ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Mutchnick & Seth
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Attention readers, my new young adult book is finally available! Ah! So exciting! It's called "My Amazing/Awful Popularity Plan," and it doesn't come out until January, but you can buy the hardcover in advance online. And, because I'm so 2012, you can also get it on Kindle. Go to http://www.amazon.com/My-Awesome-Awful-Popularity-Plan/dp/0375869158/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1322239726&sr=8-3.
Now to the more mundane. I have eight more hours on this train. That's right, I'm in hour three of my 11-hour train trip to Canada. I was asked by Jack Latulippe to do a master class in Montreal. He's had people like Shoshana Bean and Stephen Schwartz up to teach, and his goal is to bring lots of Broadway people and shows to Montreal. He has an amazing Broadway blog called Master a Montreal (http://masterclassamontreal.com), and I was so excited when he asked me to come to visiter. When I asked James and Juli to come with me, James thought it would be a fun "adventure" if we all took the train up and back together. The nice part is it goes up along the Hudson, and the scenery is beautiful. The not nice part is there are eight more hours of scenery ahead. Anyhoo, I'm going to make the best of it and get some writing done.
So, let's start with last Monday. I've been friends with Anne Martin ever since we went to Usdan Performing Arts Camp together when I was 14 and she was 13. Her close friend from high school is Eric Hyman, who is now married to Max Mutchnick, the creator of "Will and Grace." Turns out, Max is a fan of my radio show and asked Anne if we could all go out to dinner. Fun! Of course, as soon as I meet a celeb, I immediately ask them to be on my radio show, so here's a recap of the dinner and his appearance two days later on Seth Speaks. First of all, the name "Max Mutchnick." When he arrived at college, he wanted to reinvent himself, so he changed his name from Jason to Max. He added that "reinventing" was his code word for coming out. I suggest he might have wanted to can the Mutchnick as well (believe me, I know what it's like lugging around "Rudetsky"), but he said he liked the alliteration. After graduating college, he started working as a staff writer on various sitcoms. Warren Littlefield asked Max and his writing partner to come up with a new "Mad About You"-type show, and they wrote one about a couple in San Francisco who were friends with two other couples, one of which was a gay guy and his straight girlfriend. Warren felt that Max and his writing partner had the biggest affinity for the gay/straight couple and told them to write a show centering on them. It, of course, turned into "Will and Grace." What's crazy is that all of the actors who played the leads didn't want the roles when they were first offered to them for various reasons (Sean had just done a film and wanted more film work, Eric wasn't sure about being locked into a gay role for years and Debra had gone from show to show and didn't know if she wanted to commit to this one). PS, in my day, when I was offered a high-paying sitcom, I took the gig! Actually, in my day, when I was offered an audition for a sitcom, I took it and didn't get a callback.
Megan Mullally was up for the role of Karen and when the final network audition came, she was the only one scheduled. If you don't know, during the network audition, there's always another actor, just for variety, even if there's a definite frontrunner. Regardless, when her name was called to audition, she wasn't there. She literally didn't show up. Max thinks she didn't want to be the sassy sidekick, she wanted to be the leading lady. Right before her "Will and Grace" final audition, she had almost gotten the Leah Remini part on "King of Queens," and Max thinks she was waiting for another part like that to come along. He called her at home and told her she had to come to the final audition. She told him she had just made eggs and wanted to eat them (!). Well, Max somehow convinced her to move away from the plate and audition because she did show up and then won two Emmy Awards! And, speaking of leading lady roles, Megan had actually auditioned for the role of Grace months before but didn't make an impression til her Karen audition. And, by "didn't make an impression," Max said they had no memory of her audition. I know the feeling. Over dinner, I told Max that I had auditioned a few year ago for the sitcom he wrote based on his relationship with Erik. He stared. Then I said I auditioned for the part based on him. Staring. I told him I had my audition in New York. Stare. I clarified that my audition was filmed and sent to L.A. He's still staring.
Max told us about being interviewed for "Inside the Actors Studio." First of all, Max said this happened before Sean Hayes came out. He told us that an "Inside the Actors Studio" interview actually takes around eight hours and then it's whittled down to one hour. The whole cast of "Will and Grace" was there, but they were each interviewed separately. Before Max went on, James Lipton told Max that he will never have another interviewer who is more prepared. I'm not going to say "famous last words," but let's just say that Max came out and James Lipton immediately talked about the bold choice Max had made by having the two gay male leads played by two straight actors. Lipton kept asking questions about it and Max told us that he finally had to do what people never do during an interview: He asked Lipton to stop, the audience had to leave for a hiatus and Lipton had to be informed to ixnay on the aight-stra!!!
Speaking of aight-stra, I also recently interviewed the out recording artist, Matt Zarley, whom I met in the 90's when we did the A Chorus Line tour through Europe. He was Mike in Europe, but on Broadway he played Mark. However, at one performance he almost had to go on for another character because he was the only one who could sing high enough. Who was the character? Richie. That's right, the one who sings "Gimme the ball, gimme the ball, gimme the ball." And, quite frankly, the one character who has an actual line clarifying that he's black! Normally, if a white guy understudies the part he changes Richie's description of himself from "…and I'm black." To "…and I'm straight." Unfortunately, when the guy playing Richie injured himself, it was after he made it clear to the audience that he was black. It's sort of a racial spin on the Mary Ingalls character on "Little House on the Prairie." Remember? She was on for years and suddenly her character went blind. Well, Richie was in "A Chorus Line" for an hour and suddenly his character became white. Of course, the actor playing Richie was able to finish the show, so the non-traditional production never happened. But I asked Matt for more musical theatre mishaps, and he told us that once when doing Cats, the dance captain was walking around backstage and tripped over a wire. Simply a wire. Well, it not only caused all of the sound system to cut out, it also caused a complete blackout in the theatre. I don't quite understand how one wire controlled everything, but I love it! It's so house of cards. Matt has a new CD out, and you can get it and hear clips at http://mattzarley.com/. Brava!
Now I'm on hour two of our 11-hour train ride back home. Montreal is a city that speaks French and English, but in many places French is dominant. As soon as we arrive, I walked into our hotel and said "hello" to the receptionist. She pointedly said "Bonjour" back to me with a "You are in a French-speaking city" attitude. I ignored the vague hostility and instead became excited to try out my French, so I immediately said "Ca va" to her. This time, instead of speaking French, she pointedly responded, in English, "I am fine." In other words, her attitude began with "How dare you greet me assuming English is my native language?" followed by "How dare you think your French is good enough to converse with me?" That's right, she was angry I spoke English and then angry I spoke French. I was not deterred, however, and kept hauling out my French throughout the trip. Jack Latulippe, who brought me up to Montreal, was a great host and actually told me that I spoke with barely an American accent. He chose not to comment on the fact that I can only conjugate in the present tense and only with verbs ending in "er."
On Saturday night, we begged Jack to take us to an authentic Montreal restaurant. Unfortunately, he did. It was a very hip and popular restaurant that served Italian food with a Montreal spin, meaning the menu was full of "delicious" items like tripe, rabbit and wild boar. Despite the horrifying majority of food choices, the dinner actually wound up being delicious (I got fish, James pumpkin ravioli and Juli meatballs) and afterwards, Jack took us out to a dessert place that's an entire restaurant dedicated to chocolate. It was mind-bogglingly good. The next morning, however, there was a call back to the time in England when James got the black pudding thinking it was chocolate or something else delicious and discovered it actually consisted of intestines. This time I got a bagel at a buffet and saw little plastic cups with some kind of cream cheese inside. Just to clarify, I asked what kind of cream cheese it was and discovered it wasn't cream cheese at all. It looked like cream cheese but was instead a "Montreal specialty": ground up beef and pork. And coupe!
Next Monday and Tuesday is the Gypsy of the Year, and I'm hosting for the fourth time. It's one of my favorite things to do, and I can't wait to stand in the wings and watch all the acts! You can get tickets at www.BroadwayCares.org. Before Gypsy of the Year, I'm heading up to the Art House in Provincetown to do Andrea Martin's show Dec. 4-5 (tix at www.PtownArtHouse.com). Alors, au revoir, mes amis….a la semaine que prochaine!
(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.)
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