ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Remembering My High School Musical and A Surprise Birthday Cabaret

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17 Mar 2014

Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky

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

The next time I write this column I'll be in Tahiti. It's a lo-o-o-o-o-ong plane trip, but I'm looking forward to it because James will be next to me the whole time! During the last Playbill cruise, his play, Unbroken Circle was running and he was only able to fly to Stockholm with me. He stayed on the cruise for two days and then went home to make the Wednesday matinee. This time we'll fly to Los Angeles, have a layover for a few hours and then fly eight hours to Tahiti.

The last time I flew to an island in the Pacific was 2001. It was the summer I was rehearsing for the Dreamgirls concert I put together for the Actors Fund. I was with my ex-boyfriend, Aaron, and we were flying to his parents' condo in Kauii. Everyone told us that there was a fantastic buffet at a hotel we had to go to. Both being equally obsessed with food, we were totally excited. We flew from NYC to Honolulu on a Thursday, which took ten hours, and then we had to take a separate flight to Kauai. By the time we got to Kauai, it was around 8 PM at night which was 2 AM New York time. We were exhausted and knew there was no way we could go out for a big buffet dinner. We decided to go the next night. Then we found out it was only open on Thursdays. We therefore felt we had to force ourselves to go to the buffet and stuff food down our gullets even though we had been up for around 24 hours. We were so, so tired but whatever energy we had was used to lift the fork to our mouths repeatedly.

You may think that's crazy behavior but it's de riguer for me. When I was in Las Vegas with my Disaster! co-writer, Jack Plotnick, I remember having to lie down after stuffing myself at a buffet. I don't mean I went back to my hotel room to lie down; I literally lay down on the floor of the restaurant. Deliciously immobile!

Lately, I've had a few run-ins with my high school for some reason. Last Friday, my friend Lisa Disraeli came to see the show. I played opposite Lisa when my high school did Company. That's right; she played Sarah and I played Harry... when I was 14 years old. Why not have teenagers do a show about what it's like being in long term-relationship? I could totally relate. I had to sing the song "Sorry Grateful" and, boy, did I have no idea what the hell I was singing about. I might as well have sung the entire song with the word "La".

Basically, "You're always sorry, you're always grateful, you're always wondering what might have been... then she walks in." Or "La la la la la la la la la" would have elicited the exact same acting choices from me.

That same year, we did The Fantasticks and I was cast as Mortimer, the man who dies. There wasn't anyone really right for the role of El Gallo so, naturally, it went... to Lisa. That's correct! She was cast as El Gallo but was refered to as "La Galla." Si, senor.

Speaking of high school, the first show I wrote for Off-Broadway was called Rhapsody In Seth and it played at the Actors Playhouse. A large part of it was about what a nightmare high school was for me. I was the kid everyone made fun of for being gay, and my only outlet was music and theatre. My chorus teacher was amazing (yes, I achieved the double pop song coup and got the solo "MacArthur Park" and "Love on the Rocks"), but my theatre teacher went from being really supportive to completely boycotting me from theatre. Looking back, I realize I was totally acting out in terms of snobbery and being a know-it-all during rehearsals, but instead of working with me on it he decided to use "shock value" to teach me a lesson.

After having the lead in Whose Life Is It, Anyway? I tried out for the next play and wasn't cast at all. And it was one of the things of those dramatic high school moments where he put up the cast list and all the theatre kids saw it the same time. I kept scanning the cast list for my name and finally had to do the ol', "Congratulations everyone!" as everyone was looking at me, wide-eyed. And then I had to nonchalantly walk away while they were all whispering about what a scandale it was that I went from the lead to no role at all. Right after that, he failed me in theatre class! Yowza! Then, he told my teachers that I would only succeed in music because it's something you practice and perform by yourself but I would never make it in theatre because I can't work with other people. Well, I've proved him wrong by doing a string of one-man shows for the last 20 years. That's right, I was able to do theatre and still work by myself. Regardless, the good news is I heard that the school has changed a lot. Apparently, there's a lot more acceptance of gay kids and the music/theatre teacher, Eric Williams, is a brava.


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