ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Good Deeds at Schmackary's and Behind-the-Scenes "Smash" Stories from Megan Hilty

By Seth Rudetsky
June 4, 2013

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

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It's so hot! And I ain't talking about New York City. I'm in the actual South where it's truly hot. Yes, I'm writing this from New Orleans, where everything is deep-fried, including the pollen. Holy S! I thought I'd write this column while sitting in the outside garden attached to my beautiful hotel room, but give me a minute while I pick up my laptop and run inside to the A/C.

Ah. Now then. This week was busy! On Memorial Day, I joined former Elphaba/current beltress Eden Espinosa at Schmackary's, a midtown bakery for an event called "Broadway Bakes" where various Broadway peeps manned the counter for three hours and all of our tips went to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Whoever raised the most money won a big basket of deliciousness. Of course, Eden and I were resentful that we were doing it on Memorial Day, one of the few days of the year when New York City clears of all people. Nonetheless, we were happy to be visited by Lilla Crawford (Annie) who joined us behind the counter. The picture on the side is the two vegetarians (Lilla and I) judging one of Schmackary's most popular cookies: maple bacon. Hmph. I also put a video on Vine of Eden and me. Watch her face at the end when I reveal what "Schmackary's" means in Yiddish. Her jaw literally dropped.

Seth with Lilla Crawford and Eden Espinosa


On Tuesday, I recorded "Seth Speaks" with David Friedman. David wrote "Help is on the Way," the classic song that's performed at the end of every Easter Bonnet competition. He also started the late Nancy LaMott's recording career. Years ago, he saw her in a cabaret show and asked why she didn't have an album. She told him that no one offered to produce one. He then decided that he'd produce it himself and thus was born one of my favorite CDs: "Beautiful Baby," which ends with "Help is on the Way." Here's Nancy in the Easter Bonnet Competition where the tradition first began. Listen to her voice. So beautiful. I don't know if it's a belt, mix or simply just where her voice is always placed, but I love it!

David is coming out with a double CD featuring all of his songs and it's available here: MidderMusic.com. He told us that way before he was a songwriter (and Broadway pianist/conductor) he was a classical musician. David went to a very prestigious music school and right before he left, his teacher told him, "You are the youngest person ever to graduate from here. You are also one of the most talented. But lately, I have a noticed a trashy, Tin-Pan-Alley element in your improvisation and if you're not careful…" (she paused for effect) "…you could one day find yourself playing in a Broadway pit!" She thought she had sufficiently terrified him, but instead David said he was thrilled!

The first big show he did on Broadway was Grease which was a long-running show with a band that stayed with their gig from the very beginning. Usually, on Broadway there are scenes between songs and musicians use that time to chitty-chat quietly with each other or read. When I did Grease on Broadway we had an "open pit" policy and we were allowed to exit between songs and walk around backstage. I loved it because so much of the cast hung out near the pit so I'd get a chance to catch up with my friends and then rush back to the pit when I heard a cue coming. However, one of the musicians took that freedom a step further. The bass player had an extra long cord made that attached to his instrument. David said the guy would walk out of the pit to chat and when a song came, he wouldn't rush back inside; he would just play from where he happened to be standing! That's right, wherever he was became his own personal pit.

Lori Hammel, Juli Wesley and James Wesley in Unbroken Circle.
Photo by Bill Selby
Speaking of moving around with an instrument, I was watching the Tony Awards performance of Once and in the middle of the song, the actors playing instruments do a dance. It all looked so comfortable…except poor Andy Taylor has to do it all while carrying and playing his cello! It's such an awkward instrument to haul around while your doing an Irish step dance. Watching him pick that cello up and move it around while playing totally reminded me of this hilarious scene.

Wednesday was the first preview of Unbroken Circle, the play James wrote (starring him and Juli) that I'm co-producing at St. Luke's on 46th Street. I honestly didn't know if it would ever actually start Off-Broadway performances, and I can't believe it really happened. It was truly thrilling and CBS's omg Insider! filmed B-roll from the show and then did a great piece on their Friday edition featuring an interview with Eve Plumb (who stars as Aunt June)! It suddenly felt so real! Watch this video with wonderful comments from three beltresses who came to the first preview: Stephanie J. Block, Julia Murney and Capathia Jenkins. Next show is Wednesday June 5th so get your tickets here!

Now I'm back in NYC and thankfully, it's not as crazily hot as New Orleans. I was there with Megan Hilty to do a Broadway at NOCCA concert (she'll be with me this summer at the Art House in Provincetown). Not surprisingly, Megan looked gorgeous and sounded fantastic. She has such a flexible voice; strong belt, light, pop, full-out soprano, etc. Speaking of soprano, she started out wanting to sing opera and actually went to an opera camp! Who knew there was such a thing? (That's my idea of a sleepaway camp because I'd literally be sleeping the whole time.) Thankfully, she decided she preferred theatre. Before Megan went to college, she wanted to see if she could make a living as an actress and moved from her hometown of Seattle to a small Oregon town to do theatre. Two years later, she was doing her laundry one day and a fellow actor started talking to her and told her that she needed to go to college ASAP, specifically Carnegie Mellon. She applied only to that school and got in! It was years ago and now she doesn't remember who the actor was that gave her this advice. Did he even exist? She and her boyfriend decided they should write a musical called The Angel in The Laundry Room. Any producers? 

Megan's first gig right out of college was standing by for Galinda in Wicked. The first time she went on was opposite Idina Menzel and she was, of course, a nervous wreck. Idina came into her dressing room and asked if Megan wanted to run anything. Megan was too overwhelmed to think of anything and finally Idina said, "F*** it. We'll just make it our own." That completely relaxed Megan and it went great. However, those bubbles that flow from Galinda's flying bubble are a vocal hazard! Megan said that, like all bubbles, they're made of soap and when you're surrounded by them and singing and you take a nice deep breath, soap goes down your throat and burns it. Yay?

Hilty in Wicked.
photo by Joan Marcus

Of course, Megan and I talked about the series we worked on together: "Smash." If you don't know, I had a three-line arc and she, apparently, was also on the show. Megan said that normally she's not a very demanding performer, but she refused to work with one of the music producers because he wanted to blend her voice. What does that mean? Apparently, it's very popular with pop so-called "singers" to have another singer's voice mixed in with theirs! No wonder so many of them can't sing live! Megan heard he wanted to do it with her voice so from then on, she made sure her songs were produced in the recording studio by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

And speaking of which, there was a song they wrote for her called "They Just Keep Moving The Line," and she found out that certain powers-that-be wanted to cut the song down. Why? Because apparently viewers will not watch a solo singer for more than a minute! What research supports this? Marc and Scott then put their collective foot down and said the song had to be done in its entirety and there also couldn't be a filmed montage coming in halfway through while Megan was singing. Of course, the song wound up being a big hit! And speaking of which, there's a boy named Ellis Gage who recorded himself singing it, and I'm going to have him on "Seth Speaks" this week! Every morning from 10-11 AM I'm going to be on SiriusXM STARS 106 doing a live show! And every day, I'm going to have a Tony nominee. Tune in and see Stephanie J. Block, Victoria Clark, Charl Brown and more! Here's Ellis belting the song he's going to sing on my show…so good!

Speaking of belting, I had a rehearsal today for the show I'm doing with Patti LuPone in London. OMG! All original Evita keys! So amazing! I made a Vine of her singing "Eva and Magaldi" and "Buenos Aires". Watch!

This week not only has Unbroken Circle on Wednesday, but its original director, Jason St. Little, is doing his own show at the Cutting Room. And then Friday in Brooklyn at Littlefield. I am so excited! I loved him when he played Hedwig in Minneapolis (and won the Best Actor award). Here's the info.

And with that, peace out!~