What Happened When Tommy Tune Held Barbra Streisand Too Tightly?

Seth Rudetsky   What Happened When Tommy Tune Held Barbra Streisand Too Tightly? This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth prepares to host the annual Gypsy of the Year competition for BC/EFA, and shares memories of Bette Midler and stories from the filming of Barbra Streisand’s Hello, Dolly!
Seth Rudetsky and Tommy Tune
Seth Rudetsky and Tommy Tune

This week is the Gypsy of the Year! It’s Monday and Tuesday at the New Amsterdam Theatre and I’m hosting again! Very, very excited to do it, especially because the opening number is going to feature the original three “Turkey Lurkey” featured dancers: Baayork Lee, Donna McKechnie, and Margo Sappington. If you don’t know my level of obsession, watch my deconstruction below and get tix at BroadwayCares.org.

I’m going to be doing a show with Gavin Creel December 12 at the Smith Center in Vegas and then December 15 at Nocca in New Orleans. After that, he’s going to be starring as Cornelius in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. I’m getting psyched for that revival and was remembering tidbits I know about the show:

The late, great Marcia Lewis was in the original run of the show and did it with Ethel Merman. She told me, “Merman taught me to plant it!” I love that comment and say it all the time. She meant Merman taught her that instead of meandering around, it’s more powerful to firmly stand in one place onstage while delivering a line or a song. Marcia also told me that, at one point, Betty Grable played Dolly. Betty’s singing voice was getting bad reviews and Marcia asked Betty if it bothered her. Betty, the famous pin-up girl, replied, “Marcia, I’m famous for two things and I’m standing on both of ‘em!”

Tommy Tune told me about filming Hello, Dolly! when he played Ambrose. During the scene where he elopes with Ermengarde, he had to climb up a ladder with Barbra Streisand climbing behind him. Before they shot the scene, director Gene Kelly told him, "Hold on to Barbra as tight as you can… do not let her fall!" Barbra arrived on the set dressed in her enormous period dress, hat, and gloves, Gene yelled “Action,” and they began ascending the ladder. Tommy had his hands gripped around Barbra as tight as he could and suddenly she began yelling. Uh-oh! Was she falling? He gripped even harder, and she suddenly screamed “Cut! CUT!” Turns out, he wasn't gripping her fingers, he was gripping her signature Streisand fingernails! Production stopped, and she was rushed to her trailer. She finally came back, and Tommy ran up to her and apologized and asked how her nails were.

“Are they OK? Are they ruined?”
She paused.
She spoke: “They're damaged.”

Speaking of Dolly, the lady playing her soon on Broadway came into SiriusXM a few years ago and I asked her about her Broadway history. Back in the ’60s, Bette Midler went to an open call for Fiddler on the Roof and got cast in the chorus, as well as the understudy for Tzeitel. Eventually she took over the role, played it for years and told me that she loves the musical itself and loved doing eight shows a week! As Dolly she won’t be doing all eight shows, but let’s all remember that she’s not the same age she was when she did Fiddler (21!). As a matter of fact, I asked her about her beautiful rendition of “Hello In There” from her first album (“Old people just grow lonesome waiting for someone to say ‘hello in there, hello.’”). She said she loves the song but now she’s the age of the people she’s singing about! Here she is singing it on one of her ’70s TV specials:

Bette told me that she loves when people give her songs: Sometimes it’s famous people like Michael Feinstein, who gave her “Stuff Like That There” or Marc Shaiman who gave her “From a Distance.” Sometimes fans give her songs, like the time in the ’70s, when she was leaving the Improv and someone said, “You know what you should sing? ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.’” She didn’t know the song so she went to the now-defunct Colony Records and got the music. And thus one of her hits was born! Here she is doing it on the Burt Bacharach TV special:

She also told me that one of her writers, Bruce Vilanch, would walk around backstage telling these hilarious jokes. She loved them and one day Bruce dared her to tell one of those jokes when she was performing at the Palace. Because he dared her, she did it. The audience went wild. As a matter of fact, she recalled that she had never heard a reaction like that! And thus her character of Soph was born. Here are some of her classics:

I started doing deconstructions again and just did one in honor of the new Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS ornament (available at the Playbill Store), which is Patti LuPone as Eva Peron on the balcony of the Casa Rosada in the full white dress. And if you turn it around, you see the bun!

Here’s my deconstruction of Patti’s first song from Evita. Boy, do I love this song!

One of my favorite stories about Evita was reenacted for me during an Obsessed episode by the woman it happened to: Nancy Opel, the original understudy! She is hilarious!

All right, everyone! I’m looking forward to Gypsy of the Year and don’t forget to visit BroadwayCares.org and Playbillstore.com for all your theatre-related gift giving needs!

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