ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Catching Up With Christine Ebersole and Backstage Stories With Rachel Bay Jones

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20 Aug 2013

Seth, Varla Jean Merman and Christine Ebersole
Seth, Varla Jean Merman and Christine Ebersole

A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.


I'm back in Provincetown! I'm writing this from the deck of the Anchor Inn Beach House as I watch throngs of people walk along Commercial Street. I remember writing my first weekend here in Provincetown,  and I can't believe it's already the end of August!

I performed with the lovely Christine Ebersole, whose beautiful tone is as stunning as ever. Her concert is a combination of songs highlighting shows she's done as well as songs she just happens to like, as well as hilarious scripted patter and three interview segments led by me. She started the show with "I Got The Sun In The Morning" from Annie Get Your Gun, a show she never did, and followed it with a song from a show she did do…but not as an actress. Back in high school, she was a violinist and was playing in the orchestra for the school production of Finian's Rainbow. She became so fascinated with what was happening onstage that she suddenly played her violin…during a scene. That's when she realized she didn't want to continue doing shows under the stage. She told the story and then sang a glorious version of "How Are Things in Glocca Mora?" PS, I got an e-mail from a fan telling how much he loved that "Irish song" and asking if the name was "Kookamura." Close!

Christine and I chatted about her early career and how, in the ‘80's, she auditioned for the TV show Love, Sydney. She didn't get the gig, but Dick Ebersol (no relationship) saw her tape and, even though it was a serious scene, thought she'd be right for the cast of "Saturday Night Live." She was on it the year that Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy joined, and I asked her how scary it was to do a live show each week. She remembers it being not that difficult because she was used to doing theatre and, since it was filmed in a small studio, she couldn't really sense that millions were watching.

However, one night, she was singing a Christmas parody song and they had fake snow falling on the set. She opened her mouth to sing and suddenly inhaled a paper snow flake. It lodged in her throat but she had the ol' "The show must go on" mindset and resisted the overwhelming urge to get that flake out, even though it was choking her. That's dedication. I asked her if she's had time since then to cough it out (it's been 30 years), and she said yes.

Speaking of TV, she was just cast on American Horror Story and is flying to New Orleans this week to have her portrait painted. She has no script or any idea of what her storyline is. As a matter of fact, she only knows that she's playing some sort of a good witch because she read it online! Near the end of our show, she did "Around The World," one of my favorite Grey Gardens songs. Here's my deconstruction! After that song she closed with "Beyond the Blue Horizon" in which she sings soprano, operetta-style, and ends on a high C!

We went to dinner after the show and I asked her, "Is it hard for you to sing all those beautiful high notes after doing all low singing in the Grey Gardens song?" She answered, with a shrug, "Apparently not!" Brava on the honesty!


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