ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Carol Burnett Brings Seth to Tears
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Hello from my Atlanta to NYC flight. I just came from Knoxville, TN, and since flights to New York are not direct on weekends, I had the privilege of flying further South before I fly back to NYC. Yay! It's fun for the second part of my trip home from Tennessee to be longer than it would have been had I simply flown direct. Anyhoo, so much has happened this week. First of all, I was offered a part on "Smash"!!!! That's right! Offered! No audition. I'm "offer only" from now on. And I mean "offer only" as in: I'll only get one offer. Regardless, the last time I was offered "Smash" it was a role with one line: the curtain came down on a show and I would be in the audience and say, "That's it?" Well, I had jury duty on the day I was supposed to film so I couldn't do it. Now, I have 200 per cent more lines! That's right, this role has three lines! And, I'm not certain how SAG/AFTRA defines a line, but if "Tom! Tom!" counts as two lines, than I have four total! The extra-cool thing is I'm playing….Seth Rudetsky! Literally. At one point, someone points and says, "Karen is talking with Seth Rudetsky!" Of course, it seems obvious that they would cast me as Seth Rudetsky, but let's go back to the mid-'90s. My friend Marco Pennette created "Caroline in the City" and came to see me my weekly piano bar gig at Rose's Turn. He then told me he was going to write an episode featuring a pianist who works at Rose's Turn…named Seth Rudetsky! Yay! A part tailor-made for me. Hmm…not really. Not only did I not play the role but I was also not even asked to audition for it. It was the opposite of "offer only." Something I like to call "rejection completely." P.S., I know it seems like a joke, but look it up! The role of "Seth Rudetsky" was played by Dan Futterman! I guess they decided they just needed someone with an equally headache-y last name. Well, I finally get to debut as myself and will fill you in on details in my next column. ("Smash" season one is on nbc.com, for those who missed it.)
Last week, on "Seth Speaks," I interviewed Dean Pitchford. The first knowledge of him that I had was when I saw the film "Fame" (he wrote the lyrics). Turns out, he began as an actor and played Pippin (and stood by for the role) during the original production! I asked him about that amazing full orchestra, and he remembered it so distinctly because he was barefoot for the whole show and the stage had a section that was directly over the pit. He said he loved feeling the deep vibrations from the musicians right through the floor and up through his feet! He played the title role opposite Betty Buckley and they've remained friends ever since. As a matter of fact, she was his date for the Oscars. He remembered a time in the '70s when they were both in a cab and someone asked him how old he was. Dean said he had to think for a minute because he was always saying he was younger than he actually was. Betty looked at him seriously and asked, "Is there anything you've done that you're ashamed of?" He thought about it and said no. Then she said, "Then why would you not tell your age? You should be proud of every year you've been alive!" Ever since then, he's always 'fessed up. I love that a woman in show business was the one that convinced him to be proud of his age. He said that Betty was a feminist from the very beginning and I remember her telling me she was a charter subscriber of "Ms." Brava! Or should I say Brav-(gender-neutral vowel).
Dean started writing songs with Michael Gore who was the music supervisor for "Fame." Michael wasn't hired as the composer, but he could submit anything to the director (Alan Parker) to see if he liked it. So when Michael found out that the title of the film was being changed from "Hot Lunch" to "Fame," he called Dean. They wrote a song and Michael was able to submit something that just happened to have the exact same title as the film! I asked Dean about the final song in the film ("I Sing The Body Electric"). The director wanted something that encompassed all the different art forms that the Performing Arts school taught; Acting, singing, choral, dancing, rock and classical. Dean thought about the first lyric and decided that since it was graduation, the character of Bruno would base the song on a poem he studied in English class. Dean thought that since it was high school, they probably studied American poetry. Dean then decided that "I Sing the Body Electric" was perfect because it had "sing" for singing, "body" for dance and "electric" because Bruno was into pop music. And look how it has all the other elements! P.S. I love Laura Dean's voice!
Not only did the show close right away but no one was paid! Fast-forward to 2012 and a revised revival, Off-Broadway. The first CD of the score has finally been released, starring Marin Mazzie!
Last week was very exciting because a new DVD came out featuring tons of episodes from the original "Carol Burnett Show." I was scheduled to talk with Carol, Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway on "Seth Speaks," but first they were booked for a special show where lucky SiriusXM viewers got to come in and ask them questions. The cast was in the large studio that has enormous glass windows and there were listeners inside and crowded into the lobby as well. James came with me because he also grew up obsessed with the show, and we stood in the lobby and listened to comedienne Amy Schumer interview them. I was hoping to entice Carol and Vicki to sing something when I interviewed them and Amy must have been told to see if they'd be willing to sing. Unfortunately, she was told to do it during her show! So, she mentioned to Carol and Vicki that there was a piano behind her. Carol and Vicki acknowledged seeing it. Then Amy asked if they'd be willing to sing. Carol and Vicki both asked who would play the piano. Amy told them that the producer didn't quite tell her that part. There was a pause and I turned to James and asked, "What should I do? Should I run in there?" Two seconds later, I pushed past the crowd, went into the studio, hit a starting pitch and started playing "I'm So Glad We've Had This Time Together." Carol and Vicki joined in and it was fabulous. Well, as they were walking out, I was semi-freaking because I grew up loving that show so much and couldn't believe I was finally going to get to meet them all. First, though, they had to go to another interview. Carol came up to me and thanked me for playing and asked my name. I said "Seth" and another producer told her that she was going to be on my show later that afternoon. Suddenly, her face lit up and she said, "Seth!?!?! Oh! I listen to your show all the time!" I could not believe she knew who I was. Of course, tears immediately came to my eyes because I was so happy. Who would have thought when I was a little boy on Long Island watching her show (I was 11 when it went off the air), I would one day meet her and she would tell me she listened to my show!?!?! All three of them then sat down with me for a chitty-chat (first airing this Sunday at 5 PM on SiriusXM Stars) and, of course, right after my initial question Tim Conway asked if he was also required to speak that fast. Hmph. Carol revealed that the biggest compliment she can get is when people tell her that they watched her show as a family…with their parents or grandparents. And, P.S., that's exactly what James told her. Hers is the show that always reminds him of his grandfather because they watched it together. I asked her about doing Once Upon a Mattress and she said that when the show closed Off-Broadway the entire cast picketed in front of their theatre (in full costume) looking for a new venue. They moved to Broadway and went from the Alvin to the Cort to the St. James to the Winter Garden. She said that Neil Simon quipped, "Have you seen Once Upon a Mattress? Don't worry. It'll soon be coming to a theatre near you." I brought up the character of Eunice, and Carol, as usual, mentioned that the "Family" sketches were her favorites. I told Tim that I loved how he always spoke to "Mother Harper" like she was deaf, and I told Carol and Vicki how obsessed James, Juli and I are with the sketch where they play "Sorry." Suddenly Carol and Vicki immediately recreated it for me on the air. Carol went into her character voice and screamed: "It was a seve-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-en!!!!!" Then Vicki, as Mama, said calmly "Eunice seems to be of the opinion that it was a seven. So I will just move the yellow man back seven spaces, then I will move my blue man ahead seven spaces…landing on your green man sending him back to start. Sorry!!!!"
This week also starts the airing of "Seth's Reality" Episode 8 on www.SethTV.com. It features me in Provincetown rehearsing with…Patti LuPone! There's amazing footage of her singing "Anything Goes," "A Boy Like That," "Invisible," "Buenos Aires" and "Rainbow High"! And just wait until the entire concert goes up! Here's the preview of the episode. Watch for some delicious tidbits. And now, peace out and Happy October!
(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.)
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