ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Shooting "Bunheads"; Plus, My Entrepreneurial Life
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
As Tony says in The Most Happy Fella, "I wanna make a beeeg announcement!," and here goes: James and I are renting a small theatre for the entire month of March and we're running four plays that we've written in rep! That's right, we are now entrepreneurs, producers, playwrights, actors and quite possible soon-to-be stage hands.
Let me qualify it all: by "small theatre" I mean a theatre that literally seats 30 people. That means everyone feels like they're in a front row seat. And by four "plays," I mean three plays and one comedy act starring me and the hi-larious Kristine Zbornik. My other play is a caper and it's called The Daring Duo. It stars me ('natch!), John Bolton (see this column for more on him) and David Turner (we worked together on Barry Manilow's Harmony, The Ritz with Rosie Perez and last year he starred in On a Clear Day…). James has two plays he's written: the first one is called Unbroken Circle and it's an old-school family drama with a multi-generational cast including Anika Larsen (Xanadu), Eve Plumb (yes, that Eve Plumb) and Juli (our 12-year-old!). The other one is a two-hander called Art and Science starring two Tony award nominees Tony Sheldon (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) and John Tartaglia (Avenue Q and Shrek). Tickets for all four plays (AKA three plays and a comedy act) just went on sale today and you can read about each one right here on the Playbill.com news section.
I am now back in NYC after taking Hollywood by storm. And by "Hollywood," I mean the Hollywood Presbyterian Church where I appeared as a guest star on "Bunheads." The episode (which is the final one of this current season on ABC Family!) features Michelle (Sutton Foster) going to an open call for a musical version of Dark Victory and I'm the pianist who gives her some sassy advice (my first scene) and then delivers some bad news about how the business works (my second scene). In true L.A. fashion, my second scene was filmed first. And in true L.A. fashion, I was either doing nothing for hours or literally had five seconds to get ready and film.
I'll start from the beginning: On Sunday I got to L.A. and had a great get-together with my friend Marco Pennette and his partner Steve Rabiner. Marco and I met at the Jerry Lewis telethon back in the mid-'90s when I was playing for his friend Tia Riebling (Tia was playing Rizzo in Grease when I was the pit pianist). At that time, Marco was about to start filming "Caroline in the City," which he also created. Suffice it to say, we had our get-together in what he called his house but what I call a Beverly Hills manse. He and Steve have three daughters who were sweet but non-plussed to meet me yet went into a state of giddy excitement when Kevin Chamberlin came over. Why? Because he's Bertram on the Disney channel's "Jessie"! Hmph. Don't they remember my five-episode arc as Rudy on "All My Children" 10 years ago? What? No one does? *Silence*
We were swapping theatre stories including one where Marco recounted waiting by the stage door of Sweeney Todd back in 1979 when he was a teen. When one of the stars emerged, Marco asked for an autograph, and the star raced past him saying, "I don't have time for this." Marco was devastated but then felt a tap on his shoulder and heard a British voice warmly say "I have time for this…" That's right, it was Angela Lansbury! Who says the Brits are stiff and cold? (Answer: Anyone who's visited London).
The next day I got to the church (or "location" as we say in the biz) and I found my trailer. I immediately perused the amazing craft service area and ordered an egg white omelet with lots of veggies. And that was the last of my healthy eating. For the next two days, I couldn't resist the crazy amounts of delicious/fattening choices that were available every minute. It culminated on the final day when Amy Sherman Palladino (who created "Gilmore Girls" and "Bunheads") stopped me, pointed to my plate and asked, "Your lunch is simply two giant chocolate chip cookies?" Answer: Yes it was.
Back to the first day; Right after my omelet, I was summoned to the set to rehearse. Even though it was supposedly L.A., it was freezing! Right after rehearsal, the costumer looked at all the clothes I had brought from home and chose black jeans and one of my favorite sweaters, which I wore seven years ago when I played Arnold in Torch Song Trilogy. Thankfully, it still fits (-ish)!
That day's Seth Rudetsky-induced disaster was the fact that I decided to take my gum out of my mouth while practicing lines in my trailer. I then went to the makeup trailer and another actor gasped when he saw me. Turns out, after I took the gum out of my mouth, I put it near my chair and then promptly sat on it. And when I got up, it stre-e-e-etched. That's right, I had embedded gum across both butt cheeks. Off came the pants and the wardrobe department had to put ice on it and slowly pick it off. Sadly, I immediately put them back on and then realized pants need to dry when they've had ice directly applied to them. The result was me walking around for an hour in what felt like a wet diaper. Yay?
We were supposed to film my first scene that day, but there was a big open call dance segment that had to be done first and wound up taking the whole day and evening to shoot. I had the "fun" part of being in the background for that entire shoot. We broke at around 9:30 PM and I went home and got up the next morning to have breakfast with Jack Plotnick, Marissa Jaret Winokur and Lucy Lawless. Marissa, Lucy and I met doing Grease when Marissa was in the chorus and Lucy was playing Rizzo on a break from "Xena The Warrior Princess." Lucy looked exactly the same as 15 years ago and Marissa looked like she had lost a ton of weight. Why? Because she had lost a ton of weight. She just had her 40th birthday and decided to get down to her "Dancing With the Stars" weight. Well, she wound up going further and further down and she looks great! Bye-bye Tracey Turnblad. Suffice it to say, if she did Hairspray again she'd now have to play the title role. That's right, she'd literally be playing a tall, skinny can of hairspray (without the tall part).
The second day I got to the set and was confident I had my first scene memorized but I was a nervous about knowing all of my second scene because Amy had changed some lines. I knew that the first scene would take a few hours to film and I planned to use that time to memorize the second. Of course, as soon as I got to the set we started shooting the second scene! I was sort of a nervous wreck, but Amy (who not only wrote the episode but was also directing!) was super-sweet and supportive. It took place outside the area where Sutton's character goes to the open call and we filmed it around 15 times from all different angles. Because Amy is a fan of mine, she asked me to make the lines more Seth-like and, of course, I added something about Sutton singing in the mask with full vibrato. Which, P.S., I think are the same terms I use when I talk to Katharine McPhee in my upcoming "Smash" episode. Plus, instead of me telling Sutton she sounded great, Amy asked me do one final take telling her she sounded "amahzing." And yes, I used that catchphrase in my "Smash" episode, too. If it ain't broke… (P.S., is "broke" the same thing as "overused"? Because that it is.)
It will be fun to watch that scene when it finally airs because it includes Seth-induced disaster number two. Right before we filmed I decided to primp and that included flossing. I was in the process of doing my back teeth when a piece of floss broke off and got stuck. And I mean really stuck. And I mean an actual piece. It was long enough to hang out of my mouth! I went to the make-up trailer to get help. My make-up woman valiantly offered to use tweezers on me but I ran out of time. I rolled the floss backwards, stuck it on the side of my mouth and filmed all 15 takes with a piece of floss stuck in my teeth! Finally, I called my dentist and she told me use another piece of floss to get it out. Two hours later, it finally dislodged. eBay?
At the end of the day, we filmed the first scene where Sutton comes over to my piano and I complain about her choice of material (typecasting?). She then goes to the center of the room and belts up a storm. Turns out, as opposed to most TV shows and films, she always sings completely live on "Bunheads." So great! She gets the accompaniment pre-recorded and then wears a little, tiny earpiece that plays as she films. The drummer and I pre-recorded her audition and she was filmed singing it around five times. Of course, only Sutton can hear the accompaniment while it's filmed so when you watch her perform on set it's actually just her standing in silence and belting up a storm. She did an incredibly physical version of "Maybe This Time" on a previous episode that anyone on TV would have wanted to pre-record but she sings it all live (AKA she's from Broadway, people!) Watch!
This weekend I head to Palm Springs for the Steve Chase Awards (for Desert AIDS) and I'm playing for Jesse Tyler Ferguson who's hosting the entire evening. We went over his material at my apartment and I showed him the brand new paperback version of "My Awesome Awful Popularity Plan," which just came out. The inside cover has various reviews — and my publisher (Random House) also included one from Jesse, who called it "high-larious"! Emmy nominee and book critic. P.S., you can get the new paperback at SethTV.com.
(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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