ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth Chats With Len Cariou, Joanna Gleason and "Into the Woods" Director Rob Marshall
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
The "fun" part of last week was thinking I had a virus the whole time and finally going to the doctor today who told me that I have allergies and simply need to take a Claritin D. Every year I tell people that I don't have allergies and every year I have a major allergy attack. Why the total denial? I mean, I remember going to the NBC doctor when I was writing on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and being shocked when she told me the reason my eye was itching was because of allergies, and that was in 1998! Anyhoo, apparently I have allergies.
That didn't stop me from doing the big salute to Marty Richards last Monday night, although it made it sound like the show was hosted by Brenda Vacarro. The whole evening was a fundraiser for the New York Center for Children (newyorkcenterforchildren.org), which helps kids who have been abused and gives them therapy for as long as they need it. That's right, it's not insurance-company style where you get five sessions—the therapy goes on as long as necessary. It was one of the many charities that Marty was involved with (he and his wife were instrumental in starting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS), and he basically founded the NYCC.
The salute on Monday started with Chita Rivera coming to the stage and singing "All That Jazz." Marty produced the original Chicago and spent years trying to get the movie version made. Rob Marshall spoke and said that Marty was so happy the film was finally being made that every time he came to the set, he'd start crying! Rob remembered that when "Chicago" won the Oscar for best picture, Marty was so overcome thanking people that he couldn't remember who to thank? Audience members finally started yelling out names and he wound up thanking "the world"! Watch here. When Rob and Marty were backstage right after, he asked Rob whether what he said he was OK. Rob told him it was "perfect."
Rob and I chatted in the audience and first he told me that he always listens to me on SiriusXM (which I loved hearing) and then he said he's definitely making the Into The Woods film. I, of course, forced him to tell me some casting, which he did. Annoyingly, I promised I would keep it a secret, but I think Sondheim fans will be pleased.
Speaking of Into the Woods, I had the original Baker's Wife, Joanna Gleason, on the Chatterbox a few weeks ago, and she was so funny! She talked about doing theatre in high school and how her teacher told her, "You're a character actress" and she immediately thought, "Code for 'not pretty'" (hilarious). He corrected her and said what he meant was she would play all the pretty girl parts and then keep on going! He ended by telling her to call him when she's 60. Joanna then said, "So I called him… I mean, I will call him…" then she faded out. She also told such a great story about the Tony Awards; when she was a kid, she watched Joel Grey win the Tony for Cabaret and as he came bounding down the aisle, she said out loud (to no one in particular), "I wanna be there." Cut to the year she was nominated for Into the Woods she was doing the Tony luncheons and told Joel Grey the story.
On the night of the Tony Awards, she remembered what Frank Langella had warned her about: "Whatever you do, don't get up 'til you're certain you were called. You will hear your name called in your head because you've thought about it so many times, so do not move until you know for sure." Well, she definitely won and who announced it but Bernadette Peters and Joel Grey! Later on she got the Tony envelope that had her name in it and Joel handwrote on the outside "full circle." Isn't that great? PS, the whole time she was giving her Tony speech she said that she was thinking, "I wish I had worn a different bra." Whenever I win an award, that's exactly what I think. PS the entire Chatterbox is available on SethTV.com. So much fun!
Back to Rob Marshall. He confirmed that Meryl Streep will be the Witch, and it reminded me of the last revival when Billy Porter (now starring in Kinky Boots) went in for the Baker. At the end of his audition, director/librettist James Lapine told him that they were considering having a male witch! He asked Billy, "Would you mind going home and learning the witch's big song, 'The Last Midnight'?" Billy turned and said, "Learn it? I know it! Hit it!" and then launched into the song in the original key! He put it on his CD "On The Corner of Broadway and Soul," and it sounds fabulous. Hmm… I'm not saying Rob Marshall needs to listen to it, but if Meryl hasn't signed her contract yet…
After Chita, we had a Sweeney Todd segment that started with Liz Callaway singing a beautiful rendition of "Not While I'm Around." Barbra Streisand recorded that song and Liz was Barbra's stand-in during Barbra's concert tour. For real! Liz would travel to the city where Barbra was about to sing, and she'd go through the entire show for sound check. She'd also do the dialogue for the concert as well. Liz said that she committed so much to the patter that after a while she began to feel that she herself actually directed and starred in "Yentl."
Next came Len Cariou, who told everyone that Marty came to a run-through of Sweeney Todd to see if he wanted to invest and Marty immediately put in the money. He told Len he felt he had no choice because after watching the run-through he was scared of what Len would do if he didn't invest (ye olde razor blade)! Then Len performed not only "There Was a Barber and His Wife," but also "Pretty Women." The audience flipped out hearing the original Sweeney Todd sing those classics (in the original key)!
Afterwards I told everyone a story I heard from Len's voice teacher. Back in the 70's, Len was studying with Paul Gavert (who also taught lots of Broadway stars like Betty Buckley) and Paul told me that during previews Hal Prince went to the sound designer and told him to lower Len's body mic because he was overpowering the other singers. The designer stared and told him that Len was the only actor not wearing a body mic! Werk! After Len, the great Victor Garber came to the stage and performed "Johanna" (also in the original key). He sounded just like the record, and after he told me it was so weird waiting to go on because right after "Pretty Women" he (as Antony) would run onstage and ruin Sweeney's attempt to murder Judge Turpin. So, when he was waiting in the wings on Monday while Len sang "Pretty Women," he felt like he was in a 33-year-old time warp!
The concert also had Timatha Kasten sassing "I Want to Go To Hollywood," Jack Noseworthy reprising his original role in Sweet Smell of Success and Chita closing the whole show with "The Best of Times" backed up by The Accidentals. I loved playing for Marin Mazzie singing "Never" from On The Twentieth Century, which we did when I produced the big Actors Fund concert starring her and Doug Sills. She still got it! Also, Dee Hoty came onstage and sang "No Man Left For Me," but told the audience she could only do the number with her original staging so she immediately hoisted herself on my piano. It was so cool for me to play that number for her and see Tommy Tune, the original director/choreographer, in the audience. Tommy was sitting at our table and dishing the dirt with James. I won't mention names, but he said that when he was doing a certain musical, one of the bigwigs involved in the show wanted to have an actor fired because, back in college, the actor slept with the wife of the bigwig! Marty Richards intervened and convinced the bigwig to let the actor keep the gig. That kind of drama is so "Smash" but I guess it really happens!
In my last column, I mentioned that the Audible.com version of My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan" just got nominated for an Audie Award, but I'm obsessed with this crazy promo that's on Youtube because it's entirely read by an automated voice not unlike the GPS in your car, and the voice is also fitted with a British accent. Why would they think a robot from England would make people by the audio book? Listen!
As for this summer, we just announced all the great Broadway people performing with me at the Art House! Audra McDonald, Joanna Gleason, Christine Ebersole, Sutton Foster, Patti LuPone and Megan Hilty! Info at ptownarthouse.com. And, speaking of Audra McDonald and Megan Hilty (who plays Becky on the audio version of "My Awesome Awful Popularity Plan"), they're going to join me in New Orleans for the two last concerts of the Broadway series down there. Info at broadwaynola.com. I'm signing off now to take a bike ride with Juli, but if you're in the Midwest, get tix to see me this Thursday and Friday at the Marcus Center in Milwaukee! 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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