ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: On the Playbill Cruise With Roger Bart and Ana Gasteyer

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07 Apr 2014

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


This is the final week of Disaster! Get thee ASAP! Last week we had Goldie Hawn come to the show with Hoda Kotb from "The Today Show," and this week Ana Gasteyer, Jane Krakowski and Lewis Black are coming. So excited! WNYC radio aired a show with the critics from the NY Post (Elisabeth Vincentelli) and TimeOut NY (Adam Feldman) talking about the current season. At the end, they both recommended seeing Disaster! which Elisabeth called "probably one of the funniest shows playing right now" followed by Adam calling it "the funniest show I saw last year!"

Seth with Hoda Kotb and Goldie Hawn

Juli begins her spring break right after Disaster! closes, so it'll be a perfect time for a vacation. Yes, I was on a luxurious cruise to Tahiti last week but I was working the entire time. Details, you ask? OK. Here's part two to last week's column. I already wrote about the opening show, Lillias White, Christine Pedi and Howard McGillin's shows, so that takes us to Tuesday. That afternoon featured the great Roger Bart. Roger and I met back in the late '90's when he was doing Triumph of Love. He was hilarious in the show (opposite his college friend and funny man Kevin Chamberlin), and it was going to be the first show where I was going to take over as the main conductor (I had only been an assistant up until that point).

Right before I was to take over, the show closed. Excellent. But then I was immediately offered a gig as a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" so it all worked out! I finally got to work with Roger in 2001 on The Producers, where I played in the pit off and on and conducted once in a while. Speaking of which, when he auditioned for that show, he was going in for the role of Franz Liebkind, the Nazi (played Brad Oscar). As soon as he walked in, Mel Brooks yelled to Susan Stroman, "He's too short!" Hence he was cast as Carmen Ghia. He had to wear a black catsuit in the show (!) but he thought it made him look like he had a belly. That's why his signature stance always included his hands across his stomach.

He told us that he had gone to Rutgers and, after he graduated, he went to this big audition where you sing/act for three bigwigs who can then cast you into various regional theatres. He was not cast in anything. Instead, he got letters from all three telling him that he should not pursue theatre. Yowza! Regardless, he wound up getting the role of Tom Sawyer in the national tour of Big River and then taking over the part on Broadway in the mid '80's. Speaking of taking over, he took over Norbert Leo Butz's spot on the cruise because Norbert got a TV pilot. Nevertheless, that didn't stop a passenger from approaching Roger and raving that she loved him in Big Fish. He smiled and said, "I think you mean Big River." I love that he figured out a way to have it make sense. He then decided, for the rest of the cruise, to call himself Norbert Leo Bart.

When Roger was first cast in Big River, he was a replacement and director Des McAnuff gave him a move to do in the middle of the song "Hand for the Hog." Roger didn't want to copy the original actors' moves and really pushed to create his own. It was not taken well, and after the rehearsal process was over, Des asked where Roger went to school. Roger told him that he graduated from Rutgers and Des said he was going to write to the theatre there and tell them that they messed him up. Reverse recommendation?


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