ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Audra McDonald's Bad Hair Day, Frances Ruffelle's Solo Show and Molly Ringwald as an Annie Orphan

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20 May 2013

Seth with Audra McDonald and Mark Cortale
Seth with Audra McDonald and Mark Cortale
Photo by Brian Johnston

A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.


Unbroken Circle starts previews on May 29th. So exciting/terrifying. The play was inspired by a photo James had always seen as a child. It's his mother's grandmother at age 12 with her family; she's staring straight ahead with a blank, wide-eyed stare. He was always haunted by her face. He later found out she had been sexually abused by her stepfather during that period and it eventually led to her giving birth to three sons…including James' grandfather. James just had Greg Roderick edit a fantastic video that shows the original photo of James' great-grandma from 1912. In the video, James shows pics of his family and talks about how the play evolved. Watch it here...so cool!

I am writing this watching Juli (age 12) have a private gymnastics lesson with former Billy Elliot star Giuseppe Bausilio (age 15). I've never felt older and less stretched out. I flew in this morning from New Orleans. My cab picked me up at 5 AM, and I went to bed at 1 AM the night before. Luckily, I was able to sleep on the plane. Of course, as soon as my head would fall forward, I'd wake up. So I was able to sleep for two hours, broken down into five-minute increments.

I was in New Orleans doing two shows with Audra McDonald as part of my Broadway Series at Nocca (produced by Mark Cortale). Audra and I had a great time and she sounded beautiful, despite having just done a concert the night before in Baton Rouge and having sung in a huge gala at Lincoln Center the week before. The gala was filmed for PBS and Audra told the New Orleans audience they had to watch it if only to see her crazy hair. She had decided to do that concert without an intermission, which backfired on her 'do. Not having a break meant she had no time to go backstage and touch up her hair which was having major issues because it was so hot onstage. She told everyone that her hair both fell and rose: "That's right. The straight hair fell…and the 'nap' rose."

McDonald in A Raisin in The Sun
photo by Joan Marcus

Audra told some great stories about doing A Raisin in The Sun. First of all, this was the production that she starred in with Sean Combs AKA Puff Daddy AKA P. Diddy or, as Patti LuPone would say, "Are you off to rehearse with Cheese Doodle?" Turns out, Sean is an incredibly hard worker and would rehearse all day and then rehearse at night. Would he rent a rehearsal studio, you ask? No. He'd rehearse on the set. What set, you ask? The set he had built in his apartment! That's right, he had it entirely replicated so he'd be able to rehearse the play whenever he wanted! Speaking of performance, Audra said that there were always a few women in the audience who would sit in the front row, certain that they'd be going home with him after the show. There'd be non-stop stretching, leg crossing, leaning forward and boob adjusting throughout the show.

But at least those ladies would stay mostly silent because during that run, one never knew how verbal the audience would be. Very often, Audra would hear someone in the audience say full voice, "Oh, man! You lost the money?" The worst was at the end of the show one night...Spoiler alert! (Is it considered a spoiler if the show is 60 years old?) Anyhoo, there's a beautiful moment when Phylicia Rashad's character is finally moving out of the cramped apartment she's shared with her family. She walks to the door and suddenly stops. Then she turns around and sees the plant that's been there the whole show. It's barely alive because of the lack of sunlight in the apartment but it's continued to survive—a metaphor for that family. She walks back from the door, picks it up and leaves. Well, one night Phylicia looked around her apartment and walked to the door. Before she even had a chance to turn around, someone yelled out, "Don't forget your plant!"


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