ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "You Were Wonderful! The Show Stinks!" Remembering Elaine Stritch's Sassiest Moments

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21 Jul 2014

John was good friends with the late, great Barry Moss who recently passed away but spent many years as an incredibly succesful Broadway casting director. Back in the '60's, he wasn't a known casting director yet, but he did have the chutzpah you need to be successful. Barry thought John would be a great replacement for Joel Grey in Cabaret so he called Hal Prince's assistant and told her emphatically that John should have an audition. She immediately listened to him because of who he was. Actually, because of who he sort-of said he was. That's right, instead of clearly saying, "This is Barry Moss," he muttered his name a little so it sounded like "This is Barry Morse," who was a famous actor at the time! She knew that anyone Barry Morse recommended had to be good, so she called John and offered him an audition! John went in and got a call-back where he had to put on the creepy emcee make-up. After the call back, he received a letter from Hal Prince (how cool is that?) where he told John that he was the best person who auditioned (!), but he looked too young for the role.

John did wind up going to college after all (UCLA) and afterwards, he got a lead role in a film called "Zacharia" opposite Don Johnson. The same producers were working on the film version of Cabaret. John again asked to be the emcee but they told him they already cast Joel Grey. However, they told the director, Bob Fosse, about John so Bob asked to see him for Pippin. He came over to John's house in LA and they read through the script. The crazy part of the story happens after Fosse left. That night, as John and his wife were going to bed, they heard a knock on the bedroom door. John was about to continue with the story to me when I interrupted because I didn't understand why he didn't go into a full panic when he heard someone in his house! He explained that it was before people were scared all the time. Huh. I guess nothing scary ever happened pre-1972.

Anyhoo, the bedroom door opened and it was Bob Fosse again. He came back to tell John to learn the Pippin music and come to the New York audition. Apparently, that information couldn't have been relayed on the phone the next day. Anyhoo, John showed up at the audition and there were hundreds of guys waiting to go in. Why? Because the audition call was "Any male between the ages of 18 and 35." No other specificity. John went in and sang... and Fosse offered him the part on the spot. I'm sure it was then wonderful to be one of the hundreds of people lined up to audition for a role that was already taken.

Anyhoo, John did the show for a few years and moved back to Los Angeles where he was offered a nice part on the TV show "Family." It was a seven-year contract and, unlike today, he told us that actors didn't want to be tied down to television. So, he passed. He then got a phone call from all the powerful people involved (including Mike Nichols!) asking him why he didn't want to do to role. He told them that he felt because he wasn't part of the immediate family, he'd only be in a few episodes per season and he wanted to do other work. They then promised him he'd be the lead story in every three episodes. But, he then explained, how could he do a film or a play if he had to go back and film every few weeks? They then offered to film all of his episodes in a row so he'd be free to do whatever he wanted after that. He then decided to push it and explained that he had started scoring films and wanted to continue doing that so they told him he could write the music for the TV show. Seriously! He said he's never, ever had a negotiation like that since. But that's how he got to play Jeff Maitland and write this theme song. He's starring right now in Pippin, but this time he's playing the dad, Charlemagne. He's leaving Broadway in a few weeks and doing it on tour, so go see him in NY or on the road.

This weekend I'm with Adam Pascal in Provincetown (tix at PtownArtHouse.com) and then next week I'm at the Woodlawn Theatre doing Deconstructing Broadway in San Antonio and, of course, every Tuesday I'm teaching my auditioning Master Class here in NYC! Watch my "5 Worst Audition Mistakes" videos here and sign up for the class here.

(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.)

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