ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Apple Picking With Audra, and Making 'Em Laugh With Andrea Martin at 54 Below

By Seth Rudetsky
October 15, 2012

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



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This week always reminds me of Kiss of the Spider Woman. Why? Because my niece Rachel Sarah's birthday is on Oct. 15, and when my sister first started contractions, I was playing keyboard in the Spider Woman orchestra. That was 17 years ago! Yowza! I remember calling the hospital room during intermission and talking to her husband, Allan. Nancy was in labor and I could hear her caterwauling in the background. Allan told me to check in later because she was about to get an epidural. I called back after the second act and the contrast, because of the epidural, was crazy; Nancy picked up after one ring and not only was there no more screeching and screaming, I simply heard a calm "Yello?" Huh? Epidurals are that literal? Was this the same Nancy who was bellowing an hour before? I said a tentative, "Nan?" She responded with a matter-of-fact, "Yep. What's up?" I guess "epidural" is code for Xanax.

This week began with a trip upstate along with James, Juli and Audra McDonald, plus family, to go apple picking. It brings up the philosophical question: if you go to pick apples and there are no apples, are you still apple picking? The orchard was so crazily barren! Not since Anatevka. Apparently the weather was too warm this summer for apples (thank you to people in denial about global warming) and the apples that happened to grow were snatched up by families who got there earlier than us. We finally were able to scrounge up a few apples but every time I picked one up, I found myself doing the same face and gesture Mary Tyler Moore makes during the opening "Mary Tyler Moore Show" credits when she picks up that package of meat.  Even so, we all had a great time and sent this photo to Will Swenson (Audra's husband) with the caption "The most busted orchard ever."

Andrea Martin
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

On Tuesday I did the first of three shows with Andrea Martin at 54 Below and performed a section where she told the audience why she had to cancel her shows back in June. The publicist sent out a release saying she had bronchitis but that's because no one really knew what was wrong. It took nine days at Lenox Hill (!) and a four-hour surgery to discover that she had a strep infection that led to another infection deep inside her throat that had to be taken out. Thankfully, she's completely fine now but the whole thing was nerve-wracking…and hilarious. She told the audience about having to take various MRI's. "If it hadn't been for the years of meditation technique, I don't think I would have survived it. I kept breathing calmly, counting, thinking of my sons and how grateful I am….and occasionally why Katie Finneran got the part of Miss Hannigan and not me." The audience loved it! P.S., Andrea wrote a hilarious email during this time period and after she described the MRI she wrote, "When I finally was taken off the table, I said to the technician that the procedure was torture, and he replied, 'I'll tell you what torture is, having dinner with my son.'" It sounds like Borscht Belt humor but it's true! Andrea also shared with the audience that Debra Monk was with her every step of the way and when Andrea was heading into surgery Deb held her hand and whispered, "I'm cancelling everything tomorrow to be with you." Andrea said that she suddenly snapped out of her drugged state to angrily ask, "What the hell do you have planned for tomorrow?" Andrea then shared: "Deb showed me her calendar, and sure enough she cancelled her walk."

This all led to a song that Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman wrote for her a few days before the concert. The premise was that after the hospital experience, she re-examined her priorities and called her agent to tell him that she no longer wants to do comedy parts. She told him she wants to show her dramatic chops. Her agent responds with the following (Sung to the tune of "Make 'Em Laugh"):

BE A CLOWN! BE A CLOWN! DON'T YOU KNOW ALL THE WORLD LOVES A CLOWN?
I SAY MY "BLANCHE" WOULD CAUSE 'EM TO WEEP
HE SAYS "YOU AIN'T MERYL STREEP!"
GIVE ME SHAW! GIVE ME INGE
HE SAYS "DO YOU WANT BRANTLEY TO CRINGE?"
MY HECUBA WOULD LEAVE THE PUBLIC GASPING FOR BREATH
I TELL HIM A COULD REALLY SCORE AS LADY MACBETH
HE SAYS HE'D RATHER SEE THAT PART IF IT'S PLAYED BY SETH
BE A CLOWN, BE A CLOWN, BE A CLOWN….

Hilarious!

Nathan Lane, Andrea Martin and Dee Hoty
courtesy Studio 54
So much of Andrea's show has amazing videos: slides of the original Toronto Cast of Godspell (Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner and Paul Shaffer), her first headshots, videos of her first commercial, her amazing appearance on Johnny Carson, etc. Well, in the middle of the first show, her whole computer crashed! Nothing! Of course, there was an hour left to the show and we couldn't leave the stage. Andrea just kept going and simply described things ("Here's the part where I show a picture of me in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" as a 45-year-old Greek woman… then I show a picture of me at my senior prom looking like a 45-year-old Greek woman"). It was like a workshop performance of the show. But, because it was so spontaneous, the audience loved it! Then, of course, we were terrified that the show works best in that version. Thankfully, our tech director from 54 Below fixed everything for the next two shows and the response was even more amazing! The last show had Victor Garber, Deb Monk, Nathan Lane, Shaiman and Wittman, Brooks Ashmanskas and Christopher Fitzgerald in the audience. Essentially, if 54 Below had blown up, Broadway would only be able to do straight plays for the next two years.

I had the cast from the current Forbidden Broadway (Natalie Charlé Ellis, Scott Richard Foster, Jenny Lee Stern and Marcus Stevens) at Seth's Broadway Chatterbox (every Thursday at 5 PM at Don't Tell Mama) and they were so funny. They sang two medleys from the show featuring Elena Roger ("Just an utter lack of star quality"), Matthew Broderick ("Nice song if I could sing it…") and more. Before any singing, however, I confronted Natalie on her middle name "Charlé." Literally with an accent aigu over the e. Turns out, her mom named her after her grandfather (pronounced like "Charles" without the S) and Natalie always hated it. But when she was doing a beauty pageant as a 'tween, the announcer read her name wrong and called her "Charl-ay." Voila! Thus her middle name became a tip o' the hat for people who change "Target" to "Tar-jay." The other woman in the show, Jenny Lee Stern, is super-funny. When she told me that she and her husband (Broadway's Jeremy Kushnier) have two kids, I asked her, "How do you stay so thin?" She immediately answered, "Drinking and anorexia." She then followed that with "Hey, if it ain't broke…it's a tried and true combination." Brava!

Marcus Stevens, Seth and Jenny Lee Stern
photo by Robb Johnston

On my radio show "Seth Speaks" I had Jeffrey Roberson (aka Varla Jean Merman) who's starring in Carlo Menotti's The Medium which is opening at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater near Lincoln Center. Jeff told me, "My character is a medium who has a daughter and is also a conniving, drunken scam artist." He sighed. "It's a hard role for me to play…'cause I don't have children." Get tix to The Medium

I also had Joey Mazzarino, the writer on "Sesame Street" who's spearheading all the new Elmo, the Musical on PBS. He's married to Kerry Butler. As a joke, I called him "Mr. Butler." He laughed and recalled being in Toronto when Kerry was opening as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Joey saw all the Disney top brass at the after-party and he felt very cool and like an insider. As a photo was about to be taken of everyone, the photographer walked over to Joey and asked, "Can you step out of the photo, please, Mr. Butler?" Joey was obsessed with the double bust: not only "step out of the photo," but "Mr. Butler."

This week I plan on seeing Sherie Rene Scott at 54 Below, Betty Buckley at Feinstein's, Closer Than Ever (again because it's now starring my two friends: Marya Grandy and Anika Larsen) and the opening of The Other Josh Cohen. And next week I'll be in Pittsburgh for five shows at the City Theatre. On Friday, Nov. 9, I'm doing my show in Orange County! Get all ticket info at SethTV.com and 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.)