Onstage & Backstage:: My Own TV Network! Plus, a Starry Surprise Party for Mom

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

Sebastian Bach in Jekyll & Hyde
Sebastian Bach in Jekyll & Hyde (Photo by Edward Patino)

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As Sebastian Bach once sang for a limited time on Broadway: "This is the moment"! And by "moment," I mean the beginning of a countdown to the bigger moment which will happen June 18. But it is the moment when you can subscribe! Subscribe to what, you ask? Why, SethTV, of course! "What the H is that?" you ask? I'll tell ya. Last year, my partner James was reading about Oprah starting her own network and told me that I should do the same thing. He thought I should have a TV network where all the shows aren't necessarily starring me (that's where I first took umbrage) but all the shows are "approved" by me. I got over my devastation of not being above the title in every single show and approached two investors who gave me the funding to begin my own online TV network and launch it with a Broadway reality show. And thus, SethTV was born!

Now, I'd been approached a few times in the past about doing a reality show, but I was always wary of giving control of my life to a TV executive. I've done a few reality shows on TV in the past and seen the "reality" completely distorted and manipulated. And I've always been annoyed that TV often has such a "no-one-cares-about-Broadway" attitude — for example, if they happen to show a Broadway song, it's sung by someone who's never done a Broadway show. Or it's pre-recorded and lip-synched. And auto-tuned! I wanted a TV show to feature real Broadway people, with footage of actual rehearsals that aren't faked for the camera and real, actual singing! I started filming last year and the more I got "in the can," as they say in the TV business, the more I couldn't help noticing that each episode also features the panic I'm in most of the day because I'm running late/forgot my music/double-booked myself. So, it's a combination of real Broadway people and living examples of adult ADD!

The exciting news is that everyone can now sign up for a subscription ($5 a month) and the preview of Season One is up on the site! Take a gander at SethTV.com and sign up!

This has been a big week for me. Last Sunday (May 6) was the culmination of weeks of planning. A few months ago I ran into Stephen Spadaro on the Upper West Side. Stephen is one of the company managers of Chicago and the partner of one of my best friends, Paul Castree . He asked about my Mom, and when I mentioned that her 80th birthday was coming up, he suggested I put on a show for her. I loved the idea so I rented Don't Tell Mama and asked my Mom's favorite Broadway singers to come and sing at what I decided should also be a surprise party. When Sunday came, I told my Mom and sister Beth (who was in on it) to take the 11 AM Long Island Railroad train to Manhattan, calculating that it would get them to Don't Tell Mama at noon for the big surprise. Of course, when I told my mother the train schedule, she immediately said to Beth, "When has Seth ever told me what time train to take?" Always suspicious. Then, my Mom was taking a long time getting ready that morning and Beth panicked and told her they had to make the train. My Mom said, "What does it matter? Seth is always late." Yikes. Almost foiled by my horrific reputation. Thankfully, they made the train and my Mom got to NYC thinking we were meeting for brunch. Then Beth got a (pretend) text from me saying that I was having a little rehearsal at Don't Tell Mama and to meet me there before we went to the restaurant. Beforehand, when I would mention the surprise element of the party to people, a few made jokes like "I hope her heart is strong!" I began to have horrible visions of everyone screaming surprise and then my Mother keeling over, so I told all the Broadway guests we were doing to do a "heart-attack prevention" surprise party. What does that mean? Well, I met my Mom out front, brought her to the back room where I was supposedly still rehearsing and opened the door to the party room. When we walked in, there was no loudly yelled SURPRISE!!!!. Instead, the door opened, my Mom saw everyone standing there and everyone literally did a low-energy, sotto voce, whispered, surprise. Hilarious. And heart-healthy.

Charles Busch
Photo by Rebecca Gallagher

The party was much fun and the show was amazing! It started with my friend Lauren Mufson, who I know from my piano bar days (and who was the star of Mamma Mia! on Broadway), singing "Me and Bobby McGee." The song was always playing in the car when my family and I would vacation together when I was a little kid. We'd load into the station wagon (my sister Nancy and I sat in the seats that faced backwards) and tote our trailer (!) to Montauk, where we'd live in a trailer park near the ocean. Lauren has been to many Seders with my family and introduced the song by saying, "Sally, when I'd see you passing the bitter herbs or ladling out the charoset, I never figured you for a Janis Joplin fan." Well, she is! Anika Larsen sang "A Little Less Conversation," and if you've never heard that amazingness, watch this! The great Tituss Burgess sang "Get Here," the song my mother loves to hear him sing. Not only did he sing it in Oleta Adams' key (she's a woman) but he took optional higher notes. Amazing. Here's a little of Tituss' crazy range.

My ex, Aaron Dai, did an amazing piano piece he wrote that consisted of all of these high-falutin' classical variations on "Happy Birthday." So funny and so creative. Charles Busch sang something that my Mom has spoken of for years: his rendition of "Bill." So simple, beautifully acted and moving. Charles just filmed a Playbill Obsessed video, so stay tuned for his brilliance. My sister Beth sang the first song she wrote (in '79!), which is my Mom's favorite out of all of Beth's songs. Beth announced it by saying it's one of her less depressing songs but, true to her style, the subject is nonetheless someone who was just unceremoniously dumped. She claims she writes songs with manic-depressive themes, and I told her she forgets the manic part. As opposed to Madonna's "Beautiful Stranger," here's one of Beth's beautiful downers. Farah Alvin recreated her amazing performance of "Solitaire" that my Mom heard at the Actors Fund salute to Neil Sedaka ( watch her end on an F!) ) P.S., Farah is still performing non-stop but since I've met her, she's lost 70 pounds! And now she's a nutritionist and the consultation is free. Brava! Go to her website for more deets.

Varla Jean Merman and Farah Alvin at the surprise party
Photo by Rebecca Gallagher

My friends from Forever Plaid (Paul Castree, Tim Cross, Drew Geraci and Clif Thorn) sang "No, Not Much," and Stephen filmed their actual performance at the party!

 My Mom's favorite 6-foot-plus lady, Varla Jean Merman, did a hilarious number that I don't have available to show you yet, but here we are doing a video of Lionel Ritchie's "Hello." James was complaining the whole weekend that he thought he had strep throat and didn't think he could sing, so I assumed we wouldn't do the song we planned for him. Of course, once the show started, he wanted to try to sing for my Mom. Well, the good part is he sounded amazing. The bad part is, because I didn't think he was going to sing, I didn't really transpose his song correctly. I was hitting wrong chord after wrong chord and finally had to completely stop the number in the middle because my horrible piano playing turned a great Barbra Streisand song into an atonal tone poem. I was mortified. The good part is, when we started again it sounded great. And the better part is the entire concert was filmed for my reality show and, as we all know, someone's complete humiliation makes for good TV. Unfortunately, I'm that someone. Here's James singing it where I don't suck.

Gavin Creel about to sing for Seth's Mom
photo by Rebecca Gallagher

Near the end, I had two people show up whom I thought wouldn't make it: Nell Snaidas, my friend with the amazing coloratura, had a singing job that morning but got there just in time to come onstage and sing Mabel from Pirates of Penzance. But, because it was for my Mom, she sang the version she once had to perform…in Yiddish! She noted that the original lyrics are "Poor wandering one. Though thou hast surely strayed," but the Yiddish lyrics are typically Jewish and translate to mean something like "Poor idiot who will amount to nothing." Perfect for my Mother's temperament. Gavin Creel had told me he was rehearsing a reading of Tom Kitt's new show and would try to come by on his break. He arrived in the middle of the show and I announced to everyone that he graciously came during his rehearsal's lunch hour. He then countered by telling everyone, "Actually, I wound up not having rehearsal today. I'm just late." Brava on the honesty? And finally, Darius DeHaas sang "I Am Changing" from Dreamgirls, ending the show with his fantastic singing. Speaking of Dreamgirls and Darius, here he is in my concert for the Actors Fund. You'll be able to see the whole party, concert and aftermath on my reality show which begins airing June 18 at SethTV.com. But you can be the opposite of me and do something in advance: subscribe now!

Last weekend I saw Leap of Faith and I loved the crazy high belting of the choir! Hopefully, they get a group discount for prednisone. And I've never seen leading lady Jessica Phillips. Brava! Her acting was excellent and very real. And, of course, Raúl Esparza is so in his element in his role as a faith healer whose meetings always evolve into an enormous production number. It actually reminded me of his sassafrass as the Arbiter when we did Chess for the Actors Fund. I found this fun clip of him at the dress rehearsal. P.S., ignore my tank top. I get hot when I conduct.

Sandra Bernhard at "Seth Speaks"

And finally, I had Sandra Bernhard as my guest at "Seth Speaks" on SiriusXM. She always sings in her shows, so I asked her about her musical-theatre aspirations. She told me that in the early '90s she was being considered to do the Broadway revival of Funny Girl! Of course, it was the first of many cancelled revivals of that show. I then asked her to sing, and she did a rendition of "Before the Parade Passes By" because it's from the first show — Hello, Dolly!, natch — that she became obsessed with. Sandra saw it on tour when she was a child in Michigan and cried on the car ride home. When her mother asked why, Sandra said that she thought her Mom was going to arrange a backstage meeting with Carol Channing . Sweet! Years later, when Sandra moved to New York, she told herself she'd know she made the right move if she saw Carol Channing somewhere in NYC. Well, right after she got there, she was walking around the West 50s and she saw her! Later on, Carol saw one of her shows, came backstage, hugged her and said, "You are my soul sister." Delicious. I was telling Sandra how much I loved her first CD, "Without You I'm Nothing," and especially the story she tells of her Mom having a coughing fit after eating one of those candies that restaurants have near the cash register. After her Mom stopped coughing, she slowly said, "There must have been dus-s-s-s-t on those mints." Well, cut to: Sandra sang with me and then cracked a little on a high note and asked me to start again. Right after she cracked she looked at me and slowly said, "There must have been dus-s-s-s-t on that song." Brava! O.K. everyone, this weekend I get ready to go to Chicago with Andrea Martin and then off to Wilmington.

Lauren Kennedy, Alan Campbell and Riley

And special note to North Carolina peeps: Don't be lazy! Get out there and vote No against Amendment One. Gay kids have it hard enough. Raleigh native (and Broadway beltress) Lauren Kennedy took this stunning picture with Broadway hubby Alan Campbell and their beautiful daughter Riley to help convince you. Happy pre-Mother's Day and peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera . He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair , which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)