ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Midtown March Medley Marches On, Plus Alan Cumming and Sheldon Harnick
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
The Midtown March Medley has officially begun! The week began with a really cool photo shoot featuring the casts and some delicious celebrity drop-ins. We got some amazing photos not only with all the cast members, but also with Lisa Lampanelli, Emily Skinner, Ann Harada, Jen Cody and Andrea Martin. I'm obsessed with how Playbill photog Monica Simoes got so many unposed artistic shots.
Then Playbill Video producer Mark Ezovski got a great "Playbill Obsessed!" video featuring various cast members looking sassy — as well as my director Paul Castree telling one of my favorite stories about his cat (with a hilarious/horrifying ending) and Andrea Martin (about to star in Pippin) retelling how she got completely busted in a museum.
The Daring Duo (the play I wrote and am starring in, alongside David Turner and Bill Selby) opens tonight (March 11!) and has two more performances this week. I had decided it was fine to have only two weeks of rehearsal beforehand because that's how long we had when we first did Disaster!, our earlier musical spoof. It wasn't until a week into rehearsal that I realized we performed Disaster!, in its first performance, by holding our scripts! What the hell was I thinking? I've been running lines like a lunatic non-stop. The show is a comedy caper and there are so many mysteries that are set up and then explained later in the show. If we forget any lines, we'll render the plot as nonsensical as "The Black Swan" (P.S., I never saw it…I just needed some kind of a punch line).
Regardless, we have been laughing so hard in rehearsal. I'm so excited to do this in front of an audience. Here's a video I made with the cast explaining the plot and here's where you can get $18 tix and the whole schedule!
During the week, I had Alan Cumming as a guest on Seth's Broadway Chatterbox, and he told me that he and Liza will indeed do a Cabaret medley at their two Town Hall performances this week! Alan told a hilarious story about running onstage during Cabaret, and banging his head backstage. Well, that part wasn't funny, but the rest of it was. He was completely loopy and out of it during Act One and pretty much passed out during intermission. He was prone on the floor and remembers his stage manager standing over him asking "Do you think you can do Act Two?"
Thankfully, they decided he needed to go to the ER. But, before he left, he was frantically scrubbing his butt cheek. Why? Because he panicked that his doctor would be Jewish and be outraged by his Swastika "tattoo"! That same night, there was a woman in the audience who was so excited to see the show that she fainted during Act One. She was also rushed to the hospital. Apparently, the nurses approached her gurney and said to her, "Remember how you were so devastated that you were missing Alan Cumming in Cabaret? Well….here he is!"
Then they opened the curtain and there was Alan with an oxygen mask on his face! Speaking of the swastika (spoiler alert coming), at the end of the show — at least in the most recent Broadway reinvention of the already groundbreaking musical — the Emcee is revealed to be Jewish and gay. Alan said that was his idea. He wanted to show that this person who was so in control really had no power by the end. But, when it played in London, he was not only Jewish and gay, he was also a communist as evidenced by his red triangle. However, when the show opened in NYC the audience had no idea what the red triangle stood for and pretty much thought it was a fashion statement, so it was removed ASAP.
I asked him about the rumor of Cabaret coming back again starring him as the Emcee and he neither confirmed nor denied. In other words, "We'll see…"
Sometimes kids will say to their parents that "we'll see" means "no," but I think in this case it's "we'll see" means "places!" The entire interview is on SethTV.com.
I also had the amazing Sheldon Harnick on the Chatterbox and he was riveting. If you don't know, he's the lyricist who partnered with Jerry Bock to write Tenderloin, Fiorello!, Fiddler on the Roof, The Apple Tree, The Rothschilds and She Loves Me. So many amazing stories!
First of all, he began as a violinist but also wanted to write shows. First, though, he went into the Army. He had to sail to Japan in a flat-bottomed boat! Crazily nauseating! When he finally landed in Japan he was so happy to be on dry land that he was told later he was one of the only Americans who kissed the ground. He got back to the states and playing violin in a Chicago hotel orchestra. He would tense his body a lot when he played that his doctor told him he had to take a year off to get his body back in shape. (PS, if you want to see a tense violin player, come see me in The Daring Duo in the March Medley.)
He decided to use the year off to go to NYC and try his hand at writing musicals. I asked him what Broadway show he first saw, and he told me Ankles Aweigh. I told him it was known as a bit of a clunker and he told me that he saw it for that very reason! Turns out, when he got to town, his brother invited him to see a backers' audition of a new musical. Sheldon was excited to see what a real backers' audition was like and readily agreed. He was then devastated… because it was so good. He thought that if every struggling composer/lyricist in NYC was that talented then he would never get a show produced. He decided to see a Broadway show that sounded like a clunker so he'd have some hope that one day he could have a show on Broadway. He looked in the papers and decided that Ankles Aweigh sounded stupid so he saw it to give himself hope that even dumb shows get produced. The hilarious part of the story is that the backers' audition he went to, which he thought featured an average NYC composer/lyricist, was for a new musical written by Stephen Sondheim! No wonder he wanted to throw in ye olde towel.
On a side note, when I interviewed Richard Maltby Jr. (the great lyricist who wrote Baby and Closer Than Ever) he said there should be a course in musical theatre writing school called "Dealing with Sondheim." Richard said that every lyricist has the devastating moment where he thinks "I want to write a song about blank," and then realizes Sondheim already wrote it and it's perfect.
I asked Sheldon about working with director-librettist George Abbott, and he said that, because Mr. Abbott was known for broad comedies, Sheldon assumed that he'd allow anything for a laugh. However, when they were in rehearsal Fiorello!, Tom Bosley (who played the title role) improv'd a line that got a huge laugh from everyone. Sheldon was ready for the line to be added to the show. Mr. Abbott then asked Tom if he thought Fiorello would have said that in real life, Tom admitted it was unlikely, and the line was cut. So much for anything for a laugh. Hm…maybe I should learn that lesson (I've been typing this article using a rubber chicken).
I also asked Sheldon about She Loves Me, which I adore. He remembers writing "Ice Cream" for Barbara Cook. He and Jerry Bock performed it for her and she told them it could go into the show that night. They were shocked, til she explained that the song features her reading a letter so if she forgets anything, she could just check out her onstage lyric sheet! Hmm….maybe I can add a "letter" to The Daring Duo this week? Is there such a thing as a 107-page letter? P.S., Watch Barbara Cook sing "Ice Cream" and sound fabulous!
My online TV network is going strong. Not only do we have Chatterboxes with Alan Cumming, Sierra Boggess and Lorna Luft added to the site, but episode two of Broadway Game Night is up and the Sutton Foster concert in New Orleans is being edited! Plus we're starting a big, fat exciting Broadway trivia contest on March 15. There'll be a new question every day and delicious prizes! Get thee to SethTV.com!
Last week was the opening of the Midtown March Medley's first play, Unbroken Circle, and both the show and real life were rife with drama. Right before James and Juli left for the performance (he wrote it and they're both in it) I noticed that one of our dogs (Scooby) was walking weird. I immediately though she had had a stroke. I called the vet but they couldn't see her because it was 7 PM and they were about to close. We got Scooby in a cab and took her to the vet ER. James and Juli ran to the show to make half-hour and I stayed til the doctor stabilized Scooby and told me to go away for a few hours so she could be examined.
Luckily, Blue Pearl Animal Hospital is on 55th Street and our plays are on 54th Street. I ran to the play, and we all came to the vet right after. Turns out, Scooby did have a stroke and she stayed overnight and came back on Sunday. Apparently, dogs can recover from strokes better than people so we're making her really comfortable and watching as she slowly progresses. It's very hard loving a dog!
Finally, if you're in Las Cruces, NM, on Friday, come see me and Deconstructing Broadway! Here's a fun article about it, with info. 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.)
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