ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Prepping for "Bunheads," and Celebrating Phantom's 25th on Broadway

By Seth Rudetsky
29 Jan 2013

Seth with Eden Espinosa
Photo by Robb Johnston
On my radio show "Seth Speaks" I had beltress Eden Espinosa as a guest. Her first solo CD just came out! I reminded her that every time I saw her backstage at Wicked, she was always in sweat pants watching "American Idol." She told us that she and Laura Bell Bundy were the standbys for the leads and they had to be within 10 blocks of the theatre while the show was on. So, they would both go to a nearby gym (hence the sweatpants) and then just hang out backstage afterwards (hence "American Idol"). Her CD is so great and you can get it at edenespinosa.com.

And I'm now obsessed with a video of Shoshanna Bean (another Elphaba) singing along with the CD while driving. The harmony is amazing as is the way Shoshanna is able to split her focus between high notes and making a complicated turn in traffic. And, speaking of Eden, she was my guest at this week's Playbill.com Obsessed!, where I made her perform the riff she added to "The Wizard and I" which was first busted by the powers-that-be (for changing the melody) but is now taught to new Elphabas. And, since she was cast as Fantine in the Les Miz revival a few years ago, I have her show how some extra high notes could have been added to "I Dreamed A Dream." Watch it here:


On Thursday, I had a Phantom of the Opera-themed Chatterbox. Sierra Boggess (the current Christine), George Lee Andrews (who was in the original company) and Howard McGillin all joined me. I, as usual, asked about mishaps and Howard (who's the played the role more than anyone) told me that something as innocuous as a cab going by with a similar radio frequency can wreak havoc with the electronics of the show. More than once, the boat the Phantom uses to take Christine to his underground lair has stopped working. If nothing is done, it will just sit in the middle of the stage. So, Howard said he's had to jump out of the boat and actually push it. Not only is it bizarre to see the Phantom pushing a boat across the stage while singing, but it's even more crazy that the Phantom is able to walk on water. Or is it?

Sierra Boggess at the Chatterbox
photo by Robb Johnston

George Lee Andrews talked about being cast as one of the opera managers two years into the run and yet continuing to understudy the other opera manager. He loved doing both roles (and he got a nice chunk o' change every time he went on for the other). George said that after a few years, Cameron Mackintosh wanted to fire him because actors never play a long-running role in England. Hal Prince really wanted to keep him (they first worked together in A Little Night Music when George was Frid the Butler and then played the lead of Frederick in the national tour). Finally, Hal figured out a way to solve the problem of George playing the same role for too long; after 11 years of George as Monsieur Firmin, he switched him to the other opera manager, Monsieur Andre! This time, however, George was told he wouldn't be understudying the other role. He estimates he lost around $30,000 in extra income each year! But he continued playing the role for another 11 years until last year. He and David Cryer got summoned to the general manager's office. George was very excited because he thought it was about the big Phantom of the Opera anniversary concert in London. He assumed they were going to do it like the Les Miz concert and have original cast members perform. They arrived at the office and George waited to be asked if he would go to England. Instead, they were told they were being fired! George said he was very upset…for an hour. Then he let it all go, enjoyed his final performances...and got cast in Evita three weeks later!