ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The White Room, My "Smash"-ing Work, Plus Kristine Zbornik
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Well, it happened. I entered the "white room" (for an explanation of that term, keep reading). It all began last week during a performance of The Daring Duo, in my Midtown March Medley. The play I wrote is a comedy caper about a soon-to-be-married couple (David Turner and I) who agree to perform in the luxury apartment of a notorious gangster. Here is a section of the dialogue that happens when Jake (me) and Jonathan (David) are in the apartment waiting for Bruno to enter the living room:
JAKE: I hope he likes our performance.
Anyhoo, during the third performance I noticed David's face change while he said his first line. I knew something was about to happen, but I didn't know what. He began speaking normally but there was a slight hesitation right before he said "Carlos Gonzales." Instead he said, "And you believe him? (slight pause…then) Marcos played a recital here and said that Bruno spent the whole time on his phone."
So, it was, of course, funny to me that he forgot the name and I could see it happening but I was obsessed with how his mind works: the character "Carlos Gonzales" is never mentioned again and I arbitrarily named him that, but David couldn't just say "John" or "Mike"…he had to "honor my writing" and replace it with a Hispanic-sounding name. Amazing on Filofax action!
Then, what made the situation funnier for us is that I had to follow his line and repeat the name he came up with. So, I said "And you believe him? (Slight awkwardness) Marcos… spent time at Betty Ford." Now, in a normal show, we'd go offstage in the next scene and laugh about what happened. But we're pretty much onstage together for the whole 85 minutes, so by the time we could discuss it, the tension of not discussing it had built up so much that David was laughing so hard after the show he had tears in his eyes. Well, cut to a few performances later; we started the first scene and when I got to my seventh line I completely went blank. That's what's called entering the white room; meaning there is nothing but whiteness around you. Nothing to grab onto. This time, it was not funny…it was devastating. I just kept repeating my subtext and pretending it was a line: "I want to do something daring… you know, something daring". Silence. Finally, David was amazing and said a line he knew would trigger me and I was back on track. And by being "back on track" I mean I was in a panic for the rest of the show that it could happen again at any moment. The entire show felt like walking in a mine field. After the show, David texted me. "Suddenly, Marcos doesn't seem so bad, does it?" Exactly!!
Now for some philosophy: You've heard "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" How about, "If you make a guest appearance on 'Smash' and completely forget that it's airing, were you ever on?" Apparently, yes! I was at home after a performance of Daring Duo and began to get a slew of tweets with the same word-play: "You were Smash-ing!" "You did a Smash-up job!" I got to see it and was really pleased! I was so scared I'd look horrible and/or sound like fake version of myself, but I wound up not being devastated! You can watch it on Hulu. And, Hulu.com allows you to watch the same two-minute scene dozens and dozens of times in a row…..I've heard. P.S., now that "Smash" is moving to Saturdays, a lot of people are saying it could spell the end of the show.
My friend Tim Cross posted on my Facebook page his theory: Apparently casting Seth Rudetsky in your show is the new "jumping the shark". Hilarious!
Speaking of Tim, I was reminded of him recently when I saw Dan Fink at one of the Midtown March Medley shows. Dan and I both did Les Miz back in the '90s. He was Feuilly (the one who has to hit the high A when he sings "We'll be there!") and I was a keyboard sub. Last Saturday, he was supposed to come to Unbroken Circle (in MMM), but couldn't make it. Why? Because when he tried to leave his apartment, the doorknob fell off in his hand! He was locked inside his own apartment! A few years ago, Tim was supposed to meet me, my good friend Jack Plotnick and my ex-boyfriend Aaron Dai for lunch. Tim called me and said he got locked into his apartment and asked me and Jack to get him out. Aaron was at work and we told him we'd be a half-hour late. Jack and I got to Tim's apartment and figured how to get his door open. We came into his apartment and a few minutes later, Tim approached us, looking pale. Turns out, he wanted to see if the door would do the same thing again, so he closed the door to test it! Guess what? It did do the same thing again but this time the difference was Tim, Jack and I were all locked in his apartment! Sadly, I was elected to make the mortifying phone call to Aaron and say that, yes, we did indeed unlock Tim's door, but now all of us were locked inside. Aaron was so irritated but still have the sense of humor to rage: "You're all like a bunch of Keystone Kops!" Excellent and accurate bust!
Speaking of Jack, I started again putting up what I call "Daily Shout-Outs" on my website, SethTV.com. Today's Shout-Out features Jack (who flew in to see all four Midtown March Medley shows) and in it he re-enacts what happened when he lost his voice doing A Little Night Music in college and he was forced to lip-synch while someone backstage sang his part. And, P.S., the person backstage singing his part was Kinky Boots star Billy Porter. The entire event was a big bomb and so effing funny. Take a gander!
Last week I began my comedy show with Kristine Zbornik, the fourth show in the Midtown March Medley. Though she was recently Jack's mother in the Into the Woods Central Park production last summer, we both began inauspiciously doing piano bar. Both of us worked Monday nights at Rose's Turn down in the village. Some of it was so great, in terms of the creativity we hauled out each week and the amazing audience reactions, but some piano-bar work is so horrifying. I asked her for her worst story and she recounted the time she was singing a song and a big New York Times editor was standing (barely) at the bar. He was severely drunk, and, as she sang, he started (to use a euphemism) "relieving himself." How did she know? Well, she noticed his pants getting a big wet spot and then she began to notice that the floor must be sloped. The slope in the floor meant that an enormous pool of liquid collected right near her feet as she sang. Of course, the amazing coincidence was that the song she was singing was (no joke) "Cry Me A River"! She decided to put a dance break in the middle of the song around the liquid and called it a "Riverdance." Brava. And on that note, come see us and all the other shows this week! Visit MidtownMarchMedley.com. We close this Sunday, March 31!
Let me end by saying "Happy Passover" and, for you bread-abstainers, enjoy a low-carb week!
(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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