on the balcony of room 10038 on the Norwegian Dawn. It's the room of my friends Phil and Michael who are with me on the Rosie Rfamily Vacation Cruise. Normally I'd be on my balcony, but I was too lazy and bogged down with bags to bring my laptop and I knew they'd have one. By the way, neither of them are in the computer or graphics business, yet they are constantly buying laptops, using them for one Lunar cycle and then buying new ones. Why do they need new laptops constantly? I just bought a new one to replace the one I bought in '98! Yes, the only game was Pong and the writing program was Wordstar, but it was sturdy, functional and only 23 pounds.

Christine Pedi
Christine Pedi Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Let me give you pre-cruise updates. Last Monday, I hauled it downtown to the Metropolitan Room and saw Christine Pedi do her new show, Great Dames. She brought down the house with the hilarious Forbidden Broadway spoof of the Anna Karenina musical.

Do you hear that train comin' round the bend? It means the tale of Anna is about to end — as I'm ground into a bloody mess! 'Neath the Ashkibland, Toblini and Kiev Express!

There was also a great version of "A Spoonful of Sugar" which she did all sexed up…a phrase I never thought I'd use to describe that song. And she closed with her brilliant rendition of "And I Am Telling You" sung as a myriad of women (Bernadette, Little Edie, Joan Rivers) that I described last week. P.S., it's already been posted on YouTube! Take a gander! She was recording the show for an upcoming CD and got crazy cheering throughout, but the accolade I was the most excited about telling her was that during the performance, my boyfriend leaned over to me and whispered, "She's got a great body." It's exactly what I'd love an audience to be whispering whenever I perform. But, if it had the same pronoun it would sort of be devastating.

Tuesday I interviewed Xanadu's Tony Roberts at SIRIUS. What a career! His first big break literally was just that. When Robert Redford took off two weeks from Barefoot in the Park, they decided to put on his understudy and Tony Roberts got a two week gig as his understudy. Right before the two weeks began, the replacement was playing baseball in the Broadway show league and broke his leg! Tony went on for the full two weeks and when Redford left, he became the replacement! He also starred in How Now, Dow Jones (check out bluegobo.com for fab footage) and said that the show had a short run because Equity went on strike and when the strike was over, David Merrick decided to punish the cast by closing the show. It sort of gives you a comeback to say to those people who complain about the lack of Broadway shows with one producer. Tony was also one of the stars of "Annie Hall," which is one of my all time favorite movies. He has a great part, but said it could have been much bigger. When he shot the movie, he had a beard and when the shoot was over, he couldn't wait to shave it off. The next day Woody Allen called and said that he had all these new scenes he wanted to film with Tony. There was no time to wait for Tony's beard to grow back so the scenes were never filmed. How depressing is that? Don't they have fake beards in Hollywood? Insert closeted gay actor joke here.

Thursday I had Vicki Clark on the Chatterbox. You need to find a copy of her performance on The Tony Awards ASAP! She talked all about what it's like being on the Tonys. You do eight shows during the week, but you're also spending time at Radio City doing camera blocking. Morning of the Tonys, she had to wake up at 7 AM so she could rehearse again at Radio City in full costume. Then, out of her costume, went to the theatre to do the show back in costume again. Finished the matinee, got into her glam gown for the red carpet. Got to Radio city and put back on her costume again. When she was backstage she was reviewing the new speech Craig Lucas had written her to start the number. It set up who and where her character was. Well, as Adam Guettel was making his speech in front of the curtain accepting his Tony, literally seconds before she got onstage, a stagehand told her that her body mic wasn't working and handed a hand held mic that was twice the size of Bob Barker's. What about her handheld props? How could she carry a mic and her gloves, pocketbook and guidebook? She shoved them all into her other hand and went into a full anxiety attack/shut down. Kelli O'Hara must have noticed it across the stage, even though Radio City is the size of a football field, because Vicki heard Kelli yell "It'll be OK! Don't worry!" Well, that relaxed her enough to walk out onstage and start her newly memorized speech into her microphone while walking forward towards a moving camera and also looking at the stagehand to the side of the camera who was making enormous hand motions. She thinks he was telling her that her body mic was still broken. This went on til the last moment of the speech where he gave her a big "A-OK" sign and took the microphone away and she immediately started singing. You have to watch it to see her panicked walking, shifting eyes and last minute mic trade off. Terrifying/hilarious! Of course, the number sounded beautiful…and the hat trick at the end worked!

Finally, I went to see Xanadu Friday night with my boyfriend James and his daughter, Juli. Oh, wait! First a word about that! James' mother was reading my column down in Texas where she lives and called James and said she didn't think I should call him my "boyfriend" because it sounds a little immature. She prefers "lover." Oy. I tried it, but it's just too 1978/Jordache jeans/"Gee, your hair smells terrific" and flat out graphic for me. Anyhoo, we saw Xanadu for James' birthday and everyone loved it. Chris Ashley directed all the comic moments so cleanly and Doug Carter Beane filled the script with his usual comedy sass. Speaking of which, I ran into him outside the theatre and asked why he had the nerve not to want Julie White for the lead in Little Dog Laughed (as per her Tony acceptance speech). He said it was because the role was completely different when he wrote it. The character was blank-faced and incredibly cold. She came in to the audition with her high energy and warmth and was completely wrong, but he loved her comedy so much, he totally re-wrote the role for her. So, he said, she was amazing in the part but he still doesn't want her for the role the way it was originally written!

The Xanadu cast is so talented it's mind boggling. Comedy stars Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa have tons of great line readings and their version of "funking out" on "Evil Woman" is a big, fat brava. All the backup muses sing up a storm and the two leads are brilliant. Kerry Butler is so funny and sounds phenomenal. It takes so much skill to be comically imitating someone (Olivia Newton-John) while still giving full-out soprano yet belting up a storm. She has the nerve to do the "in" during "In Xanadu" in chest voice. I can't believe she sings eight a week, yet after the show she told "actually, this show is really vocally easy for me." Huh? It's every part of the female range!! So, what would be difficult for her to sing? Coalhouse Walker? And Cheyenne Jackson is perfect as Sonny. As usual, gorgeous and hilarious. And, like Kerry, vocally brilliant. After the show, I complemented his incredible flexible riffs and he said he added an extra one for me because he knew I was in the audience! Can that be considered a form of flirting? Let's just say yes.

OK, now it's Monday morning and I have to run to breakfast buffet. My mother just called me in a panic and said it closes in a half hour! Out of my way at the Waffle Bar!

(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.)

Kerry Butler and Cheyenne Jackson in <i>Xanadu</i>.
Kerry Butler and Cheyenne Jackson in Xanadu. Photo by Peter Lueders/Paul Kolnik Studio