ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Shields & Yarnell, Ann Hampton Callaway & Barbra, Michael Cerveris & Tommy

By Seth Rudetsky
24 Sep 2012

Michael Cerveris
Photo by Robb Johnston
My guest at the Chatterbox was Michael Cerveris, who's currently starring as Peron in Evita. We went back to his first big break, which was playing the title role in the La Jolla Playhouse production of Tommy. Well, when the show was going to Broadway all of the cast members had to audition again. Rude. Michael felt a lot of stress about the audition, and, on top of that, he had a cold. He was living in L.A. and the producers agreed to fly him to NYC for the audition but, probably to save money, they got him a flight that was actually going to San Juan but had a layover in New York. When Michael got to the airport he told them that he would be leaving the plane in New York and they told him that he would be allowed to do that, but his luggage would have to go to San Juan! It was a Sunday and he tried to track down the people who bought him the ticket but he was only able to reach Des McAnuff who told him to buy a new ticket and he'd get reimbursed. Michael finally got a flight, but it left much later. So, he arrived in New York with a cold and completely exhausted. The next day, he warmed up at the music director's apartment but found out when he arrived that there were cats and he's allergic. So, now he's exhausted with a cold and severe allergies. He started the audition by playing for himself on guitar and after two songs they asked him to sing from the show. Well, by the time he got to the second song ("I'm a Sensation") he had no voice left. At all. The creative staff had seen him do the role so they knew how he could sing, but there were lots of producers there who hadn't seen him and were decidedly not impressed. Michael resigned himself to not getting the role and a few days later Des and Pete Townshend asked him out to dinner which Michael assumed was a consolation prize. It wasn't until way into the dinner that Pete said casually, "It's so funny that we saw hundreds of people for this show and the one person who gave the worst audition of all is getting the title role." Michael then realized he had the part! He played it on Broadway and then starred in the German company for a long run.

The biggest adjustment for Michael in Europe was the getting used to the crew in Dusseldorf. Michael said the crew people weren't trained like in New York. They were just guys who applied for a job in a variety of places (restaurants, factories) and the one they happened to get was at the new theatre being built for Tommy. They had to be firmly told that since they were in charge of dangerous things like making sure Michael was flown on and off the stage safely, they had to promise to not be stoned before or during the show. And they weren't versed in musical theatre…at all. During the first run-through, the girl playing Sally Simpson had to run backstage really quickly to get to the other side. She wound up banging into a stagehand who was standing in the way. The guy was told not to stand there because Sally had to make a quick cross. The next night she ran backstage again and…slammed into the same guy. Why? Well, he was told the night before not to stand there so he moved. The night before. He wasn't informed that he couldn't stand there the next day. In other words, he was shocked that the show stayed the same each night! If he ever saw my comedy show, he'd know that certain shows never change. I've been telling the same old chestnuts for years.

Speaking of old chestnuts, this week I'm flying out to Morristown, TN, to do my deconstructing Broadway show. If you're a Southerner, get tix here

And watch the new "Playbill Obsessed!" video that I did with Liz Callaway (the aforementioned Ann's sister!). She's always playing an innocent on Broadway, but in real life she is constantly sassing me (and singing amazingly).

Finally, come see me and Andrea Martin Oct. 9-11 at 54 Below! We're always talking about our mutual obsessesion with food and she recently texted me about a Food Inspection Grade she was ignoring. "Even the airport bakery's Grade C (i.e. rats) won't stop me from getting a croissant." Brava! Happy fall 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.)