ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Spring Breakdown and Tales from Tahiti

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21 Apr 2014

Seth with Chita
Seth with Chita

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

Greetings from Logan Airport! Why am I here? Well, it's Juli's spring break and we decided to all take a much needed-break. We asked Juli where she wanted to go and she picked Provincetown. I got so excited; whenever I go there, it's because I have a show to do so this would be the first time in years I've gone solely for vacation.

We got two fabulous rooms booked at my fave hotel, The Anchor Inn, and decided to go Thursday and return Monday. Ahhh...three days and four nights just relaxing. Then, a few days ago, I was at SiriusXM and about to introduce a song from West Side Story. I turned on my mic and referenced Chita Rivera by saying with "Don't forget! I'm doing two shows with Chita this Saturday in New Orelans!" Then I thought, "Hm... that's weird because I'm in Provincetown Thursday through Monday. It must be the following week!" Pause. "Right?" Then I slowly and terrifyingly opened my iPhone and checked my calendar. Sure enough: "Provincetown Thursday, New Orleans Saturday."

I was so depressed! Of course, I love doing shows with Chita, but I was so looking forward to Ptown. I tried to find a flight from Ptown to New Orleans but it would have meant flying Cape Air from Ptown to Boston, then Delta to Atlanta, then a change of planes from Atlanta to New Orleans. I knew that there were too many things that could go wrong with taking multiple flights (mainly from watching "The Amazing Race") and realized I had to cut my vacation down to one day. So, we just flew from New York to Boston and now we're waiting for our flight to Provincetown. Then tomorrow I'll fly from Provincetown to Boston and (because there's good flight back) and take Amtrak to New York. I'll get in at 10 PM and take an 8 AM flight to New Orleans on Saturday morning. Yay? 

Ana Gasteyer
photo by Monica Simoes

I still have to finish ye olde cruise recap! First, I forgot to write about an amazing moment in Ana Gasteyer's show. She was talking about playing Elphaba in Wicked and how, since the show opened in 2004, the audiences would flip out during "Defying Gravity." People would act like it was a rock concert with screaming and cheering, and she'd often see people crying.

Well, near the end of her run, she had the Midwestern (re: stoic) part of her family come see it. After the show, they came to the dressing room and told Ana they enjoyed it, while touting very Illionois expressionless faces. One of her relatives mentioned, quite perplexed, that a man in the audience was crying during "Defying Gravity." He earnestly asked the room "Now, why do you think that happened? Why would a man cry during that song?" Ana was silent while everyone pondered. Finally, one of the other relatives ventured a guess: "Maybe his wife just passed." Yep, that was the only reason offered. Ana and I are obsessed that no one considered that perhaps he cried because he:
A. Was moved by the song's soaring melody and difficult vocals
B. Was stunned by the visuals
C. Identified with the struggle of the leading character

Nope. Apparently, the one and only option that would make a man cry at a musical is that
D. His wife must have just died.

Judy Kuhn and Brian Stokes Mitchell
Photo by Monica Simoes

I also forgot to talk about the interview I did with Tommy Tune where he mentioned revivals. He harkened back to the mid-70's when he was doing Seesaw. There was a 1974 revival of The Pajama Game with Hal Linden and Barbara McNair and Tommy said that he and his fellow Broadway buddies thought it was bizarre. He told us that the way it always worked was that Broadway came up with original shows, then they went around the country and then eventually did summer stock and community theatre. All of his friends on Broadway couldn't understand why they would bring a show back.

Tommy voiced what many others have been saying; if we don't have new shows, what are we going to revive in 20 years? So, in honor of his many Tony Awards, let's support all the new shows this season so Broadway doesn't become the most expensive summer stock in the world. Besides the interview, Tommy did his own show accompanied by the great Michael Biagi and, yes, he hauled out full tap numbers. I found this great clip of him winning his first Tony Award. Listen to the reverence that he gives Broadway shows

The final shows featured Judy Kuhn whom I made sing all the songs from her career that I've listened to repeatedly. Let it be known that she sounds exactly the same! Here she is in the original company of Chess and when she sang "Someone Else's Story" on the cruise, there was no difference.

The last night on the cruise starred Brian Stokes Mitchell who sang so many great songs... many from his CD "Simply Broadway." He did a beautiful version of "Wheels of a Dream" and hauled out sassy dance moves in "It Ain't Neccearily So." Here's the "Obsessed" we did together where he proves he can hold the longest note on Broadway. He was also hilarious when he told the audience he was going to do a production of Side Show starring him and Lewis Black. He then proceeded to do Lewis Black singing "I Will Never Leave You," which basically featured Lewis' signature finger pointing while yelling in a New York accent "I will never ****ing leave you!"

The cruise was in Tahiti and had so many amazing excursions but I was too busy to go on any of them. Except for one! The day that Tommy did his show, I didn't have to rehearse in the morning since Biagi was playing. I could have slept in, but I wanted to do one fun thing in Tahiti and since I was on a such a constant weight gain from the buffets I signed up to do a three-hour hike up and down a mountain.

So, that morning, I forced myself to wake up at 8 AM and James and I got off the boat. We made small talk with the couple who was taking the hike with us as we waited for the tour guide. For some reason, even though it was hot, they were in long pants and long-sleeved shirts. I casually asked why they had so many clothes on and they asked us if we read the email about the mosquito-borne disease. "No," we responded, trying not to have a panic attack, "we hadn't." Well, turns out, Zika Fever was going through Tahiti and it's transmitted through mosquitoes but "it's sickened a few hundred people" they added to make us feel better. Interesting! I got various emails telling me that sound checks was at 3:45 and to bring video footage to tech rehearsals but I never got one telling me I should avoid mosquitoes to prevent untimely death.

Howard McGillin
Photo by Monica Simoes

James and I didn't have long sleeves or pants, but the couple offered us their Deet (insect repellant). We sprayed it all over ourselves and all over our clothes. We then borrowed their cream as well and rubbed it all over our bodies. We were covered in harsh chemicals but at least we'd repel mosquitoes... and anyone who wanted to breathe clean air.

Soon we noticed that we had been waiting for quite some time. After 30 minutes, we were told that, turns out, the guide couldn't make it and the tour was cancelled. In conclusion, the one tour I wanted to do never happened. So, the one day I could sleep late I actually woke up extra early for no reason. And James and I rubbed and sprayed Deet deep into our skin and we spent the rest of the morning taking what is known as Silkwood showers.

Anyhoo, let me fast forward to now. I left beautiful Provincetown and flew to beautiful New Orleans where I did two shows with Chita Rivera. She's gearing up to do Kander and Ebb's The Visit this summer in Williamstown along with two fellow Playbill cruisers: Judy Kuhn and Howard McGillin! I'm always amazed by the people Chita worked with. They were all the originals. She was there when West Side Story was being created, when Bye Bye Birdie was having auditions, when John Kander played her the melody for "All That Jazz." She didn't learn the Fosse style from someone, she learned it from Fosse! She was even in the original Can-Can! Yes, she was in an original run of Cole Porter musical!

The topper was when she told me that she auditioned for a School of American Ballet scholarship when she was 14. In the middle of her audition, a blister on her foot started bleeding. The man running the audition stopped her dancing and got her a bandage. She put her leg in his lap and he applied it to the blister. Who was the man? George Balanchine! He's the one who then chose her for a scholarship! And who was her dance partner? Diaghilev! (That part's a lie. Barely.)

Okay! This week is the Easter Bonnet Competition (Monday and Tuesday... tix at BroadwayCares.org), a recording of "Seth Speaks" for SiriusXM on Wednesday (tix here) and a Chatterbox on Thursday at 5 PM (info at SethTV.com). Speaking of SethTV, we just added Chatterbox videos with Patina Miller and Jefferson Mays! Take a gander and peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)