ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: From Texas to Disaster!

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30 Jan 2012

Donna McKechnie
Donna McKechnie

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

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I'm on a flight home from Houston because I was down here for a big high school/college theatre festival called TheatreFest 2012, a project of Texas Educational Theatre Association. They take theatre seriously in Texas. A local woman told me (in full Texas twang) "It's football, cheerleading, then theatre." Brian Stokes Mitchell was supposed to perform the first night, but he suddenly got strep throat. So, at the last minute, Donna McKechnie flew down and did a fantastic interview with David Michaels (I know him from his producing of West Coast Actors Fund events). The kids went crazy for Donna, especially when she ended by performing "The Music and the Mirror." She's still got it!

On Saturday morning, I did a reading of my new book ("My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan") at the Blue Willow Bookstore and it was so fun! The book existed for years only on my computer, and now, suddenly, people are reading it and writing to me about it. I love the fact that even though it's considered a "young adult" book, so many adults are reading it. I'm telling anyone who loved my earlier novel "Broadway Nights" to get "Awesome/Awful" because it's essentially a prequel. The leading character is pretty much exactly the same, just 20 years younger. They don't actually have the same name, but apparently I'm only capable of writing one lead character (neurotic, scheming, slightly overweight Jew) and I'll stick him into whatever genre I'm writing. Next up: A science fiction book featuring a neurotic, scheming, slightly overweight Jewish scientist. Then a period romance featuring a neurotic, scheming, slightly overweight country squire.

Seth with Alice Ripley

On Saturday, I also did Deconstructing Broadway for the festival. Before I performed, David Michaels interviewed Alice Ripley. He talked about her show-stopping performance as Amy at the Kennedy Center production of Company. When she was first working on "Getting Married Today," she was doing very over-the-top Carol Burnett-style physical comedy including hanging from the set and singing a whole verse upside down. She happened to try out that staging at a rehearsal attended by Stephen Sondheim. Afterwards, he told her simply: "Don't do that…just sing the song." Alice was happy to get that advice. Just hearing the story gave me an anxiety attack. She also felt that she did the right thing by going so far in rehearsal. She feels you have to go all the way in one direction to know what it's like — and then you can tone it down. Because you've had the experience of pushing it, it adds to your performance. She remembered doing Side Show and having her director, Bobby Longbottom, come backstage and tell her that her big second-act solo had to be cut. He was, literally, on his knees (!) apologizing. She, however, was thrilled. "Are you kidding me? Thank you! One less difficult song to sing!" But, because she had the experience of singing the song during previews, she could add that experience to her character's journey. She also told the students to always have some sort of creative outlet. While she was playing Diana in Next to Normal, she began to focus on playing the guitar in her spare time to bring her back to herself. She then performed a song from Next to Normal on the guitar, but it was one of the husband's songs. She told us that singing it really helped her see his perspective in the story. Then she sang a song she wrote that's coming out as an iTunes single on Valentine's Day, and the crowd went wild. Visit her website for deets!



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