ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Michael McGrath at the Chatterbox and Alice Ripley in P-Town

By Seth Rudetsky
September 4, 2012

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



*

Hello from Logan Airport. We just left Provincetown, and it is definitely the end of the season. The streets were hardly filled, one of my fave coffee places was closed, and the weather seemed to say, "Take care, summer. I'm out." Everywhere was chilly, grey and drizzly. It was essentially a live version of Christine Ebersole singing Grey Garden's "Another Winter In A Summer Town" without the Tony Award. But I'm not saying goodbye to P-town yet. I'll be back Saturday and Sunday at the Art House with one of my favorite singers, Judy Kuhn! I first loved her in Les Miz and then became obsessed with Rags and Chess. If you've never heard her, watch this video where I deconstruct her soprano and belt and focus on the passive-aggressiveness of Cosette. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NytOXSH1SDQ

I interviewed recent Tony Award winner Michael McGrath (Nice Work If You Can Get It) at the Chatterbox a few weeks ago, and the whole thing is up on www.SethTV.com. One of the crazy stories he told me involved doing Grease. He had played Doody many times back in the 80's, and one day he was in his house in Massachusetts and got a call from a director he worked with before. She told him that the guy playing Doody in her current production got injured, and she asked Michael if he could go on that night. He said yes. She then said the production was in Wisconsin. It was already mid-afternoon, so he raced like a lunatic to the airport, got a late afternoon flight, flew to the Midwest and when the plane landed, it was 7 PM!

The Fire Side Theater is so popular that there was a police escort from the airport to get him there as fast as possible. There was also a dance captain sitting in the backseat with him going over the show. Michael knew the lines, songs and dances, but the guy kept saying bizarre things like, "Enter at noon. Exit at 3 o'clock." What? Finally, Michael was informed that the show was being performed in the round! The actors knew where to enter and exit from by thinking of the stage as a big clock. Michael got to the theatre and there were thousands of people in the audience because it was a "star package," meaning the show had a headliner; Danny Zuko as played by The Brady Bunch's Barry Williams. Thankfully, everything went fine. Except that no one warned Barry Williams that Michael usually adds a split leap over the head of Danny Zuko during "Hand Jive." So Barry came out of a crouch a little too fast, and the top of his head connected with the bottom of Michael's crotch. But, the good news is, the damage was apparently minimal because Michael still fathered a daughter.

Alice Ripley
Dirty Sugar Photography
I had Alice Ripley in Provincetown this weekend, and we had a great time. She not only sang "I Miss The Mountains" from Next to Normal, she also sang "I've Been," which is one of the songs Dan (the husband) sings. Alice loves singing his song and compares it to dancers who know not to continually do the same step on the same side over and over because it makes your muscles uneven. She feels that singing Dan's point of view balances herself.

We first talked about Side Show, and Alice said that she and Emily Skinner were side-by-side eight hours a day in rehearsal for weeks and that's why, no matter what, they'll always share a special closeness. However, eight hours a day, side-by-side, also resulted in a different end of the day than what Alice was used to. Usually, when rehearsals end in the late afternoon, Alice will hang out with her fellow actors. Instead, she and Emily were like, "It's 6 o'clock. See 'ya!" They needed severe breaks every night. Alice said they were both like, "I've been smelling your sweat all day long. Take care."

Speaking of closeness, she and Lea DeLaria shared a dressing room during The Rocky Horror Show. Lea played Dr. Scott/Eddie, and when Alice played Daisy Mae in Li'l Abner at Encores!, Lea played Marryin' Sam. Alice said that one day she came into the dressing room and gave Lea a kiss on the cheek and thought, "Wow! So smooth. Lea really got a close shave today." Then she thought, "Wait. Lea's not a man."

Varla Jean Merman
photo by Rex Bonomelli

Speaking of which, when I was in Provincetown, I saw two amazing performers: Varla Jean Merman (Jeff Roberson) and Miss Ritchfield 1981 (Russ King). Varla did an amazing version of "Que Sera, Sera." The first verse was (As Varla) When I was just a little girl. I asked my mother what will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Here's what she said to me…(yelling as her mother) How the hell would I know? I'm not a psychic! (pause) Get me a vodka. (Then back to her voice.) What will be, will be.

Miss Ritchfield 1981 came out and immediately told everyone how happy she was to be in "Providence-town." Then she added, "I guess I love Maine!" She was so hilarious when she talked to the audience. She told one woman to stand up, and as soon as she did, Miss Ritchfield looked at her hair and said sympathetically, "I know…the humidity." Then she asked for single people in the audience to raise their hand. She found one named Jim from Staten Island who was retired, and she tried to set him up with another single in the audience named Matt. Matt wasn't interested because he said he didn't like people from New York. Miss Ritchfield then told him, "Well, you're in luck because most people don't consider Staten Island part of New York." Then she told Jim he was probably still single because he's picky. "Jim, face facts; you live on Staten Island, you're on a fixed income…my advice? Settle!"

On Sept. 14 I'm going to Buffalo to do Seth's Big Fat Broadway ! Get thee to http://www.visitbuffaloniagara.com/includes/events/index.cfm?action=displayDetail&eventid=62400 for tickets. And, happy back-to-school!

(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.)