ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Cable Is a Harsh Mistress, Plus Betty Buckley and Ilene Kristen

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

Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley (Photo by Robb Johnston)

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Greetings from Soy, a delish little coffee place in the Village where James loves to come and write. I decided to join him so I'd have a nice place to write my column and because I love soy lattes, so I was excited to be at a place where I could just order a latte and not have to qualify that it's soy. When I got there, I walked up to the counter and ordered an iced latte with a smug smile. The woman behind the counter then asked me what kind of milk I wanted. What the — ?!? It's literally called Soy! What a misleading moniker. It reminds of a scene in the hilarious film "Girls Will Be Girls": Varla Jean Merman is doing a commercial for "Bizzy Gal Dinners," which are TV dinners that are quick to serve because they don't have to be heated up. They've been treated with "nutridation" which makes the food molecules feel hot in your mouth. After the commercial, there's a streaming list of side effects and qualifications, one of which is "not intended for human consumption." What the — ?!? Then why are you selling them as food? Watch

This week I interviewed Betty Buckley on my Sirius/XM "Seth Speaks" talk show. Betty's performing at Feinstein's in her show called Ah-men, where she sings Broadway songs made famous by men. I asked her about playing Abby Bradford on "Eight is Enough" and remembered that she screen-tested for the role but clanked the first time so she had to fly out again to re-test. The reason she had been brought in is because Brandon Tartikoff (who was working with Fred Silverman at ABC) saw the film " Carrie" and thought the character she played (Miss Collins the gym teacher) would be right as Abby Bradford. Speaking of Miss Collins, I asked Betty what it was like doing the big death scene in the movie. When Carrie is wreaking havoc on the prom guests, an enormous basketball backboard breaks off and slams into Miss Collins. Betty said that it was rigged so it would stop ri-i-i-i-i-ight before hitting her, but they had never actually tested it. So, in the film when she covers her head and looks completely terrified as the backboard flies towards her, she's not acting. Who needs sense memory when your actual life is being threatened? Watch the scene here. P.S. "Seth Speaks" repeats Monday nights from 7-9 and Tuesday mornings from 11 AM to 1 PM on Sirius/XM STARS 107.

Last year, when we moved back to the Upper West Side, James and I decided we had had it with paying tons of money for cable TV and decided to stick it to "the man" by not having cable installed our new place. We proudly had nothing to watch for a few weeks. So, yeah… We then decided that Tivo wasn't quite the same thing as cable, so we wouldn't feel guilty if we had that installed. Suddenly, we were able to watch Hulu Plus and stream movies from Netflix. Ah. Delish. Then the new season of "Project Runway" began and we discovered we couldn't watch it on Hulu Plus or Tivo without cable TV. We bravely soldiered on because we were making a point! Then…the new Rosie show began. I called my friend Paul Castree, who lives down the street, and begged him to let us watch it with him but he wasn't home at the time so we missed the first episode. That was it. We immediately had cable installed. Yes, we gave in. But, we didn't go back to where we started. No, this time it's much worse. Now, we're paying for Hulu Plus, Tivo and HBO and Showtime, which we never even had before. And, on the first day of our delicious return to cable we turned on the TV to watch the Rosie show to discover we didn't get OWN! So, now we have to pay one more cost to cover that. That's right, we stuck to our values for less than a year and although it feels terrible to have no backbone, now we don't have to wrack our brains every night, trying to make conversation. We can finally sit again in awkward silence watching TV.

Ilene Kristen
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

On Monday, I ran into Ilene Kristen while I was sitting with Andrea Brown (my former jazz dance teacher from Broadway Dance Center). Ilene is probably best known from her long running roles in "Ryan's Hope" and "One Life to Live," but she was also the original Patty Simcox in Grease. Ilene told us that she was also in Henry, Sweet Henry…when she was 15! Before it came to Broadway, it toured out of town and I didn't understand how she went without her parents. She told us that her mom said, "You've been to sleep-away camp. It'll be fine." I asked Ilene to tell me about Michael Bennett and her response was exactly like Priscilla Lopez's when asked the same question. They both said he was a genius and they also both brought up the fact that he wasn't necessarily attractive, yet all of their fellow females were in love with him. Here's the clip of Henry, Sweet Henry starring the late, great Alice Playten. Ilene is in the red coat in the front row when they start the dance step that always got applause. P.S., she's right next to Pia Zadora. We were all at the West Bank Cafe (because downstairs is the Laurie Beechman Theater) and Andrea and I had just seen Carole Demas' act called Summer Nights. Why that title? Because Carole was the first Sandy in Grease on Broadway. She did the song with Matthew Hydzik as Danny, and her sidekick from "The Magic Garden" ( Paula Janis) and Ilene Kristen as back-up girls. First of all, even though Grease was 40 years ago (!), Carole looks amazing. It's cra-za-zy. Secondly she sounded great. Such a pretty, girlish tone still! And she sang so much! What stamina! At one point in the act, she talked about The Baker's Wife. If you don't know, that's a musical by Stephen Schwartz that was major trouble for the cast and creative team and never actually made it to Broadway. There were lots of firings, including the original director and the original leading lady — Carole! She played the title role, Genevieve, and got to debut "Meadowlark," or as producer David Merrick called it, "That damned bird song." On Monday, she sang the entire song and I'm so glad she did because it was such a different rendition than I've heard before. There's a lyric about the blind meadowlark gaining her sight. Normally, I've never really taken in the fact that the lyric repeats ("…and her singing moved him so he came and brought her the gift of sight. He gave her sight!"). Carole added such wonder and joy to the repeated lyric "he gave her sight" that I'm now completely obsessed with her version of the song. Brava!

I took a break from doing my Playbill "Obsessed!" videos, but now I'm back. My return features the adorable Adam Pascal singing the role of Phantom via Memphis. Then I have him sing his big song from Chess with some re-written lyrics that I claim work better. Take a gander!

Tonight, I'm doing my show at Drexel University and starting on Thursday (through Sunday), I'll be in Pittsburgh at the City Theater. You can get info and sign up for my audition master class at www.SethRudetsky.com. I'm nervous about what people expect who come to see me at Drexel because the press release they sent out calls me "Broadway Star Seth Rudetsky." Literally "Star." Anybody? Decidedly nobody.

Let me end with a blast from the past: My sister Beth and I worked on a film in the mid-'80s that has reared its ugly head — or should I say it's pretty head? — above its partially clothed body. The film was called "Bad Girls Dormitory" and it featured ladies in a penitentiary wearing skimpy outfits and being harassed by the guards. Beth actually found a scene from it on youtube, and it's mind-bogglingly bizarre. It begins with an inmate hanging herself. And then one minute later there's an enormous dance party (!) where the ladies are shaking it to a song called "Hose Me Down" (!!!!!). Beth wrote the lyrics and was also the singer and I love how she uses her sexy studio voice. I can't tell if it's the worst best thing I've ever seen, or the best worst thing. Or just the worst thing ever. Enjoy? 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.)