ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Ringing in 2014 With Anika Larsen, Julia Murney and Christine Ebersole

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06 Jan 2014

Jennifer Simard
Jennifer Simard

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


Happy 2014! So many fun things happened this week! On New Year's Eve, we had a Disaster! performance where we added a two special events. First we had a drawing during intermission for the audience where they received prizes like posters, t-shirts or free tickets to the show. The audience was so crazily into it that we're now doing it during every intermission! Apparently, people love giveaways.

Part Two: We wanted to do a special encore to celebrate the New Year, so after the bows I brought forward Jennifer Simard, who plays the guitar-strumming, gambling-addicted Sister Mary. Not only was Jennifer just chosen by Playbill's Andrew Gans as one of his top "divas" of 2013 (alongside ladies like Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone), but when critic David Noh chose Disaster! as one of the best shows of 2013, he also wrote that Jennifer Simard gave "the single funniest performance" he saw this year. Yay! Anyhoo, I've been friends with Jen since the early '90's and coached her a lot. Weirdly enough, the song that people have been asking us to add to Disaster! was also her audition song back in the day. Yes, in the mid-90's, she used to belt out a sassy version of "The Morning After," the theme song from The Poseidon Adventure.

I also wanted to do something special with Mary Birdsong because it was her final performance as Jackie. So, I had Jen begin the song and then halfway through had Mary come out doing her signature Judy Garland impression (which she did amazingly in Martin Short's Fame Becomes Me). I videotaped it and the two things to watch are how Jennifer begins the same way Sister Mary begins singing in Disaster! — basically inaudible (as Gans said in his column). Then by the end she hauls out a crazily high-belted A flat. (Sister Mary actually winds up belting a high A in "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" but I thought Jen should take it easy during the encore.) The other thing to watch is how "in the moment" Mary is. At one point she sings about reaching out our hands, and she happened to notice a prop that was still lying on stage from the beginning of Act Two — a severed hand. Watch what she does with it

Right after the show, James, Juli and I got over to 10th Avenue and took a cab because the cops were letting people into the subway one by one. We got back to our place and had a New Year's Eve party for the cast and friends. So fun! Anika Larsen came by right before midnight and we all gabbed until 3 AM. She told us about her crazy medical experience that happened while she was in rehearsals for Beautiful (she plays Cynthia Weil). She had stomach pains for a while and finally, after feeling a lump (!) decided to go the hospital. But, being a cheapskate actor, she didn't want to spend money on a cab so she walked. It was only around eight blocks from her house, but when she got there, she was exhausted and in a lot of pain. Because she wasn't bleeding or missing a limb, the admitting nurse was going to make her wait a long time to see a doctor. And that's when Anika fainted.

Suddenly, she was on a gurney, mask over her face, etc. She was in so much pain, and they made her drink her a gross-tasting liquid so they could see what was going on inside her. Of course, all she wanted to do throw it up, but she knew if she did, they'd have to start the whole process over again. Finally, they told her what was wrong. She had been born with a twisted colon, and it finally turned so much that it was completely blocked! She had to have surgery and was told that if she had waited five more hours, she would have died! She's so thankful she walked there because that's what made her faint and get seen right away. And she's been on so many cruises with me, and if this had happened at sea she probably couldn't have gotten to shore in time and it could have been fatal. YOWTCH!

Of course, she wanted to tell her family, but she couldn't get reception on her cell phone in the hospital. The nurses would tell her they were going to get her a land line and then never come back. Finally, she got a phone call out, and everyone in her family showed up right before surgery. Anika had written me an email detailing what happened, and I'm going to copy and paste it because I love the way she writes:

When they were wheeling me off into the operating room, my mom and sisters were there, and my dad had just arrived in time to wave goodbye, and he and my mom and I are all crying, and my dad puts his arm around my mom and I haven't seen that in 20 years, and I think, "Stop crying, say something funny. You may not come out the other side on this one, Larsen, what are your last words gonna have been?" And I said, "Hey, guys, when this is over, I'll have a semi-colon." Not bad under pressure (and morphine). And that is why I will now be signing my name, An;ka


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