ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: How Lena Hall Kept Dancing, Even After She Was Hurt Onstage
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
OK! There is still Tony Award night stuff I haven't covered. First, let me say that a few days before the Tony Awards I was texting with Audra McDonald, and it was early in the morning. I was standing on the stair climber waiting to start and finally had to ixnay on the texting so I could begin my annoying workout. I told Audra I was at the gym and sent her a photo of myself, looking unshowered and horrific. She then, without comment, sent me a photo of herself. The unsaid subtext being, "I, too, am at the gym. Look how horrible I look in the morning." I thought it was hilarious. Literally, the most beautiful hair and makeup ever.
At the Tony Awards, I did so many interviews on the red carpet that weren't put on "Entertertainment Tonight" but they were put on "Entertainment Tonight" online! Look! Susan Stroman was there, and I asked her if it was true that Bullets Over Broadway nominee Nick Cordero, who tapped up a storm in "T'ain't Nobody's Business," couldn't tap when he got the gig. Stroman confirmed that, indeed, he could not tap when rehearsals began. "But," she said, "he got a private tap lesson every morning for an hour." I then asked her if "tap lesson" was a euphemism. She laughed really hard but didn't confirm or deny. I then called her a "cougar." PS, That was not put on "Entertainment Tonight." TV or online.
On "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM talk show, I had Daphne Rubin-Vega, who was starring in the all-Spanish Vagina Monologues. First of all, whenever I hear about that show, I always think of the amazing opening number Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote for Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me. It's all about the plethora of one-person shows on Broadway.
First Brooks Ashmanskas says: "I yelled 'I need a drink!' when I saw Elaine Stritch."
Then Capathia sings "When I caught Chita Rivera, I yelled, 'Dance, bitch!'"
Then everyone: "We got from theatre to theatre, we're in such a fog! 'Cause everyone's vagina's got a monologue!"
Hi-larious! I asked her about any onstage mistakes and Daphne segued by saying "Speaking of vaginas..." and she proceeded to say while she was doing Rent, she was in the middle of "Light My Candle" when she felt like she was about to forget the lyrics. She got to the section where she sings that she dropped her "stash" and she suddenly forgot the word. She then "saved it" by singing something relatively close to the word. Yes, instead of "I think I dropped my stash" she sang that she "dropped her sn*tch." She was moritified but finished the number. As soon as she stepped offstage, she told us that the backstage peeps gave her a "merkin." Yes, from the time she sang the word "sn*tch" and the end of the number, her backstage friends found an old wig, cut it up and fashioned into what Mimi claimed she dropped. Not since a "Project Runway" challenge has anything been sewn so fast.
I had new Tony Award winner Lena Hall at "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox," and she was adorable. I first met Lena when she was still Celina Carvajal, on MTV's "Legally Blonde: The Search For The Next Elle Woods." She was one of the ladies vying to replace Laura Bell Bundy. Celina (I still have to call her that!) told me that she had tried out for the Broadway show but didn't fit into any role perfectly. Jerry Mitchell had asked her to come to the reality show auditions, and she thought it would be fun. It actually was fun, but Celina and I were both irritated with how the show was edited. For instance, one week she complained to one of the producers about how the contestants weren't being fed. She got really emotional, started crying and said "It's just not fair!" In that weeks' episode, she performed and got some negative feedback. Right after she was criticized they showed a clip of her crying and saying "It's just not fair!" That's right. They used her food outrage to make her look like she can't take criticism! She comes from the world of dance, she's completely used to being criticized! Speaking of criticizing, MTV also asked me to make weekly vlogs deconstructing each episode. Here's the week where I bust Celina for cracking... while talking!
Celina told us that she grew up in San Francisco with a choreographer dad and ballerina mom. She started dancing at a very young age but around age 12, she quit her journey to be a prima ballerina and started doing musical theatre. She saw Cats and loved it and right after she graduated high school, her friend told her there was a Cats open call happening and she should get there immediately. Celina was working in a kid's store but left early and went to the audition. She danced for hours and sang three songs but heard nothing for months!
Then they called her house and asked what she was up to. Celina thought she should sound really busy so she told them was about to start community college and she was working at a kid's store. They thanked her and that was that. She was then devastated because she thought she said the wrong thing. Ah! Should she have sounded like she had nothing going on? What do they want in their Cats? Thankfully, they soon called her in her kid's store and offered her the Cats national tour, understudying four cats!
She couldn't believe how much money she was going to get, and when she hung up, she started crying. Celina had to tell somebody the good news, so she ran to a nearby store at the mall and told her sister's boyfriend, who worked there. As she ran, the crying started to turn to hysterical, loud, aggressive sobbing. When she arrived at the store, her sister's boyfriend saw her, panicked and assumed someone had just died. When he asked what was wrong, she finally shrieked, "Cats called!!!!"
Celina said she then had four days to "become an adult." She had never lived away from home and didn't have a passport, driver's license or bank account. But she got herself together and flew to St. Louis to begin learning the various cats. She went on for some of the cats she covered and before she learned all of the roles, they offered her the permanent part of Demeter. Thus began one of the most horrifying onstage mishaps I know of: Celina went out to celebrate getting the role and one of her treats was getting fabulous nails. These were the kind that were superglued to your actual nails.
That night, she was in the section of the show where she tears the coat off of McCavity and an understudy was on for the role. It was a little different than normal and her hand got caught in the coat. He then twisted and turned and suddenly two of her nails were ripped off. Not just the fake ones. The real ones, too! Like I said, she was trained as a dancer, so she was used to "the-show-must-go-on-through-horrible-pain" and she actually finished the number. She then left the stage and passed out. 'Natch!
Anyhoo, she wound up doing Cats on Broadway, 42nd Street, Tarzan and Dracula. When she got the role of Stark Sands' girlfriend in Kinky Boots she had great scenes at the beginning of the show and her own beautiful Cyndi Lauper song. Well, when the show was out-of-town, they realized that it was taking too long to introduce the audience to Lola (Billy Porter) so all the early Celina stuff was cut down tremendously. Then, they wound up cutting a verse out of her song. She totally understood it was all for the good of the show and told them that without her intro and with part of the song missing, it was probably best to just cut it. As sad as it was to not have that great song, she was actually happy because without having to sing and dance, she was now being considered an more of an actress. When life hands you lemons?
Anyhoo, when she heard about the revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, she told her agent she had to have an audition and if he couldn't get one, she'd go to the open call! She knew she had to be seen for the role. She got the initial audition and went in full male drag. Plus, she brought her own guitarist! She got called back and for the final audition, she had to sing, do all the scenes and improv as Yitzhak, opposite John Cameron Mitchell!
She also wrote her own monologue as the character (!). She tried it out before her final audition for some of the casting people, and it brought down the house. Literally non-stop laughter! She went to her final callback excited for the same laughs. Instead... silence. Actually, to clarify, staring and silence. And occasionally a slight internal chuckle from John Cameron Mitchell. She knew she was bombing big time. But she sang up a storm and when she improv'd with John, she made him laugh numerous times. Long story short, she got the role and won the Tony Award! And her two nails grew back!
By the way, I've started keeping a daily (ish) blog on SethTV.com so go there to read about my "trip" to Virginia for my niece's graduation. (Hint: it was horrific). Come to "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox" this Thursday to see the cast from Here Lies Love. And 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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