ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Max, Laura and Hilarity at The Ritz

What? The strike is still on? Didn't I specifically ask Local One and the producers to kiss and make up? What part of "start making out" don't you understand?

Laura Osnes, Seth Rudetsky and Max Crumm
Laura Osnes, Seth Rudetsky and Max Crumm

It's definitely been a hardship on audience members and everyone involved, but the most devastating thing about the strike is that it took place during BC/EFA's audience appeal fundraising period. They lose $40,000 a day! And that money is counted on by AIDS organizations all over the world…soup kitchens, hospices, etc. If you get a chance, go to BCEFA.org and buy something from their holiday catalogue. Their annual CD ("Carols for a Cure") just came out, and it's fabulous: $20 for a two-CD set and tons of Broadway shows are on it. My friend Tim is completely obsessed with the Spring Awakening track, but he's the kind of fanatic who would be obsessed if Spring Awakening came out with a CD of Juice Newton hits. PS, Does she actually have hits (plural)? Wouldn't it have to be a CD with only one track ("Just Call Me Angel of the Morning")?

The big news is I'm finally in a magazine centerfold. That's right, Hall and Oates-style, my baby is a centerfold…and I'm the baby. Genre magazine did a photo shoot with the cast of The Ritz, and they put a shot of me, Terry Riordan, Nick Mayo and Jeffrey Thomas as the centerfold. I'm not nude, but there is an exposed nipple. I don't know if I'm proud of it , mortified or feel in solidarity with Janet Jackson.

This week I interviewed Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, who won "You're the One That I Want" competition and are now playing Danny and Sandy in Grease. I started my career on Playbill.com writing about their TV show, which makes me feel a special connection to them, plus I played piano for the last Grease revival, so I also feel a little like the Sheila to their Maggie. (AKA, jaded hag to their starry-eyed naiveté).

Laura grew up in the Midwest and worked as an understudy in Aladdin, which was playing at the Minneapolis Children's Theater. She and the other understudy went on for the first time when Aladdin and Jasmine had a scene where they're supposed to back into each other and they wound up completely colliding. The two leads had to be taken to the hospital (they really got injured… including the Aladdin completely chipping his tooth) and Laura was so excited to go on because it was a two-show day… and then was outraged when the leads wound up going on that night! How dare they be so professional? But the sparks between the two understudies flew…and now they're married!

She got cast as Sandy in Grease at a Minnesota dinner theater and asked to have a weekend off to audition for "You're the One That I Want." Max was in California and thought it could be fun to audition for the TV show. He wasn't sure if he would or not, but happened to wake up at 6 AM on the morning of the audition, so he figured that since he was up, he would go. I talked with them about the ludicrous moment when all the contestants were forced to stand and sing in unison and, supposedly based on that performance, producer David Ian would make cuts. How stupid did the TV show producers think we were!? Why would the final decision be made based on how they all sounded singing a cappella? The cuts were obviously made beforehand, and the producers thought it would be a creative way to do them. Laura said that they triple checked that everyone was in their right position before they started because David Ian walked around (wearing a stern expression) and carrying a clipboard that obviously had all the cut people's position on it and they wanted to make sure he wouldn't cut the wrong person. She also said that if you watched it, it looked like forever on the TV show (like seven minutes), but it actually lasted 1,000 times longer when they were filming it.

We discussed that final episode, and Max busted the people on the chat boards who said that Austin didn't care about his mother because he didn't hug her right after he lost. He actually ran past her to do a quick change because he and Ashley were devastatingly forced to be in the ensemble while Max and Laura sang the finale as Danny and Sandy. Can you imagine? " Barbra Streisand, you've lost the Tony award to Carol Channing. Now, take off that gown, put on a frock and dance back up for 'Before the Parade Passes By.'"

This week also had some hilarity at The Ritz. Brooks Ashmanskas has a line near the end of Act Two where he says that he's the Private Eye, Brick. "It's me, Bunny! Brick!" Well, the line he said before that got a really big laugh, and it sort of through him. Unfortunately, it threw him enough for him to then say, "It's me, Bunny! Brooks!" It was an amazing moment to watch because as soon as he said, "Brooks," he realized what he did, and all the color drained from his face. My next line is "Careful, Googie!" which I said and then followed by saying to those around me onstage "Careful, Rosie." I always try to maintain a mix of 90% professionalism, 10% acting out.

Even though BC/EFA is losing a tremendous amount of money due to the strike, the good news is that The Ritz is working super hard to fund raise due to the amazing leadership of our stage manager, Tripp Phillips. Tripp was the stage manager for The Jersey Boys national tour last year — that was the first national tour to actually win the Easter Bonnet fundraising over all the Broadway shows! Brava! Anyhoo, many nights we not only collect money in buckets, sell autographed posters/programs and the "Carols for a Cure" CD, but we also auction items. Young hunk Justin Clynes and ex-porn star Ryan Idol have been auctioning off their towels (seriously! Once for $700!) and the dedicated Rosie Perez also auctions off her earrings. One night, however, someone said they'd pay $2,000 for her bra! She literally wriggled out of it onstage, autographed and forked it over!

After the show one night, I was collecting, and a woman approached me and said that she had seen the original production. I asked her how she liked this one, and she said that the time period was not consistent with today. "I mean," she shook her head, "I saw the Pan Am bag that the lead carries." I looked at her, confused. "Well, it takes place in the seventies." Pause. "Oh…I didn't know that." What? The stage is filled with seventies pantsuits, afros and disco music. The whole bows are choreographed to Donna Summer's "Last Dance." Maybe we should be more presentational and have a character stand center stage and say, "I love living in the 1970's. One day it will be 2007, but not for many more years."

My sister came in from Virginia to see The Ritz, and she was telling the woman next to her that I was in the show. The woman looked in the program and asked, "So…he plays Us?" Nancy was confused until she looked down and saw my credit (Sheldon Farnethold, u/s Chris). She politely explained the u/s means understudy. My questions are: 1. Why is u/s the only "character" she focused on when there are two proper names surrounding it? 2. Who spells "us" with a slash in the middle? 3. How can I play a pronoun?

Saturday night my BF (James) and I went to see Chita Rivera's late-night show at Feinstein's. Apparently we also traveled back in time because she looked and sounded faboo. The good news for theatre fans is that she does some of her classic songs including "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "A Boy Like That" and (for you Rink fans) "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer"! I have to say though that the most thrilling moment for me was watching her do "All That Jazz." I was obsessed with Chicago as a child, and it was the first show that I knew by heart and then saw on Broadway. She was such an important part of what made me love Broadway, and to see her so brilliantly do the song I saw her do 31 years ago had me full out crying in the audience.

Speaking of which, Sunday night I had my book release party/show/Actors Fund benefit for my new novel "Broadway Nights." I read scenes with the brilliant cast of [title of show], the hi-larious Mary Testa and the comic genius, Andrea Martin. I literally had to stop myself from crying because I grew up obsessively watching SCTV every Friday night, and to be standing onstage reading a scene with my comedy idol was such a dream come true. Heidi Blickenstaff sang the song "A Way Back to Then" from [title of show], which is about recapturing the joy and hope you had as a kid obsessed with theatre, and the song references little-girl-Heidi listening to Andrea McArdle on the record player. Well, Andrea was one of the performers at my book event, so Heidi got to sing it in front of her which was obviously so moving to Heidi. Then, after the chapter in my book where the lead character sees Annie and decides to ixnay opera and become Broadway obsessed, Andrea McArdle got up to sing. She thought she was gonna do "Everybody Says Don't" but realized she wasn't when I started playing the vamp to "Maybe." Sorry! I needed to make Heidi's dream come true, and it was amazing to watch Heidi weeping while Andrea sang.

This week James, his daughter Juli, James' mom and I are going over to my mom's house for Thanksgiving. I've already asked William Ivey Long if he can upgrade my Ritz robe to an extra-fat. Bring on the stuffing! (Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com. His first novel is titled "Broadway Nights.")

Laura Osnes, Seth Rudetsky and Max Crumm at Seth's Chatterbox.
Laura Osnes, Seth Rudetsky and Max Crumm at Seth's Chatterbox.