ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "I'll Be Seeing You" . . . in Wicked

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08 Mar 2010

Seth and Mandy Gonzalez
Seth and Mandy Gonzalez
Robb Johnston
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.


What a week. I saw Gail (my therapist) on Thursday and was giving her an update on all these stressful issues that we're dealing with (our old landlord, Juli's school, etc.) and ended the session by saying that James and I were going to Dallas for the weekend. I had two performances scheduled at the Water Tower Theater, and James was going to visit his grandmother who's been sick for a while. Gail was relieved to hear we were [AUDIO-LEFT]traveling because she felt we needed some time to ourselves and a little vacation. I walked out of her office, hearing her voice in my head saying that no matter what, we needed to have a weekend of peace and relaxation, and the second I closed the door, James called to tell me his grandmother had died. Thanks, Gail, for a putting a curse on us!

The good part was that his grandmother lived in Dallas, so it was perfect that we were traveling down here. He was very close to his grandmother and, at one point, they traveled the country together on a train. And, by the way, they didn't have enough money for a sleeping car, so they slept every night in a seat that leaned back slightly. And, she was in her sixties at the time! I would have spent that trip doing non-stop complaining, but James said they had a great time. The funeral was graveside, and the family wanted James to sing. I offered to play for him, but where's the power source in a cemetery to hook up a sassy electric piano? Turns out, a friend of the family was able to supply us with a pump organ. Have you ever seen one of them? They're usually being played by a plump elderly woman in a flowered hat. You literally pump the pedals to push air through it. I looked crazy doing it and felt like I was the church organist at a revival meeting in a Southern tent. Regardless, the music made the service very nice, and I wrote some specialty lyrics to the song "I'll Be Seeing You" specifically about James' grandma that had the mourners actually laughing. It sounds inappropriate, but it made the service very warm and moving. As a matter of fact, we found out that the funeral director told the family that it was the best service she's officiated at (!), and if James and I didn't live in NYC, she'd hire us to perform all the time. We were honored yet couldn't stop making jokes that we could have a long-term gig doing the "Funeral Circuit." Is that the last bastion of the "Orpheum Circuit"? All About June and the Funeral Circuit - Give me a grave and I know I can work it!

On Wednesday I got to interview beltress Mandy Gonzalez at my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show. She told us that while she was playing Nina in In the Heights Off-Broadway, she was offered the role of Elphaba. On the national tour. She had what we call a "luxury problem" and had to choose between doing a role she's always wanted to do on tour or originating a role Off-Broadway. She obviously decided to take In the Heights and mentally had to let her dream of doing Wicked go. It's one of those great stories where once you let something go, it comes back even better: AKA she got to originate the role of Nina on Broadway and was then offered the lead in Broadway's Wicked. I went to her final In the Heights performance, and I knew she was leaving to do Wicked but kept it a secret as directed. That's right, I kept it a secret. Imagine how shocked I was during her curtain call when the In the Heights band started playing the theme to Wicked, and Lin-Manuel Miranda came out in a green shirt and a black witch's hat. Why did I have to keep a secret if he was allowed to be in witch's drag and re-orchestrate bow music? Of course, my sister and niece loved that the curtain call had a tip o' the hat to Mandy playing Elphaba. Um…not that they knew beforehand. I mean, I didn't tell them… That is to say…all right! I admit it: My version of keeping a secret is exactly like my sister's. Example: When my sister was pregnant, she followed a Jewish custom to not tell anyone until the three-month mark. She said she'd only tell a few people. Cut to: When she finally got to three months, there was no one left to tell. Seriously.

I asked Mandy if she knew that Dance of The Vampires was going to be a major bomb. Turns out, she didn't. She remembers her first night on Broadway, starring opposite Michael Crawford. Like most first previews, the audience was cheering wildly. She came backstage thinking, "How exhilarating! We're a hit!" Her agent then came to her dressing room and walked in saying, "Well, I'm glad you have a few weeks to fix the problems." Mandy was completely miffed; "What? But we're obviously a hit!!??"


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