ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Faith Prince, Lea DeLaria, Jerome Robbins and a Duck

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30 Jul 2012

Lea DeLaria
Lea DeLaria

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


I can't believe it's about to be August! That means it's less than three months until a big event on Broadway that I'm involved with…but can't announce quite yet. Let me start this week's column with last Wednesday, July 25, when I did "Seth Speaks" with Lea DeLaria, who was a hilarious guest. She told us that she began doing stand-up in San Francisco in the '80s and her stage name was simply "Big Fat Dyke." She wound up being a hit but had to get rid of the stage name and go back to being Lea DeLaria because when she'd walk down the street people would yell from their cars, "Big Fat Dyke!!!" She didn't know if they were fans or if they were harassing her. In the late '90s, she flew in from California when she was asked to audition for On the Town — and she got the role of Hildy, the brash cab driver. She only had experience doing TV and film so when they started dress rehearsals she told someone, "I can't wait to see what the make-up person does with my make-up!" She then found out that Broadway ain't like TV, and the make-up person's name was Lea DeLaria. The show opened in Central Park and she and her manager hiked it down to the New York Times building at 2 AM to get the review on the night it came out. Lea said she started reading the first paragraph and saw that it was about her. Then the second. Then the third. At this point she sat on the sidewalk to keep reading. There were seven paragraphs lauding her! Here it is. Soon, "I Can Cook, Too!" became her signature song and she was asked to sing it at many events, including the big Leading Ladies concert at Carnegie Hall. Lea was freaked out to be performing with so many big stars until she saw Audra McDonald backstage. Audra walked by and told Lea that she was a nervous wreck. Lea then thought, "If a Tony winner is nervous, then it's OK that I'm nervous," and that made her calm down. I remember that night because I played for Audra! She did a version of "Down With Love," the climax of which I arranged. We first ripped off the Barbra Streisand version of the song but changed the middle where Barbra mocks a medley of love songs. Instead, we interpolated a medley of Barbra's love songs to mock and then at the end I added a shout-out to the love song Audra sang when she won her first Tony. She was a brava! Watch! Lea then went on and sassed her song. Andrea McArdle was standing backstage listening to Lea bring the house down and when she came on to sing, she complained about having to follow something so fabulous. She then passed Lea backstage and Lea introduced herself. Andrea stared and said, "You're Lea?" Lea said, "Yeah." Andrea then said, "I thought you were black!" Speaking of Andrea and Lea, they're both performing tonight at 54 Below!

And speaking of Audra, Lea said she knew she had to share a dressing room at Carnegie Hall with one of the other ladies and hoped it was with Audra. Because she's a fan? Lea said, "No, because she's HOT!" Lea's wishes weren't exactly granted. She didn't get to share a dressing room with Audra, but she did get to share one with another great lady of the theatre, but one who is perhaps not as "hot": Elaine Stritch.


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