ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Joan Rivers, Matthew Broderick, The Tony Awards

By Seth Rudetsky
11 Jun 2012

Seth with Matthew Broderick at "Seth Speaks"
Photo by Robb Johnston
On "Seth Speaks" I also interviewed Matthew Broderick and I asked if he still has the ability to talk to his fellow actors onstage without being picked up by his body mic. He first feigned that he didn't know what I was talking about, but I kindly reminded him of various moments I had seen or that Nathan Lane had told me about. One was during the first big scene between Nathan and Matthew in The Producers. Bialystock (Nathan) tells Bloom (Matthew) that there are two rules to being a producer: "Number one, never put your own money in the show." Bloom then asks, "And number two?," and Bialystock yells, "Never put your own money in the show!" Well, when the show first opened, that second line would bring down the house. Crazy laughs. By the second year, the audiences had stopped being so "inside" and the laughs dried up. Many bits were tried to make that joke land a laugh (including adding reverb to Nathan's mic), but it got crickets. And yet, Nathan still had to play it big and broad. Right before Nathan would yell the second line, Matthew would look at him and whisper, "Here we go," and wait for the joke to bomb. Matthew told me that he finds nothing funnier than someone onstage giving all they've got to get a laugh and then getting nothing in return. He needs to see some of my live performances.

In Nice Work If You Can Get It, he told me, he often won't run into Kelli O'Hara backstage, and the first time he'll see her is onstage. So, he'll give her a "Hello! How are you?" using his signature talking-so-that-the-audience-can't-hear-him style. And during their dance number, they'll speak to each other either complimenting themselves for nailing a step or telling each other that they messed up. Matthew and I also spoke about his love of Ethel Merman. When I was doing The Producers with him, he would listen to Merman recordings before he went on to get him in the Broadway mood. Back then, when I was working in the pit of The Producers, I would often ask him to add a little Merm to his performance — and he would do her signature brassy style during one section of "I Wanna Be a Producer."

Cut to: I went to see Nice Work If You Can Get It and texted him during intermission. I did a dramatic reading of our texts during the radio show. They were as follows:

ME: It's Seth! I'm in your audience and I demand to hear an Ethel Merman note like you used to do for me during The Producers.
MATTHEW: I usually do one in Act 1 and I didn't bother today...I'll try and find one in Act 2.

After the show, and a decided lack of Merman notes, I got another text.

MATTHEW: My integrity as an actor did not allow me to put Merman into Act 2. That's how dedicated to craft I am.