ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: In Praise of Stephanie J. Block, Kissing Chris Meloni, Meeting R.L. Stine

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21 Nov 2011

Stephanie J. Block in <i>Anything Goes</i>.
Stephanie J. Block in Anything Goes.
Photo by Joan Marcus

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


Stephanie J. Block is crazily talented. And brave. James and I went to see the Sunday matinee of Anything Goes and she was faboo. If you don't know, Sutton Foster has taken off a few weeks to film a new TV pilot ("Bunheads") and Stephanie has taken over the role of Reno Sweeney (through Nov. 23). Stephanie had gone in for a meeting a while ago when they were looking for a replacement for sometime in the far future. Kathleen Marshall knew she could act/belt it, but wanted to know if she could dance it. She taught Stephanie some sections from the show and then gave her the thumbs up. Stephanie heard from her agent and assumed they were going to offer her something for 2012 or '13. Instead, they asked if she could learn the show in a week. What the — ? She was in the middle of doing a reading of a new musical with Sting (natch) and she had a solo concert to do in the Midwest. They worked around her schedule and she began sporadic rehearsals. All in all, she had 23 hours of actual rehearsal and then took over. The title song in Anything Goes in this revival is so freaking long, and yet I was amazed she was not at all winded for the last section of singing. And when she slid up to the belted D at the end of it, I literally started crying because it was so good. Brava!!!

On to SiriusXM radio.This week I had R.L. Stine on "Seth Speaks," and the show will air again Monday Nov. 21 from 7-9 PM and Tuesday morn from 11 AM-1 PM on Stars 107. For those of you without kids, R.L. Stine as in the author of the "Goosebumps" series. First of all, you may wonder how I know him. Well, I do a comedy bit in my Deconstructing Broadway show where I talk about my precious, precious subscription to Dynamite magazine I had back in the late '70s. For those of you pretending to be under 30, Dynamite was a magazine you could order through Scholastic. It was like People magazine for kids. They had stories on all the hottest stars of the day; JJ Walker, Lee Majors, Melissa Gilbert, Beth Howland (yes). When I was 11, I had a pen pal from Dynamite named Debbie who lived in Downingtown, PA. After she wrote me, I had a typical thought for an 11-year-old boy: "Why should I write her back a plain ol' letter, when instead I can make her a 45-minute tape of myself playing the piano and singing!"

R.L. Stine

In my comedy act, I play the tape, which included my audition song ("Tomorrow") and it becomes obvious to the audience why my childhood was not filled with theatrical roles. Anyhoo, after I did my bit at the New York Civil Liberties Union benefit, R.L. Stine and his wife, Jane, approached me and they proudly told me that Jane created Dynamite! It was so cool to meet her and then R.L. told me that he created Bananas. Ouch. Bananas was the magazine you were supposed to graduate to after you turned 14, but I refused to relinquish my Dynamite subscription, even after my body's maturation. As a matter of fact, my friend Anne visited me while we were in high school and she saw a copy of Dynamite sitting out with a telltale address label on it. She confronted me and I told her it was a way old issue. Meanwhile, the cover completely gave me away because it had something like "The Current Cast of 'Friends.'" I was mortified. Regardless, I invited R.L. to my radio show. (He goes by "Bob.") Before the whole "Goosebumps" series, he was a writer of jokebooks and went by the name "Jovial Bob Stine." His publisher took him to lunch one day and said, "I think you could write a really scary book for kids." Bob agreed but thought "Jovial Bob Stine" wasn't that scary of a name so he decided to change it for the new series. Also, he said that everyone in publishing knew boys "didn't read." Obviously, that's an exaggeration (I read "Carrie" in sixth grade…still terrified) but it was what the book world believed. So, he decided to take a name that could possibly be a woman's name. He decided to use his initials because of the female author of "The Outsiders," S.E. Hinton. B.D. Wong was already taken so he settled on R.L. Stine. I asked him how he writes and he said he comes up with the title first. Then he figures out what the story can be about, based on that title. And then he figures out the ending so he knows how he'll trick the reader. He started being a writer of scary books with the "Fear Street" series for teens and then decided to write a series for younger kids. Thus, "Goosebumps" was born. And also, from what I've read, a mind-boggling bank account. For three years in the 1990s he was the best-selling author in America! Not just children's-book author, but any type of book. He told me that at one point, he was selling four million books per month!

Speaking of which, that's the amount of copies of "Broadway Nights" I'm aiming to sell. Yes, I've finally added a link to my website where you can get copies of the new edition (the one with the Audra McDonald intro) and I'll autograph it. Get thee to http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/books/ and make me change my name to S.D. Rudetsky.


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