ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: I Am a TV Network Mogul, Plus a Passion for Patti LuPone

By Seth Rudetsky
June 18, 2012

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



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Today is the day! My new TV network — well, my video-packed website — has finally launched. The first episode of "Seth's Reality" is live and you can watch it at SethTV.com. This has been a lo-o-o-o-ong process and I'm celebrating with a big benefit tonight, June 18! So, if you're reading this before 7:30 PM, get tix and come on down to XL to see Not Since High School where my Broadway pals are singing songs from roles they played when they were students. Since last week, I've added Christine Pedi to the mix. She starred in her school production of Godspell…at her all girls Catholic High School. Seriously. She will be singing her version of "God Save the People," which she did up the octave in a soprano straight tone. It was a hit with the nuns. Christine will then give us an example of what other celebs may have sounded like singing Godspell in high school (AKA Bette Davis speak-singing a deadpan, "Oh God…I'm dying).

Last weekend, I went back to Oberlin College for the very first reunion of the conservatory. In other words, instead of having a reunion for a certain graduating year, anyone who had gone to the conservatory could go. I had a great conversation with a woman who graduated before I did… in 1944! On Saturday night, I did a show with fellow alum Judy Kuhn that was so much fun. We were introduced by the current dean, took a bow and I played her first pitch. She then inhaled and started singing the aria "Batti Batti o bel Masetto" from Don Giovanni. After around 6 bars she said "Cut!" and we both stopped abruptly. She laughed and told the audience the show was going to be all Broadway but I forced her to try to trick everyone into thinking it was a serious concert. She revealed that she had sung that aria at her senior recital and hadn't sung it since. She then admitted that it was also the last time she sang anything classical…or in a foreign language. She started the show with a song from Rags, the first Broadway show in which she had a leading role. The score is probably Charles Strouse's most brilliant and she was confident the show would be a hit, despite the troubled tryout period. Judy told everyone that she was so busy during previews she didn't have much time to clean her house. The day after opening night, she decided to finally tidy up. While she was vacuuming, she was watching the news and saw the logo of Rags come on the screen. "Oh, goody," she thought, "they're going to talk about the show!" Well, they did indeed talk about the show, but what they said was "Rags which opened yesterday, will close tomorrow." And that's how she found out she would be playing her first Broadway lead for only four performances. If you've never heard her brilliant singing on the title song, watch my deconstruction!

We also talked about "Pocahontas," the score of which was written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. She knew Stephen because he wrote the lyrics to Rags and he asked her to do a demo of Pocahontas' big song, "Colors of the Wind," which they were going to use to pitch the idea of a Pocahontas movie to Disney. Disney decided to do the film but Stephen told Judy she wouldn't be able to do the part because they would probably use a Native American. Well, they did use a Native American for the speaking voice of Pocahontas, but they wound up using Judy for all the singing. And perhaps Judy will get to do the speaking voice and singing voice if Disney makes an animated version of the life of Golda Meir.

Scott Wittman and Patti LuPone at 54 Below
Photo by Monica Simoes
On Tuesday night I saw Patti LuPone in her amazing show at 54 Below. Holy S***! Her voice is so amazing! My head was coming off the whole time. Every song was in such a high key and she nailed every note. And Joe Thalken, her amazing pianist/arranger, told me that Patti had spent the whole previous week doing her show, and a reading and performing on the Tony Awards. Yet her voice was so incredibly solid. Patti told me that she's placing her voice better than ever due to her teacher, Joan Lader. Brava! The other thing I was crazily impressed with is how every song had tons and tons of lyrics and Patti was so completely confident singing them. I was sitting with Jane Krakowski, and after Patti sang "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking", Jane was in a state of shock over how many verses there were. If you've never heard her do that song, watch my deconstruction pronto

I was sitting with Scott Wittman, too, who directed the whole thing and I told him how much I loved it. At the end of the show, Patti performs a request taken from Twitter. She asked for "Ronnie," who requested "As Long As He Needs Me." She asked him to raise his hand, but he wasn't there. Then a woman, whose name was Ronnie but that wasn't the requester, piped up. Patti asked what she requested and she named some obscure song called "Baby Loves Me." Patti asked what that was. The woman told her that it was once a hit in England (?!). Patti said, "What makes you think I sing that song?" The woman said, "I know you don't sing it, but I thought you'd sound great on it." Patti was hilarious and told her "That's actually not a request. It's a suggestion." Brava! Patti then performed "As Long As He Needs Me" and sang the whole last phrase without a breath. In other words, "As long as he-e-e-e-e ne-e-e-e-e-eds me-e-e-e-e!" It was so good! I met with her the next day to rehearse our show for Provincetown and asked her about her amazing breath control. She said she's always had it and that when she was at Juilliard, the whole acting company had to get x-rays to see what kind of breath capability they had. The doctor looked at her lungs and told her she could be an opera singer. I wasn't surprised but couldn't get past the part where her acting class was forced to have their chests x-rayed. "OK, people! We're starting the morning with warm-ups, then trust games and, after lunch, MRI's!"

Patti LuPone
photo by Monica Simoes

Patti was talking with me about being short (she's 5-foot-2) but on Tony night she told me she was like a giantess because she was joined by two other Evitas who are shorter than she is! She, Elaine Paige and Elena Roger were all chatting — and Patti was essentially the Tommy Tune of Evitas. Jackie Hoffman was in the audience at Patti's show and I was chatting with her director (and my old friend) Michael Schiralli. We were laughing because Jackie was the first performer at 54 Below, but all the press said that the room was opening with Patti LuPone. Jackie's show started with a recording of a supposed phone conversation between the owners of 54 Below. One of them mentioned how excited he was that Patti LuPone was going to open the room. The other one said, "What? We can't have a performer of that stature perform here without testing it first. What about the sound? What about the air quality? We need someone so desperate and so low on the celebrity totem pole that she'll try out the room before an actual star does." Then, "Ladies and gentleman, Jackie Hoffman!"

Andrea Martin is still feeling sick so we've postponed our 54 Below show and Patti is extending (54below.com). You must go see her! And then come see us at the Art House in the beginning of July. Go to PtownArtHouse.com for tix.

A few months ago, I lost around ten pounds and decided to take the guesswork out of dieting and signed up to get my food delivered. All the meals adhered to the Zone diet and I was hoping it would help me lose my last six pounds. I was eating the food being delivered, and to be honest, adding a few side meals just for fun. Well, "just for fun" added up to eight pounds! That's right, my new diet resulted in me gaining back almost all the weight I lost. It sounds like a bad "Rhoda" episode but it's true. And now, I'm off to tech rehearsal for my benefit. Peace out and, if you're a student in NYC, enjoy the last week of school. Summer vacation is almost here!

(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.)