The Audition Lesson Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Jackie Hoffman Learned the Hard Way

Seth Rudetsky   The Audition Lesson Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Jackie Hoffman Learned the Hard Way This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth celebrates the return to Broadway of Hoffman, plus Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.
Seth Rudetsky and Jackie Hoffman
Seth Rudetsky and Jackie Hoffman Maryann Lopinto

Hi from Chicago! I’m here for our third Concert For America: Stand Up, Sing Out! I’m in rehearsal all day and then do the show tonight. If you’re nearby, come see us at the Auditorium. If you can’t come and you’re anywhere in the world (with WiFi!), watch our live stream tonight. It starts at 8 PM Chicago time, which is 9 PM ET. Go to ConcertsForAmerica.com and see all of our stars sing up a storm. Chita Rivera! Alice Ripley! Ana Gasteyer! Melissa Manchester and SO many more!

That being said, my usual column today is full of some of my favorite moments from past columns. These are all featured in my collection of Playbill columns called Seth’s Broadway Diary Volumes One and Two. Click here to check it out and get a copy!

This one is a column excerpt in honor of Jackie Hoffman about to be back on Broadway in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
On Thursday I had lunch at delicious 44x10 with Bebe Neuwirth, Krysta Rodriguez, Carolee Carmello, and Jackie Hoffman, who are the four leading ladies from the The Addams Family musical. I'm writing a feature on them for the March Playbill, and we had a great/delicious time. If you've seen Jackie's Joe's Pub shows, you'd know that she's always complaining about not getting gigs. One of her biggest laments is about not even being able to get an audition for Fiddler on the Roof. Well, true to form, as soon as we sat down, she noticed that her bread plate was empty, and she quipped, “Look! It’s just like Broadway. I didn’t get a roll.” Brava on the double meaning. I bit into my delicious roll and asked her what the audition was like for the role of Grandma. She remembered that she looked at the scene and noticed there was a little salty language in it, so she figured she could do one of her original songs. The language in her act is more than a little salty, and this particular song is about her resenting being asked to do non-stop benefits. It begins with: “F*** you for asking me to do a show for free!” and then repeats that theme many times. When the song was over, she received a sea of blank faces… and no callback. However, that was for the initial workshop, and later on she was asked to go in again… this time for the Chicago-to-Broadway production. She had already been cast in the Doug Cohen/Douglas Carter Beane musical Big Time, which would mean that she’d have to choose between the two if she got the role of Grandma. She knew she couldn’t sing the same song she sang before (non-stop cursing = blank British faces), so she decided to sing one of her songs from Big Time because it was fabulous and always brought down the house. She told me that she “had the chutzpah” to call the composer and ask for a copy of the music… but not tell him she was using it to audition for a show that would prevent her doing his show! He got the sheet music to her, she auditioned and got Addams Family and subsequently chose to leave Big Time. Doug Cohen, the composer, called her a few days later and warily asked, “Jackie, did you use my song for your Addams Family audition?” Jackie admitted she did. She told me that she then literally heard a wail emanate from the phone. The good news is Big Time was postponed, so hopefully she can eventually do both shows! Speaking of Jackie in Addams Family, watch!

This is in honor of the soon-to-be opening of Anastasia on Broadway by Ahrens and Flaherty!
This week, I interviewed the great composing team of Flaherty and Ahrens. Lynn told us that she started in advertising in NYC. Since it was the ’70s, it was normal to bring a guitar to work and sing to yourself during lunch! Because people heard her lunchtime warbling, she was asked to do a gig writing songs for kids. The gig turned out to be the amazing Schoolhouse Rock series I grew up listening to! And, Lynn wrote some of my favorites… “Interplanet Janet,” “The Preamble,” “Interjections,” and “A Noun’s a Person, Place or Thing.” P.S. Not only did she write the lyrics, she also wrote the music, and she sang them! I’m obsessed with her ’70s folk voice. It’s so pretty and perfect for those songs. And she does the weird “wow girl” in the “Interjections.” Listen!

Now watch Varla Jean Merman parody the song about Nouns. This is HILARIOUS!

Stephen Flaherty and Lynn met at the BMI music program for composer/lyricists. They had both written music and lyrics, but their partnership segued into Lynn on lyrics and Stephen on music. I asked them how they decided to write the amazing Ragtime and, turns out, they auditioned for it! Garth Drabinsky, the David Merrick-esque Canadian producer, acquired the rights to the book and asked various composers to submit songs. He announced that he would choose the composers based on the submissions. Lynn and Stephen said they had 11 working days (!) to complete four songs, and yet they somehow wrote them… and recorded them! They booked the actors early on to do the recording sessions, and when the actor asked what he/she was singing, they would say they didn’t know because they hadn’t written it yet! Out of those four songs, there was just one that didn’t make it into the show (it was for Evelyn Nesbit). The other ones they wrote were “Gliding,” “New Music,” and “Ragtime”… in 11 working days. By the way, I’m curious what constitutes a “non-working” day to a composing team… Jerry Herman’s birthday?

Speaking of Ragtime, I was reminded of the story Marin Mazzie told me. At one point, the set changes from the entertainment hall with Evelyn Nesbit, who just sang “Crime of the Century,” to Mother’s house. Marin, who played Mother, would sing a little section of “Crime of the Century” off-stage for a few measures and then enter. Well, on opening night in Toronto, the set didn’t come on as planned and Marin panicked backstage. She said the first thing that came to her head. So the audience heard a beautiful off-stage voice singing, “Crime of the century, crime of the- SH*T!!!!!” Cut to the opening-night party: Marin was chatting with Lynn who said, “Marin! The show was so thrilling. Except some idiot off-stage yelled ‘sh*t’ into their microphone.” Marin simply tsk’d-tsk’d and shook her head.

Christiane Noll once sang their animated musical hit song, “Journey to the Past,” and Stephen brought up the fact that they were excited to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. However, they were shocked when a “little-known” song won instead of theirs. The obscure ditty was called “My Heart Will Go On.” It reminded me of when Rebecca Luker was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Show Boat. The good news was that in 1995, there was only one other nominee for Best Actress in a Musical. The bad news was that it was Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevardand she was also the host of the Tonys.

Speaking of Anastasia, watch this brilliant video with Liz Callaway (the singing voice in the film). Peace!