ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: A First Look at Disaster! and Jane Krakowski's Showbiz Stories

By Seth Rudetsky
October 14, 2013

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

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As "Waiting for Guffman" coined, "It's the day of the show, y'all." Oct. 14 is the first preview of the Off-Broadway production of Disaster!. Get thee to DisasterMusical.com for deets!

James was telling me what a difference tonight will make, because almost the entire cast has never done the show before! That means they've never heard an audience react to anything in the show. We're not having an invited dress rehearsal this afternoon, so tonight will be the first time they'll find out how an audience reacts to their jokes, to their songs, their dramatic moments...literally everything! So thrilling!

We actually have a big audience coming, so it's going to be truly exciting to go from no reaction to reactions from a theatre full of people. It would be "hilarious" if the reactions we've been getting from an empty theatre is the same we get tonight: Silence. We shall see! We did a big press event a few days ago where we performed three songs.

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The cast of Disaster!
Photo by Monica Simoes


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We've had rehearsals every day and Jack and I have been making our celebrity Disaster! videos. We started out with the Andrea Martin and Jane Krakowski ones, and on Saturday, we went backstage at Cinderella and filmed a video with Santino Fontana, Ann Harada and Laura Osnes. They're all here. Hi-lar!

On Thursday, I had Bobby Steggert on the "Chatterbox," and he's a such a sweet, smart guy. He happened to mention that he was the valedictorian of his high school and I asked how he did it. He told me, in a commiserating way, that because he was gay teen, he felt he had to overachieve. I told him that I, too, was a gay teen but I got a 50 in Algebra. Now what? Silence. By the way, when I say I got a 50, I'm not doing my mother's style of exaggerating numbers. I literally got a 50. Yes, 5-0. And I got it for two quarters. Hence, when I went to Oberlin, my major was piano.

Bobby is starring in Big Fish but also doing readings when he has free time. He's working on a new version of Company at the Roundabout, where the lead character of Bobby is a gay guy and all the couples are gender reversed! He's playing the role created by Donna McKechnie (Kathy) and Michael Urie is playing one of the other "girlfriends" (now boyfriends). And he heard the Elaine Stritch part is going to be played by Nathan Lane! Amazing!

The week started with me in New Orleans, doing a show with the fabulous Jane Krakowski as part of the Broadway @ NOCCA series. Jane has had such a long career and when we talked about the Nine production she did in 2003, she told me that she was almost part of the original production back in the 80's! Turns out, Tommy Tune's original concept was for the lady of the spa to be a young girl on the verge of womanhood (to be consistent with the eternal youth theme of the spa). When Jane was 12, she came in and worked with him on the set (featuring all of those boxes), but he wound up casting an adult woman in the part. Five years later, Jane got another call from Tommy. He told Jane that an actress who was cast in his recent workshop became pregnant and had to miss a few months. He needed to replace her because he wanted whomever was cast to do the entire workshop and then take it to Broadway. Jane came in and worked with him again. After a few hours, he opened a bottle of champagne and said, "Congratulations! You're our new Flaemmchen!" I loved the story, but then I pointed out that he was offering her champagne and she was only 17. Not since Leisl in The Sound of Music.

Jane Krakowski
 

Jane said the workshop for Grand Hotel took place in an actual dilapidated hotel in the West 40's and looked just like the set that eventually was used in the Broadway show. They would meet every day and Tommy would assign them chapters to read from original novel. Then they would improvise those chapters as their characters, and the writers would go home and take what they improv'd and add to it until the script and songs were written. Jane said that what makes Tommy so unique is how collaborative he is: He would not only listen to everyone's ideas while he was creating the show, he would also take people's everyday behavior and put it in the show. For instance, Jane said that the hotel (which she thinks was condemned) had rodents in the bathroom. She was too horrified to change there, yet every day she had to change out of her jeans and winter boots into her Flaemmchen short skirt and heels. So she perfected a way of changing her entire outfit without ever showing any skin.

Tommy was so obsessed her amazing maneuvering that he kept trying to put that into the show. Sadly, it never happened, but there is a song in the show called "We'll Take a Glass Together." The song was great, but they kept changing the dance. It was all different styles (including a tap version) but it never really worked. One day during a break, Michael Jeter went over to the hotel bar and made his legs rubbery to make everyone laugh. Then he leapt over the bar. As soon as he did that leap, Tommy told everyone to go home except Michael and David Carroll. That's when he created the brilliant number that was featured on the Tony Awards. It's all about Michael's rubber legs and then climaxes when he leaps over the bar. Watch! It's one of my favorite numbers ever. 

Sadly, in that Tony Award clip, you don't see the brilliant David Carroll who had AIDS and had to leave the show after a few months (the adorable Brent Barrett took over). But David was featured on the recording singing his stunning rendition of "Love Can't Happen." I still remember my stunned reaction when I saw him sing the final note of this song live. It was one of my favorite moments in the theatre. Here's my deconstruction.

Speaking of David Carroll, he and Jane were very close, and when the show was leaving for its out-of-town tryout in Boston, he wanted to take Amtrak instead of fly. She was the only other cast member who volunteered to go with him, and he was so excited! Jane went down to 14th St. and got one of those new-fangled suitcases that had just came out in the 80's...AKA a suitcase with wheels. Of course, since it was one of the first, it also immediately broke. David felt bad for her and carried her overstuffed suitcase all the way through Penn Station and then through the streets of Boston to their hotel. She remembered that it weighed a ton and was horrific for him. Later that year, he celebrated his 40th birthday and she didn't know what to get him. She finally decided on a present but the special part was going to be its presentation: She went back to 14th St., got the exact same suitcase and put the present inside it. When he saw it at his party, he was like "AHHHH! Not this effing suitcase again!" Such a hilarious way to wrap his present!

Back to Nine. Jane was nervous when she was cast in the 2003 production because Anita Morris was so brilliant when she did "A Call From The Vatican." The number featured Anita doing all these contortions while on a box, and Jane didn't know how she could make the number her own. One day, she was sharing a cab with the director David Leveaux, and he said "I think we're going to fly you in for your number..."  She was so excited that she climbed across the back seat and hugged him because she knew that was the concept they needed. Jane trained in "anti-gravity" for weeks but the contraption that flew her in wasn't ready to use until the first preview!

They told her that she could wait and do the song without it, but she didn't want people to see the number and spread the word that it didn't have anything special in it. So, she went up to the ceiling of the theatre, got wrapped in a sheet and tried it for the first time during the first preview! Turns out, the audience flipped! She remembers being hoisted up at the end and the crowd going wild. But, instead of running offstage immediately and sharing in her triumph with the rest of the cast, she had to hang upside down above the stage by herself. She was attached to what was essentially a clothesline and after she performed, they would slowly pull her across the entire stage to the wings. By the time she got down, she had to rush into a quick change, but she and her dresser did get to hug and freak out that the number went so well. PS, she really was topless underneath that sheet and a few times, when she was being hoisted up, a boob or two would fall out. Jane shrugged and said, "Well, people were paying a lot of money for tickets…" Here's her fantastic performance.

Of course, we discussed "30 Rock," which I was obsessed with. My friend Tim recently went to my Facebook wall and posted one of Jane's many hilarious lines: "It's called upstaging, Liz. It was my major at the Royal Tampa Academy of Dramatic Tricks." She later explains, "This is why I hated my first two weeks at the Royal Tampa Academy of Dramatic Tricks: No one knew who was the sluttiest. But I showed them. Oh, I showed them all."

When she got pregnant in real life, they covered it up by using a trick that Kelly Ripa used on her sitcom. There was piece of blue tape that was always placed above her baby bump. The camera people knew that if the blue tape got in the shot, it couldn't be used. As she progressed, the blue tape got higher and higher. Right before she gave birth, the tape was basically above her boobs. Her mom called her and said, "Wow! You're getting so many close-ups suddenly. I love it!"

This week starts with previews of Disaster, and then on Saturday I fly to Santa Monica to do two shows with Patti LuPone (for info/tix). Then on Sunday I fly to Dallas to do Deconstructing Broadway as part of the Turtle Creek chorale's concert! (for info/tix )

OK...I'm off for my final tech rehearsal and then...first preview! 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.)