ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Joan Rivers, Matthew Broderick, The Tony Awards

By Seth Rudetsky
June 11, 2012

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



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OK, I'll get to the Tony Awards after a little weekly re-cap. First of all, it's one week until my TV network launches on at SethTV.com! I filmed the opening to my reality show all around the Times Square area. My launch party is going to coincide with a benefit I'm doing next Monday called Not Since High School, where celebrities recreate roles they did in high school. I just had a rehearsal with Lisa Lampanelli who was a teen-aged Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes. She told me that two weeks before the show opened, the director told her that he rethought the role and she needed to lose weight. How much? Twenty pounds! Her response? Deep-fried food at every meal. Not only wouldn't she lose weight, she was determined to gain it. Brava! Speaking of the benefit, I just added one more performer: Susan Blackwell who starred in [title of show] is going to recreate one of her high school roles. Was it appropriate casting you ask? Well, she's white, from Ohio and not trained as a dancer. Therefore, she starred in West Side Story as Anita. 'Natch! She will be doing a duet of "A Boy Like That" with a very unlikely Maria who had to spray her hair black until it looked like a shellacked shell. Norbert Leo Butz told me he was Harold Hill, (a short) Sky Masterson and Pappy Yokum (with a bald cap) in high school. I'm still trying to choose what number I must see him do. Get tix here

Joan Rivers

I interviewed the great Joan Rivers for my radio show "Seth Speaks" and couldn't stop quoting my favorite Joan lines to her. First I hauled out, "My body is falling so goddamned fast my gynecologist wears a hardhat." Then, I mentioned one of my favorite Royal Family bits where Joan makes fun of the Queen for not keeping herself up. "Listen! If you own England, and Scotland, and Ireland, for Christ's sake, shave your legs!" Hi-lar! What's crazy is that Joan is one of the very few Americans who was invited to the recent royal weddings. After those comments!?! Weren't people in England beheaded for less? Speaking of comments about Elizabeth, I did ask her about the Elizabeth Taylor jokes she used to make all throughout the '80s. This was after Elizabeth Taylor had gained a lot of weight and Joan would say things like, "She puts mayonnaise on an aspirin"….or that Elizabeth Taylor puts food in the microwave and then screams, "Hurry!!!" Turns out, she and Elizabeth Taylor were both friends with Roddy MacDowell and Joan told Roddy to ask Elizabeth if the jokes were too mean, and if Elizabeth wanted her to stop, she would. Well, Roddy asked and Elizabeth said, "Tell Joan that those jokes don't hurt me where I live." Joan thinks it's because Elizabeth had a very healthy ego and always thought of herself as beautiful. Of course, Joan always thought of herself as ugly. In her new book, "I Hate Everyone…Starting with Me!," she writes that she was so ugly when she was young that a rapist would grab her and say, "Can we just be friends?"

Seth with Matthew Broderick at "Seth Speaks"
Photo by Robb Johnston
On "Seth Speaks" I also interviewed Matthew Broderick and I asked if he still has the ability to talk to his fellow actors onstage without being picked up by his body mic. He first feigned that he didn't know what I was talking about, but I kindly reminded him of various moments I had seen or that Nathan Lane had told me about. One was during the first big scene between Nathan and Matthew in The Producers. Bialystock (Nathan) tells Bloom (Matthew) that there are two rules to being a producer: "Number one, never put your own money in the show." Bloom then asks, "And number two?," and Bialystock yells, "Never put your own money in the show!" Well, when the show first opened, that second line would bring down the house. Crazy laughs. By the second year, the audiences had stopped being so "inside" and the laughs dried up. Many bits were tried to make that joke land a laugh (including adding reverb to Nathan's mic), but it got crickets. And yet, Nathan still had to play it big and broad. Right before Nathan would yell the second line, Matthew would look at him and whisper, "Here we go," and wait for the joke to bomb. Matthew told me that he finds nothing funnier than someone onstage giving all they've got to get a laugh and then getting nothing in return. He needs to see some of my live performances.

In Nice Work If You Can Get It, he told me, he often won't run into Kelli O'Hara backstage, and the first time he'll see her is onstage. So, he'll give her a "Hello! How are you?" using his signature talking-so-that-the-audience-can't-hear-him style. And during their dance number, they'll speak to each other either complimenting themselves for nailing a step or telling each other that they messed up. Matthew and I also spoke about his love of Ethel Merman. When I was doing The Producers with him, he would listen to Merman recordings before he went on to get him in the Broadway mood. Back then, when I was working in the pit of The Producers, I would often ask him to add a little Merm to his performance — and he would do her signature brassy style during one section of "I Wanna Be a Producer."

Cut to: I went to see Nice Work If You Can Get It and texted him during intermission. I did a dramatic reading of our texts during the radio show. They were as follows:

ME: It's Seth! I'm in your audience and I demand to hear an Ethel Merman note like you used to do for me during The Producers.
MATTHEW: I usually do one in Act 1 and I didn't bother today...I'll try and find one in Act 2.

After the show, and a decided lack of Merman notes, I got another text.

MATTHEW: My integrity as an actor did not allow me to put Merman into Act 2. That's how dedicated to craft I am.

Will Swenson and Audra McDonald walk the red carpet
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Tony Awards night, June 10, began as a plan for a major Tony party at my apartment and ended with me not even being in my apartment. As I've mentioned, Andrea Martin has been overseeing/bossing around the entire redecoration/painting/de-cluttering of our place. I was excited to debut it on Sunday to a gaggle of friends. Slowly they began to fade out…one had to go to Ithaca, one had a migraine, one wanted to watch it in her apartment so she could turn it off whenever she wanted, one had a daughter who was too tired to stay up….finally, it was just Andrea Martin who was going to see our newly decorated apartment. Of course, we knew the reveal would be less exciting since she has seen it every day. Well, on Saturday she complained that her jaw hurt and I immediately knew what it was; a result from teeth grinding. My dentist told me I grind my teeth and I've periodically woken up with my jaw killing me. When James came home, I asked him if his jaw ever hurt from teeth grinding and he backed me up completely. Andrea asked why she'd suddenly start grinding her teeth later in life and we told her it can happen at any time. We told her to get a mouth guard and it would clear up. Cut to: Saturday night she couldn't sleep at all and by Sunday morning her entire left side of her face swelled up! She got an emergency appointment with a doctor and found out she has a raging infection and needs to be on antibiotics. So, the first thing we realized is that James and I are not qualified to do a medical diagnosis. Secondly, Andrea had to recuperate all day and therefore couldn't leave her apartment. So, my big party at my newly decorated apartment turned out to me, James and Juli taking a cab ride up to Andrea's apartment and then watching the Tonys with her lying prostrate on her couch. It did wind up being a lot of fun, though. And it was cool to watch the Tonys on her TV while seeing her actual Tony Award sitting right next to it (she won for My Favorite Year). It was also so great to see Audra McDonald win as Best Actress in a Musical. I've known her for so many years (I played her audition to get her an agent and her Juilliard Senior Recital) and now she has five Tony Awards! A few months ago, I asked Will Swenson (her fiancé) where Audra keeps her Tonys and he told me he could tell me where three of them are. I wanted to know why he couldn't tell me where the fourth one was and he said it's because Audra can't remember what she did with it. That's right, she has so many Tony Awards, she's actually misplaced one.

Christian Borle
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I just did Julie Klausner's podcast called "How Was Your Tonys?" with Ana Gasteyer and we had a great time. We were saying how happy we were that Christian Borle won, and Ana remembered first meeting him at a reading of Shrek years ago. She thought it was going to be casual and take place in someone's living room while she read a variety of parts. Turns out, it was incredibly high-powered, took place in a fancy studio, Dreamworks execs were there, and it involved non-stop rehearsals. And since she had just starred in Wicked on Broadway, she thought she'd probably play one of the many funny roles. Instead, she was in the female ensemble. She wound up being seated on a stool against the back wall and all throughout rehearsals she kept leaning back and, by accident, turning off all the lights. Hilarious.

OK, t-minus one week 'til SethTV and two minus one week ago that my YA novel sequel was due. This is the week I have to actually put aside my ADD, stop being distracted, and finish it. Until then, I'm gonna check my email/facebook/twitter. Peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)