ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: A Momentous Week

By Seth Rudetsky
03 Dec 2007

All right, on to the big show. Around a week ago, I got a call from Jeffrey Seller telling me that when the strike ended, there was gonna be a big celebration. He asked for some song suggestions that said Broadway and Xmas, and we talked about "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "We Need A Little Christmas." I begged him not to do one of those events where everyone stands onstage and sings in unison. "Get some amazing stars," I pleaded. "Like Bernadette or Angela Lansbury." He said that Bernadette was a great idea, but Angela wouldn't happen because she lived in L.A. A few days later, he called back to tell me that Bernadette said yes, and I remembered that Angela had just seen The Ritz and was therefore in NYC. He called her and she said yes! He then asked me if I would conduct the orchestra! Of course, I said yes, and asked how many strings would be in the pit. Jeffrey didn't know what theatre we were using, and he finally got back to me and said it would be at the Marriott Marquis, and they didn't use any strings in that pit. I said that we had to have them… and he totally agreed! Phew! I would have hated to go on strike during the end-of-the-strike celebration.

The first amazing thing was that I got to have a private rehearsal with Angela Lansbury. She didn't have any handlers with her, no assistants…just her. And, of course, my boyfriend begged to be there. She first thought that the song should be one step down….but after singing it through, she said that we should try it in the original key…and she sounded great! It was like hearing the record I listened to obsessively…but live and right next to me! I asked her if she ever thought of doing an act (can you imagine the stories she has?), and she said that she can only sing as a character, not as herself. I began to fantasize about her coming back to Broadway in a musical. Can you imagine how thrilling that would be? She's still got it!

This all happened last minute (late Thursday afternoon for a Friday show), and the people in The Producing Office literally worked til three in the morning getting everything together. I showed up Friday, and there were a ton of Broadway people on the Drowsy Chaperone set, and I had the delicious orchestra in the pit. I went onstage to teach the two songs because there were new lyrics by Avenue Q's co-lyricist/composer, Bobby Lopez. The end of "There's No Business Like Show Business" was a brava: "But now we're back in business and we're feelin' good/'Cause Broadway's doing what Broadway should/If only we could say the same for Hollywood!/Let's go on with the show!"

Bob Martin hosted the show as the character Man in Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone. He talked about how hard the strike was on him. "I mean, how many times can a single middle-aged man see How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Once. Once is the answer. And even then, the ushers keep a pretty close eye on you."



Then he moved toward the refrigerator and asked the audience, "Can I offer you a soda? Or as they say in Canada, 'Can I offer you a soda?" There's actually not much difference between us and our pacifist neighbors to the North. Well… I guess the pacifism." He had trouble opening the fridge and asked for help...and out walked two stagehands. The audience loved it and then they all opened the fridge and Bernadette Peters walked out…looking in her early thirties. Has she aged since Mack and Mabel? She sang the beginning of "Show Business" (sounding amazing…including at the 10 AM sound check). Bob Martin said he loved it…but was hoping for "Anything You can Do"…but since they're from the same album, he was okay with it. Then Bernadette opened up the fridge and someone representing (almost) every Broadway show paraded out…in full costume. It was a spectacular image that should be re-created somewhere….Tony Awards anyone?

By the way, Bernadette brought her own conductor, Marvin Laird, to conduct her solo section of "Show Business…," and I asked Marvin how long he'd been working with her. Turns out he met her on Gypsy — not the one she did in 2003 — the one in the early 60's! Bernadette was the Agnes understudy. That's a long working relationship. Brava to both of them. Marvin wrote the hilarious musical Ruthless, which gave Britney Spears her Equity card (she was Laura Bell Bundy's understudy), and he also wrote for Siegfried and Roy in Vegas! He told me that the first time he went over to their house, they were swimming in a pool with a bunch of tigers. I thought he meant that the tigers were roaming around the pool area, but he said that the tigers were swimming in the pool with them!

Everyone sang "Show Business," and then Bob heard another knock. He was annoyed and it wound up being his neighbor…Bob Saget, also dressed as Man in Chair. Saget said that he heard music coming from the apartment and wanted to borrow Bob Martin's record of Gypsy. Bob Martin said, "You just can't go to somebody's apartment and ask for their recording of Gypsy…without specifying which one! Merman? Tyne Daly? Angela Lansbury? I also have a bootleg of Linda Lavin." Bob Saget asked for the Lansbury one, and Bob Martin got the album out of his bookshelf. The album he was holding was obviously not Gypsy because no one had thought to put the real record on the set, so Bob ad libbed "I keep it in a Dean Martin Album cover" and shuffled Bob Saget out.

Then another knock…and in walked Angela Lansbury, which garnered an immediate, spontaneous standing ovation. C'mon people! Anyone Can Whistle, Mame, Dear World, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd…history! She led everyone singing "We Need a Little Christmas," and I couldn't believe the seat I had. I mean, it wasn't a seat, but when you're conducting a show, you're so close to the actors onstage it's like being in a special front row. It was thrilling! I'm so glad that it's been preserved on video online, and we've been playing it non-stop on Sirius.

Okay, this week I'm performing in that super fun benefit that The Transport Group does every year. It's called Gimme a Break, and Broadway folk talk about and then demonstrate how they got their first break. I'm talking about how I turned "Deconstructing 'The Brady Bunch Variety Hour'" into a career. I'll write next week..after my final performance. Wah. COL.