ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: David Garrison to the Rescue, Plus Megan Hilty Is a Smash

By Seth Rudetsky
30 Apr 2012

Seth and Megan Hilty

Will Swenson is also featured in the book. I had him as my co-host on SiriusXM because Christine Pedi was out of town. I asked him about onstage injuries and he told me that when he was playing Berger in Hair, he severely hurt his ankle because he did an extra high jump for fun during one performance. Apparently, no one in the cast was surprised because he was constantly causing injuries or near-injuries with his hijinx/hyperactivity. Case in point: almost breaking Sasha Allen's nose one night when he did a sassy turn. The cast got so used to the carnage he wrought that they made up a phrase for it: "Getting Bergered." As in, QUESTION: Why is your arm in a sling? ANSWER: I got Bergered during "Aquarius." Look at the side photo of us at SiriusXM — Will brought his kids with him and it appears the his oldest is "Getting Bergered" by Will's jazz hand.

At Seth's Broadway Chatterbox (Thursdays at 6 PM at Don't Tell Mama) I had David Garrison as a guest. He's currently starring as Dr. Lecter in Silence: The Musical (The parody of "Silence of the Lambs"). Last week I wrote that On Your Toes was the show that made Melissa Errico want to perform on Broadway. For David, it was seeing Hello Dolly! No, it wasn't the fact that he and Carol Channing had the same vocal range. Instead, what sold him was seeing the train onstage for "Put on Your Sunday Clothes." Right after college, he got cast at Arena Stage in Washington, and then the first American production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with the amazing David Carroll as Joseph. David Garrison, however, was Camel Number 2. Regardless, he wound up getting cast in the "Milliken Breakfast Show," which was a yearly event for retail store buyers and other textile industry professionals where the best of Broadway would put on 13 performances of a full musical to promote the Milliken product (which were mainly polyester clothes). And I mean, the best of Broadway! I was looking online and the 1978 show starred Ann Miller, Phyllis Diller, Donna McKechnie, Chita Rivera, Cyd Charisse Dorothy Loudon and more. They also had "Millikiddies" — which were a group of talented young people (Jane Krakowski) or, if need be, short people (Baayork Lee). Directed by the best (for instance, Michael Bennett), written by the best (Burt Shevelove) and using a full orchestra, they were major extravaganzas. David starred in one and was recommended to Tommy Tune to play Groucho Marx in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. He told me that he's very last-minute at preparing for auditions, and the night before he finally started practicing and then went to his neighbor's apartment at 2 AM to see if she thought he was good. I asked him how he knew she would be awake and he said, "She wasn't."

David Garrison
photo by Robb Johnston

He got the show and I loved it so much that I saw it twice when I was a kid. Obsessed! If you don't know, Act One takes place at Grauman's Chinese Theater and the whole cast play ushers. Act Two is a full-out Marx Brothers movie/musical, which is hilarious. I wrote a few weeks ago how Priscilla Lopez once forgot the lyrics to her big song in Act One because she had taken a one-week vacation. David, however, had an even bigger gap from doing the show. After he left the production, he got a call one day while at rehearsal with Priscilla for (the ill-fated) Gallery by Ed Kleban. The guy who had replaced David in Hollywood/Ukraine) was sick and the understudy hadn't shown up! They still had David's costumes and asked him to please, please, please go on for the matinee. David told them that there was no way he could do the show because it had been three months! Then…Priscilla Lopez dared him. That was all it took. He left rehearsal, went to the theatre and they made an announcement to the audience telling them what was going on. The opening number featured the cast singing "Just Go to the Movies" and walking in and out of the doors of Grauman's Chinese Theater. David walked onstage, got entrance applause…. and immediately turned the wrong way and crashed into someone. Still it went well. Every time he was offstage, he was able to review the next section of the show with the dance captain, Albert Stephenson (now John Kander's partner). Then came intermission. All the Groucho lines in Act Two come fast and furious. David was in his dressing room getting his mustache on and running lines. The problem was, he would remember the first three…and would then draw a complete blank. He was in a panic and told everyone he flat out couldn't do it and wouldn't go on. They told him it would be fine. (Huh? Based on what?) Well, apparently they were psychics, because David told us that even though he didn't remember the show when sitting in his dressing room, as soon as he got onstage and started doing the blocking his body remembered it and the lines came out. Terrifying but amazing!

His next big gig was taking over the lead in Torch Song Trilogy. He had the "fun" task of taking over the leading role the day after the show won the Tony Award for Best Play and the day after Harvey Fierstein won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play! David was terrified. The day he had to go on, he was in the lobby and heard a woman arguing with the box office. "What do you mean Harvey's not in the show anymore? He just won the Tony!" Then Harvey happened to enter the lobby and the woman accosted him. "I came up for Florida to see you in this show and now you're not in it!" He explained that he had to leave to go to Boston because he was writing La Cage Aux Folles. Then Harvey told her that an excellent actor would taking over named David Garrison. And…there he was, sitting in the lobby! Harvey pointed at him, the woman squinted, then said full volume, "I don't know him!"

OK, this week I see Nice Work If You Can Get It and frantically try to finish my sequel to "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan." Due June 1! And finish casting my upcoming benefit on June 18. So far I have Chris Jackson, Melissa Errico and Mandy Gonzales singing songs from roles they played in high school. Perhaps you'll hear my "Sorry/Grateful" from Company and therefore won't need an Ambien for the night. Get tix here. And on that note, peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)