ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: In Praise of Stephanie J. Block, Kissing Chris Meloni, Meeting R.L. Stine

By Seth Rudetsky
21 Nov 2011

Brad Oscar
Last week began with a big Broadway benefit at the Shubert Theater for Only Make Believe (OnlyMakeBelieve.org). That's the organization founded by Dena Hammerstein that brings theatre to chronically ill children in hospitals. Or as they say in Europe, "in hospital." Brad Oscar has done a lot of the events and his partner (soon-to-be husband) Diego Prieto was so moved by the video showing what the actors do in the hospital, he joined the Only Make Believe acting troupe and now performs in all of the New York City hospitals! Brava! Before the event, I tweeted that I was excited for the benefit and hoping for a make-out session with cute, cute, cute Chris Meloni (who was making an appearance). I was completely joking, but of course held out a tiny shred of hope. Who wouldn't? Cut to: I saw him backstage and not only did we not make out, he walked by me not with a "we're both performers in a benefit" pleasant face but with a blank "I didn't know they let non-theatre people backstage" face. Fine. I accepted it. We wouldn't be making out. And I foolishly also assumed he wouldn't be making out with anybody. Well, you know what they say. "When you assume, etc." Before I went on, I saw him stage left with one of the clowns who was slated to perform. The clown was dressed as a middle-aged lady, and Chris, un-prompted, said, "It would be really funny if we went onstage together and I kissed you! He told the clown that he would dip him and kiss him first, , then they should pause, and then the middle-aged lady male clown should dip Chris and kiss him. Then they proceeded to practice the bit in front of me! I felt like Eponine when she's forced to watch Marius and Cosette make out. And she at least won a Tony.

The video about Andrea Martin's upcoming appearance in Provincetown came out, and it's great. I love the fact that Edith Prickley is in A.A. And Juli's appearance is especially hilarious. Watch! 

On Sunday, I did a fundraiser at the home of Douglas Carter Beane and his partner Lewis Flinn. Even though they're dealing with rewrites for their new Broadway musical, Lysistrata Jones (Doug wrote book and Lewis wrote music and lyrics), they used their night off to host a fundraiser for Music For Autism. Families with autistic kids usually can't go to musicals or concerts because the kids' behavior can be too distracting to the other audience members or because they can't afford the ticket price. Music for autism provides fully- funded concerts where the artist is paid and admission is free! It allows families and those with autism to enjoy music and not worry that their behavior is going to ruin it for everyone else. It's a great idea and letters were read from parents with autistic kids and they talked about how much the kids loved the concerts and what a difference it made for their families. For more info go to MusicForAutism.org. Doug asked his former Xanadu star Kerry Butler to sing, and she asked me to play. It was in Doug and Lewis' apartment, which was crammed with people, so Doug suggested that Kerry stand on the coffee table in order for people to see her better. He then told everybody that it's the same coffee table his very young children would stand on when they would do their own version of Xanadu, and both his daughter and son would fight over who got to play Kerry's part. I completely identify.

Andrew Samonsky and Mary Testa in Queen of the Mist.
photo by Carol Rosegg

On Thursday, James and I trekked downtown to see Michael John LaChiusa's Queen of the Mist produced by the Transport Group and directed by Jack Cummings III. I love hearing about history I should know but totally don't. Who knew a woman was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and live? Mary Testa gives a bravura performance as Annie Edson Taylor. I told her I was mystified that her voice could survive so much barely-amplified singing. She gave the answer that so many people do: the show was written specifically for her so all the songs are in her keys and feature what she can do. That's the same thing Mandy Gonzales and Montego Glover told me. Hmm…if a role was written for what I do best, it would feature someone who continually shows up late, mutters sassy asides and alienates authority figures.

The whole show has amazing voices and, of course, Julia Murney adds an extra amazing note to the end of her song. Belt it! Jack Cummings is not only a good director but he is so funny in real life. I wrote on my Facebook that I was looking for a web designer and people were posting suggestions. Well, before [title of show] became successful, Jeff Bowen (who wrote the score) used to design websites. So, a Facebook friend named Edward recommended him to me as a designer, not knowing Jeff doesn't do it anymore. Jack obviously saw the recommendation and thought it was so random and not possible that he suggested his own totally inappropriate web designer, but also phrased it with the exact same amount of syllables so the joke landed deliciously. Here's are the lines in succession:

SETH: Does any know someone who can take over my website?
EDWARD: What about Jeff Bowen?
JACK: What about Jan Maxwell?

I cannot tell you how many times over the last week I've laughed because of that. Completely obsessed. Speaking of which, I've always wanted to be in the approval matrix at the back of New York magazine. It's an actual matrix about pop culture with "Highbrow" and "Lowbrow" and then "Brilliant" and "Despicable." Someone can be Highbrow Brilliant or Highbrow Despicable or Lowbrow Brilliant or Lowbrow Despicable. The Broadway medley I did with Sarah Silverman made it into Lowbrow Brilliant. I still got it…ish. Here it is!

And finally, Happy Thanksgiving!

(Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)