ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Laughter Is the Best Medicine

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15 Dec 2008

Daniel Radcliffe and Seth Rudetsky
Daniel Radcliffe and Seth Rudetsky
Photo by Lindsay Lavin
Attention, all Texans!

I will be in Dallas next Saturday doing a musical theatre workshop at the Watertower Theater. If "y'all" want to come, go to watertowertheatre.org.

Let me first talk about the fun stuff from last week. Monday and Tuesday was the 20th annual Gypsy of the Year competition, and I had an amazing time hosting it. Right before the show began, I saw Harvey Evans. Every time I see him, he tells me that he's retired, and then I see him kickin' up his heels at another gig. Last year, after I lamented him stopping his sassy singing/dancing, he was totally featured dancing around Central Park in the film "Enchanted" and then doing the same number on the Oscars. Of course, his recent version of retiring was standing backstage, waiting to star in the opening number. Essentially, he's had more farewell tours than Cher. At this point he needs to acknowledge that he is the perpetual Gypsy of the Year…he'll never stop gigging!

After the opening, Tyne Daly and Jonathan Hadary took the stage and told the audience that they were the first hosts of Gypsy of the Year 20 years ago…right after they opened in Gypsy. They remembered someone from the Phantom company doing an anatomically correct "Dance of the Seven Veils" and, as Tyne put it, "every time you thought it was over, off came another veil." After that, Jonathan said, BC/EFA started to screen the acts before they went onstage. They then introduced me, and I came out and chitty-chatted with them. I asked Jonathan why he was bald in a recent photo I saw, but now sported a full head of hair. Is he the Ted Danson of Broadway? He said that he played a role a few months ago where the character was supposed to be bald, and Tyne advised him to shave his head because she felt he would hate wearing a wig cap all summer. Tyne was advising from her own experience because when she turned 50, she wanted to begin what she called the second half of life the way she began the first half…completely hairless. And, so she shaved every hair on her body…except her eyebrows. Jonathan took her advice, but it backfired because he got a review saying that he was wearing the worst bald cap ever made. God made his bald cap! I then mentioned to Tyne that since the musical Gypsy is constantly revived, we should probably assume that it will come back again in a few years and, by the law of averages, someone sitting in the audience will probably be playing Mama Rose. Any tips? She turned out, glared and advised, "She is not a monster!" and stormed off. She's still got it.

Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter!) was there and is such a fan of musical theatre. He was watching the opening number rehearse and stood there with his eyes wide in awe, mouth hanging open. Before he went on for the Equus sketch, he was standing backstage, shirtless, next to me. This time, I was standing with my eyes wide in awe, mouth hanging open.

Tyne Daly, Seth Rudetsky and Jonathan Hadary
photo by Lindsay Lavin
Onstage I did my signature deconstructing bit where I compare Patti LuPone's amazing modulation in "Rainbow High" to Madonna singing the same thing in the film version, and Daniel told me that his father saw me on Monday and went home that night and kept playing each version back and forth. Yes! I appeal across the pond! I also deconstructed how Friedrich in the original production of Sound of Music sang the "la" in "Do Re Mi" and couldn't belt it, so he did it in a headache-y head voice. Later on, Christine Baranski passed me backstage and muttered, "You're right, you know. About that 'la.' It always bothered me." Yes! I do appeal to Tony winners!

At the end of the show, the cast of [title of show] did a brilliant piece about the first Broadway show Susan Blackwell saw and the first one that Hunter Bell saw. One of my favorite moments in it was when Susan described her show with its signature tag line: "Angels in America…a gay fantasia on national themes." And, then Hunter revealed what show he saw: "Annie…a Gay Fantasia on National Themes."

All in all, the show was thrilling, and I was so excited and proud to be asked to host...and the whole thing raised $3.5 million. Yay, Broadway!!!!

On Wednesday, I interviewed Greg Jbara from Billy Elliot—The Musical at my Sirius XM Live on Broadway show. We've known each other since we did Forever Plaid together on a national tour…and by "national tour," I mean Baltimore and San Diego. Anyhoo, he's playing the dad now in Billy Elliot and loving it. He had moved to L.A. and said he wouldn't be doing New York theatre because his kids go to school there, and it's too hard to take them out…but then the writer's strike happened, and he was living off his savings, and they asked him to audition for Billy Elliot. He loved auditioning for Stephen Daldry because Stephen spent so much time with him, having him try scenes all different ways. At one point, he's supposed to discover Billy in a ballet class and pull him out of it, and Stephen asked him to imagine himself showing up at the class and all the little ballet girls were holding Uzis. That image was to help Greg feel that the girls were actually dangerous, but I could get the same feeling by just imagining a line of Young Cosette wannabes at an open call: ten-year-old girls holding Uzis are not as scary as ten-year-old girls holding 16 bars of "Castle on a Cloud."

Greg is loving the show, except that recently the giant puppet of Maggie Thatcher that flies in during the opening of Act Two got stuck on the stage. So, during his big, dramatic number that followed, he was totally upstaged by an oversized Maggie Thatcher being slowly lowered and hauled off the stage by the crew. He said he can usually see audience members wiping tears from their eyes, but instead he saw rows of them pointing and laughing. And, that's the fun of live theatre…and by "fun" I mean humiliation.

Also, at my Sirius/XM show was my Saturday radio co-host, Christine Pedi, who's currently doing her show, Christine Pedi's Holly Jolly Christmas Folly at the Laurie Beechman room (see ChristinePedi.com for deets). I asked her about the amazing imitation of Elaine Stritch she did in Forbidden Broadway sung to "Zip" from Pal Joey: Stritch! / All my co-stars yell out "Put on your shoes" / Stritch! / "Who the hell drank all the booze?"

Christine did that song in a performance of Nothin' Like a Dame and Elaine was going to appear onstage after the number and bust her. Christine was called to Stritch's dressing room to discuss how it should be done. (In Stritch's voice): "Christine! After the number, I want to take a long bow to the right, a long bow to the center and long bow to the left. Then go to exit stage right and I'll be there. I'll stand nose-to-nose with you and back you into the wing." Well, Chris did the number, did the bows and went to exit…but Stritch wasn't there. What to do? She just decided to keep exiting. She kept walking, and Stritch didn't appear! When Christine was one inch from walking into the wing, Stritch appeared. So, now instead of backing her across half the stage, Stritch set it up so she was able to back Christine across the whole entire stage. Christine was walking backwards and nervous she'd back into the pit. Christine demonstrated for us how Stritch helped her by muttering sotto voce, (in Stritch voice), "That's it…a little to the left...that's right….don't veer…" all under her breath while maintaining a glaring face. Hilarious juxtaposition. Christine just got a great NY Times review, so get thee to her show!


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