ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Caroline Rhea, Nick Jonas, Tony Sheldon and Maggie
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Let me start with fun stuff from this week: I went out to brunch on the Upper West Side this Sunday, and when I entered the Fairway cafe, I heard my name called. Turns out, Caroline Rhea was sitting down to brunch and called me over. We hadn't seen each other since her daughter was a baby. She immediately pulled up a photo on her phone, but told me not to make fun. She wasn't nervous that I'd make fun of her daughter, she was nervous I'd make fun of her cellphone. Wowza. It was such an old-school phone that I wound up being miffed I didn't see the cord that plugged it into the phone jack. She told me that she had lost the phone recently and when she went to get a new one the store told her she could have an upgrade — but she insisted on getting the one she'd always had. They went into shock because it pretty much looks like that same one the kids used when they sang "The Telephone Hour" in Bye Bye Birdie. She won't get an iPhone because she tried one once and told me that after she pushed one letter, out came a paragraph. She told me that "since she refuses to get lipo on her fingers," she's keeping this one. She then mentioned that she recently filmed Nathan Lane's new TV show. It featured her, Jackie Hoffman, Debra Monk, Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin.
At "Seth Speaks" (On SiriusXM Stars 107, Monday 7 PM-9 PM, Tuesdays 11 AM-1 PM), I interviewed Nick Jonas who's currently starring How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. First of all, hopefully nobody from Juli's school will listen because I picked her up for "an appointment" right before the taping and then dropped her back at school two hours later. I didn't keep it under wraps very well because I wound up letting Juli ask him a question during the interview. She asked him what the craziest thing a fan had ever asked him and he immediately remembered the time a fan approached him and asked him…to punch her! He refused. I, however, wonder if it was Lea Michele asking him to audition for the film version of Spring Awakening (Whipping scene? Anyone?) By the way, How to Succeed is not his Broadway debut; he did Beauty and the Beast, Annie Get Your Gun and Les Miz many years ago when he was just a little boy (AKA ten years ago). As a matter of fact, his Broadway gig is what made him a pop star. Every year Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS puts out a CD called "Carols For a Cure" which features different Broadway shows singing holiday songs. When he was 11 and doing Beauty and The Beast, "Carols for a Cure" featured a song he wrote. One of his neighbors showed the song to a record executive and that got Nick his first record deal when he was 13. I pointed out that at age 13, I was simply getting my bar mitzvah. But, on a side note, I'm sure my bar mitzvah performance had 80 percent more scooping and vibrato than his first two CDs combined. Liza with a Cha'i? And speaking of vibrato and pop music, Betty Buckley did an amazing Twitter rant about "American Idol"'s constant dishing of Broadway and vibrato. There is a myth that rock/pop singers don't use vibrato and it's a total lie. My favorite quote of Betty's is "Broadway is a place, not a style." Brava! Read what she wrote here.
Back to Nick: In the '90s, he was cast in a small role in Madison Square Garden's A Christmas Carol. He was also an understudy for Tiny Tim but it was assumed he'd never go on. Cut to: he had to go on and had no rehearsal. He knew his part but when the lights hit him, he got so nervous that he didn't sing for around 16 bars of music. That day, he told us that he made a solemn vow to never to be nervous again. He was 7. Really? When I was 7, I vowed never to pee in my pants again. The vow lasted two days.
P.S., I busted him because I watched the Les Miz 25th anniversary video and he relentlessly hauls out a not-since-Madonna British accent! Nick revealed that he was told to sing in a British accent! Even though the show takes place in France. And he's from New Jersey. Get more about "Seth Speaks" by joining its Facebook page.
I was back at Seth's Broadway Chatterbox this week with all three male leads from Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Tony Sheldon (Tony-nominated for playing Bernadette) grew up in Australia with a super-famous musical theatre star mother, Toni Lamond. Here's one of her youtube videos. Add to his pedigree…his aunt is Helen Reddy! I asked him about a role we both played: Arnold in Torch Song Trilogy. He did his in Australia and he said that the ad campaign featured a picture of him in drag and underneath it said, "Meet Arnold. You may have more in common with him than you think." And…the show tanked. Then another producer came along, moved it to another city and the ad campaign featured no drag and instead featured other cast members like Laurel (the pretty girl dating Arnold's boyfriend) and Arnold's mother. He said the ad had something written on it like, "Aren't families wacky!?!" Cut to: it ran for two years!
I asked him what his most mortifying audition was, and he remembered auditioning for some pop musical in Australia being directed by Tom O'Horgan (Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar). Tony researched the Beatles and decided to do "With a Little Help From My Friends." He got to the theatre and saw that the pianist was in the pit. He bent down to give him the music, but the guy was so far into the pit that Tony had to literally lie on his stomach on the stage and then reach his hand all the way forward. So, he laid down, handed him the music and stood back up again. The vamp began, he sang, "What would you do if I sang — " and suddenly heard "THANK YOU!"
Literally one measure! Tony wanted to flee but instead he had to get his music. Meaning he had to lie down again, reach his hand out, get his music and then flee. And flee he did. He's hoping to stay here in America. Brava!
Jack Plotnick and I made a video featuring songs/scenes from our musical, Disaster!, and you must watch it to hear Clark Oliver sing. He plays the 11-year-old twins, Ben and Lisa and his voice is amazing.
My young-adult novel "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan" is continuing to get notices. This phenomenal review just came out (which I was "forced" to read because someone posted it on my Facebook wall.) Also, my Broadway pals are Tweeting pics of themselves reading the book. So cool!
This wound up being a great week after a very difficult three weeks. My lab/mix doggie, Maggie, was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of rehearsal for Disaster! I didn't write about what was going on because it was so upsetting. She had been having issues for a few weeks and on Wednesday Jan. 18, the vet finally told me it was probably lymphoma. She had a tumor in her intestines that he could feel just from touching her tummy. We waited for the official lab results while Disaster! opened, and on Monday we took her for her first chemo. James was supposed to come with me to Houston (his hometown) last week for the theatre festival, but someone had to stay with Maggie to monitor her. While I was down there, he called and told me that she'd lost more weight and was totally lethargic and it was horrific because I kept expecting him to call me to tell me that she had died or that there was no hope. Well, it must have been a chemo side effect, because her energy came back on Sunday and when we took her for second chemo, the doctor said that he couldn't feel the tumor anymore! But, right after writing this, I just heard from him and he can feel the tumor again. We're taking her for a second opinion, to a vet that Andrea McArdle swears by and hoping for the best. She's an old doggie (14!) but she's always been in good health, and more importantly, has always been a good girl. As Lorrell says in Dreamgirls, this business sure has a lot of ups and downs!
This Saturday, Feb. 11, I'm in Palm Springs playing for Megan Mullally at the Desert AIDS benefit and then taking a crazily early flight on Sunday to make it back to do Disaster! We have only two more shows this month Get tix at www.DisasterMusical.com. And…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.)
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