ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Gypsy of the Year, Maltby & Shire, and the Launch of Playbill's Broadway On the High Seas Cruise

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10 Dec 2012

Christine Ebersole
Christine Ebersole

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


Greetings from the high seas! I'm on the Playbill cruise along the eastern edge of South America and today is a "sea day." That means that we're traveling a long distance to the next port, so we don't stop 'til we get there. I haven't been able to get off the boat since we got on because I've been so busy. So, I was super-excited that yesterday I had some hours off to get on dry land and do some shopping. The boat docked in Rio Grande, Brazil. We got a list of destinations from the ship; there were three shopping areas mentioned, and we decided to take a cab to the largest.

Today is going to be fun because I have an onboard Chatterbox with Christine Ebersole, and then I'm doing a show where I deconstruct my favorite video clips! But before I write about the cruise, let me give an update from pre-Brazil.

At the Chatterbox in Manhattan, I interviewed the composing team of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire and found out they both met at Yale. Even though they're not a couple, they met romantic comedy-style — meaning they both took an instant dislike to each other. David thought Richard was a big snob and Richard thought David was a hick. Of course, they then wound up loving each other and they've been great friends for the last 40 years. They started writing songs at Yale and when they graduated they heard about a young singer from Broadway who was taking the nightclub scene by storm. They had a meeting with her and pitched some songs and that's how Barbra Streisand came to record "Autumn" (which they had written at Yale for their musical version of Cyrano).

I was surprised that Barbra took songs from such young songwriters because I remember John Kander telling me how he got Barbra to record one of the songs that he and Fred Ebb wrote. John was working on Funny Girl and casually left handwritten sheet music on top of the piano. Barbra picked it up asked what it was and he told her that it was a song he wrote with Fred but it was completely not right for her. Of course, she then insisted on hearing it and that's how she came to record "My Coloring Book." David and Richard nodded and then told me a similar story. They had written a song for Robert Goulet that Barbra heard about. She asked to hear it and they told her that it wasn't right for her because it was written for a man. Of course, she then insisted upon doing it — and that's how she came to record "Starting Here, Starting Now." As she said as Fanny Brice, "Don't tell me don't!"

Speaking of Fanny, David mentioned that he was a pianist in the pit of Funny Girl and then took over as conductor. When I asked him how he got the gig, he told me that the conductor was also dating Lainie Kazan (Barbra's understudy) and playing for her act. When Lainie needed a few extra songs, he "lent" her some of Barbra's arrangements. Oh-oh. That's all David had to tell me. I immediately knew why there was suddenly a vacancy on the conductor's podium.

I mentioned the song "It Goes Like It Goes," which David Shire wrote as the theme to the film "Norma Rae." He said that it was nominated for an Oscar along with another song he had written that same year. He assumed that he wouldn't win for either because they'd probably cancel each other out, but he wound up winning for "It Goes Like It Goes"! Before the Oscar ceremony, Richard told him if he won for either of the songs, he wanted him to receive the award with the ultimate Jewish response: He said David should go onstage, walk to the microphone and ask, "So, what was wrong with the other one?" David opted out.

I saw their recent York Theatre Company production of Closer Than Ever twice and I'm very excited to say that there'll be a new cast recording coming soon! I also told them how obsessed I am with Baby. If you don't know the show, watch this video I made with the original "Lizzy," Liz Callaway!


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