ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: David Garrison to the Rescue, Plus Megan Hilty Is a Smash
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
I'm back in NYC after a whirlwind tour of Cleveland. And by "tour," I mean one performance at PlayhouseSquare. Next up is Chicago and then Wilmington with Andrea Martin's hilarious show (tickets here). This week, I had a jam-packed "Seth Speaks" at SiriusXM and it was delish. First I had Andre De Shields as a guest, and I told him that I was obsessed with Ain't Misbehavin' when I was a kid. He talked about when it first opened in Manhattan Theatre Club's 1970s location, which was all the way on the East Side. He didn't know if it was going to be a big hit or just play out its initial run, until one performance when he noticed someone in the audience. He told us her name with a five second pause between each segment: "In the audience was…Jacqueline… Bouvier….Kennedy…Onassis." That was the first clue that they were going to be a mega-hit, then he noticed big-time Broadway producer Gerry Schoenfeld and then Manny Azenberg. It finally transferred to Broadway, where this little five-person show won the Tony Award for Best Musical! And it won over giant shows like On the Twentieth Century. What a coup! I did a deconstruction of some of my fave moments. Within the video I recreate a clear memory I have of being in sixth grade and loving Nell Carter's voice and trying to get somebody, anybody in my small Long Island neighborhood on board with me. This was before the internet, so there was no way to find other people who loved things like amazing placement in the mask and straight tone to vibrato. I was therefore consigned to forcing my friends to listen to various songs and hoping they'd connect. One afternoon in sixth grade, I called my friend Michael Smith, put the phone receiver next to the record player speaker and played him the end of "Cash For Your Trash." After it played, I started yelling into the phone, "She just belted an E! She just belted an E!" The silence I heard on the other end conveyed, "I don't know what belting is, I don't know what an 'E' is, I'm 11, what's happening!?"
Andre's first big break was in The Wiz and before it opened they kept asking him to audition for either the Lion, the Scarecrow or the Tin Man, but he told them he only wanted to play the Wizard. He got the gig and had an amazing entrance where he walked down a giant staircase in crazy, enormous heels. He learned how to do it without falling down because the director Geoffrey Holder gave him specific instructions that involved rolling your foot forward to feel the edge of the step. Who did Geoffrey learn it from? The glamorous Lena Horne! And so it is passed down.
Speaking of glamour, Juli won a free makeover at The Body Shop on Saturday. We don't let her wear makeup (except lipstick when she see Broadway shows) but we allowed her to get a full face of makeup for fun. Look at the picture on the side and tell me if you're surprised that her favorite TV show is "RuPaul's Drag Race." Seriously!
I also had the lovely Megan Hilty on my radio show and she revealed that she got "Smash" after one audition! She wasn't even going to go in because the description of the role specifically stated that Ivy is an amazing dancer and Megan simply "moves well" as we say in the euphemism business. But her agent convinced her to go and she did her audition on tape. Usually, after an initial TV audition, you're called in at least one more time and then one final time for the network executives. Instead, Megan got a phone call asking her how tall she was. She wanted to know why and her agent told her it's because Steven Spielberg likes to know how tall someone is when he's watching their tape. Megan told her agent her height and then drank coffee at Starbucks while obsessively thinking "Steven Spielberg is watching me right now." This was the beginning of pilot season and Megan was prepared to deal with tons of headachey auditions as well as the call backs and rejections and instead she was told by her agent not to try out for any more shows because she was going to get Smash. I reiterate: after one audition!
At my show, she sang a song from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which she's about to do at Encores!, and she sounded great! She also sounds great on my audio book (it just came out last week). Here's the link to the audio book.
Will Swenson is also featured in the book. I had him as my co-host on SiriusXM because Christine Pedi was out of town. I asked him about onstage injuries and he told me that when he was playing Berger in Hair, he severely hurt his ankle because he did an extra high jump for fun during one performance. Apparently, no one in the cast was surprised because he was constantly causing injuries or near-injuries with his hijinx/hyperactivity. Case in point: almost breaking Sasha Allen's nose one night when he did a sassy turn. The cast got so used to the carnage he wrought that they made up a phrase for it: "Getting Bergered." As in, QUESTION: Why is your arm in a sling? ANSWER: I got Bergered during "Aquarius." Look at the side photo of us at SiriusXM — Will brought his kids with him and it appears the his oldest is "Getting Bergered" by Will's jazz hand.
At Seth's Broadway Chatterbox (Thursdays at 6 PM at Don't Tell Mama) I had David Garrison as a guest. He's currently starring as Dr. Lecter in Silence: The Musical (The parody of "Silence of the Lambs"). Last week I wrote that On Your Toes was the show that made Melissa Errico want to perform on Broadway. For David, it was seeing Hello Dolly! No, it wasn't the fact that he and Carol Channing had the same vocal range. Instead, what sold him was seeing the train onstage for "Put on Your Sunday Clothes." Right after college, he got cast at Arena Stage in Washington, and then the first American production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with the amazing David Carroll as Joseph. David Garrison, however, was Camel Number 2. Regardless, he wound up getting cast in the "Milliken Breakfast Show," which was a yearly event for retail store buyers and other textile industry professionals where the best of Broadway would put on 13 performances of a full musical to promote the Milliken product (which were mainly polyester clothes). And I mean, the best of Broadway! I was looking online and the 1978 show starred Ann Miller, Phyllis Diller, Donna McKechnie, Chita Rivera, Cyd Charisse Dorothy Loudon and more. They also had "Millikiddies" — which were a group of talented young people (Jane Krakowski) or, if need be, short people (Baayork Lee). Directed by the best (for instance, Michael Bennett), written by the best (Burt Shevelove) and using a full orchestra, they were major extravaganzas. David starred in one and was recommended to Tommy Tune to play Groucho Marx in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. He told me that he's very last-minute at preparing for auditions, and the night before he finally started practicing and then went to his neighbor's apartment at 2 AM to see if she thought he was good. I asked him how he knew she would be awake and he said, "She wasn't."
He got the show and I loved it so much that I saw it twice when I was a kid. Obsessed! If you don't know, Act One takes place at Grauman's Chinese Theater and the whole cast play ushers. Act Two is a full-out Marx Brothers movie/musical, which is hilarious. I wrote a few weeks ago how Priscilla Lopez once forgot the lyrics to her big song in Act One because she had taken a one-week vacation. David, however, had an even bigger gap from doing the show. After he left the production, he got a call one day while at rehearsal with Priscilla for (the ill-fated) Gallery by Ed Kleban. The guy who had replaced David in Hollywood/Ukraine) was sick and the understudy hadn't shown up! They still had David's costumes and asked him to please, please, please go on for the matinee. David told them that there was no way he could do the show because it had been three months! Then…Priscilla Lopez dared him. That was all it took. He left rehearsal, went to the theatre and they made an announcement to the audience telling them what was going on. The opening number featured the cast singing "Just Go to the Movies" and walking in and out of the doors of Grauman's Chinese Theater. David walked onstage, got entrance applause…. and immediately turned the wrong way and crashed into someone. Still it went well. Every time he was offstage, he was able to review the next section of the show with the dance captain, Albert Stephenson (now John Kander's partner). Then came intermission. All the Groucho lines in Act Two come fast and furious. David was in his dressing room getting his mustache on and running lines. The problem was, he would remember the first three…and would then draw a complete blank. He was in a panic and told everyone he flat out couldn't do it and wouldn't go on. They told him it would be fine. (Huh? Based on what?) Well, apparently they were psychics, because David told us that even though he didn't remember the show when sitting in his dressing room, as soon as he got onstage and started doing the blocking his body remembered it and the lines came out. Terrifying but amazing!
His next big gig was taking over the lead in Torch Song Trilogy. He had the "fun" task of taking over the leading role the day after the show won the Tony Award for Best Play and the day after Harvey Fierstein won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play! David was terrified. The day he had to go on, he was in the lobby and heard a woman arguing with the box office. "What do you mean Harvey's not in the show anymore? He just won the Tony!" Then Harvey happened to enter the lobby and the woman accosted him. "I came up for Florida to see you in this show and now you're not in it!" He explained that he had to leave to go to Boston because he was writing La Cage Aux Folles. Then Harvey told her that an excellent actor would taking over named David Garrison. And…there he was, sitting in the lobby! Harvey pointed at him, the woman squinted, then said full volume, "I don't know him!"
OK, this week I see Nice Work If You Can Get It and frantically try to finish my sequel to "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan." Due June 1! And finish casting my upcoming benefit on June 18. So far I have Chris Jackson, Melissa Errico and Mandy Gonzales singing songs from roles they played in high school. Perhaps you'll hear my "Sorry/Grateful" from Company and therefore won't need an Ambien for the night. Get tix here. And on that note, 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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