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

By Seth Rudetsky
November 21, 2011

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



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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.

Brad Oscar
Last week began with a big Broadway benefit at the Shubert Theater for Only Make Believe (OnlyMakeBelieve.org). That's the organization founded by Dena Hammerstein that brings theatre to chronically ill children in hospitals. Or as they say in Europe, "in hospital." Brad Oscar has done a lot of the events and his partner (soon-to-be husband) Diego Prieto was so moved by the video showing what the actors do in the hospital, he joined the Only Make Believe acting troupe and now performs in all of the New York City hospitals! Brava! Before the event, I tweeted that I was excited for the benefit and hoping for a make-out session with cute, cute, cute Chris Meloni (who was making an appearance). I was completely joking, but of course held out a tiny shred of hope. Who wouldn't? Cut to: I saw him backstage and not only did we not make out, he walked by me not with a "we're both performers in a benefit" pleasant face but with a blank "I didn't know they let non-theatre people backstage" face. Fine. I accepted it. We wouldn't be making out. And I foolishly also assumed he wouldn't be making out with anybody. Well, you know what they say. "When you assume, etc." Before I went on, I saw him stage left with one of the clowns who was slated to perform. The clown was dressed as a middle-aged lady, and Chris, un-prompted, said, "It would be really funny if we went onstage together and I kissed you! He told the clown that he would dip him and kiss him first, , then they should pause, and then the middle-aged lady male clown should dip Chris and kiss him. Then they proceeded to practice the bit in front of me! I felt like Eponine when she's forced to watch Marius and Cosette make out. And she at least won a Tony.

The video about Andrea Martin's upcoming appearance in Provincetown came out, and it's great. I love the fact that Edith Prickley is in A.A. And Juli's appearance is especially hilarious. Watch! 

On Sunday, I did a fundraiser at the home of Douglas Carter Beane and his partner Lewis Flinn. Even though they're dealing with rewrites for their new Broadway musical, Lysistrata Jones (Doug wrote book and Lewis wrote music and lyrics), they used their night off to host a fundraiser for Music For Autism. Families with autistic kids usually can't go to musicals or concerts because the kids' behavior can be too distracting to the other audience members or because they can't afford the ticket price. Music for autism provides fully- funded concerts where the artist is paid and admission is free! It allows families and those with autism to enjoy music and not worry that their behavior is going to ruin it for everyone else. It's a great idea and letters were read from parents with autistic kids and they talked about how much the kids loved the concerts and what a difference it made for their families. For more info go to MusicForAutism.org. Doug asked his former Xanadu star Kerry Butler to sing, and she asked me to play. It was in Doug and Lewis' apartment, which was crammed with people, so Doug suggested that Kerry stand on the coffee table in order for people to see her better. He then told everybody that it's the same coffee table his very young children would stand on when they would do their own version of Xanadu, and both his daughter and son would fight over who got to play Kerry's part. I completely identify.

Andrew Samonsky and Mary Testa in Queen of the Mist.
photo by Carol Rosegg

On Thursday, James and I trekked downtown to see Michael John LaChiusa's Queen of the Mist produced by the Transport Group and directed by Jack Cummings III. I love hearing about history I should know but totally don't. Who knew a woman was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and live? Mary Testa gives a bravura performance as Annie Edson Taylor. I told her I was mystified that her voice could survive so much barely-amplified singing. She gave the answer that so many people do: the show was written specifically for her so all the songs are in her keys and feature what she can do. That's the same thing Mandy Gonzales and Montego Glover told me. Hmm…if a role was written for what I do best, it would feature someone who continually shows up late, mutters sassy asides and alienates authority figures.

The whole show has amazing voices and, of course, Julia Murney adds an extra amazing note to the end of her song. Belt it! Jack Cummings is not only a good director but he is so funny in real life. I wrote on my Facebook that I was looking for a web designer and people were posting suggestions. Well, before [title of show] became successful, Jeff Bowen (who wrote the score) used to design websites. So, a Facebook friend named Edward recommended him to me as a designer, not knowing Jeff doesn't do it anymore. Jack obviously saw the recommendation and thought it was so random and not possible that he suggested his own totally inappropriate web designer, but also phrased it with the exact same amount of syllables so the joke landed deliciously. Here's are the lines in succession:

SETH: Does any know someone who can take over my website?
EDWARD: What about Jeff Bowen?
JACK: What about Jan Maxwell?

I cannot tell you how many times over the last week I've laughed because of that. Completely obsessed. Speaking of which, I've always wanted to be in the approval matrix at the back of New York magazine. It's an actual matrix about pop culture with "Highbrow" and "Lowbrow" and then "Brilliant" and "Despicable." Someone can be Highbrow Brilliant or Highbrow Despicable or Lowbrow Brilliant or Lowbrow Despicable. The Broadway medley I did with Sarah Silverman made it into Lowbrow Brilliant. I still got it…ish. Here it is!

And finally, Happy Thanksgiving!

(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.)