ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Manatees, Nothing Like a Dame, a Disaster! Injury

By Seth Rudetsky
April 3, 2012

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



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Greetings from somewhere over Florida. I'm on my way back from Sarasota where I introduced the upcoming season at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center. When I introduce the titles of the show, I do a lot of guessing games with the audience to see if they can figure out what's coming and the Sarasota folks were very knowledgeable. Although, my friend Ben was in the audience and he told me that when I played the classic opening notes from "The Addams Family" TV show, the man next to him nodded and said knowingly to his wife, "The Munsters." I began my foray by flying down to Ft. Lauderdale. My mother and I arrived in Newark airport and I immediately got annoyed with her crazy over-packing. Her choice for Florida's 85-degree weather? Not one, not two, but three coats. Crazy. I've included a photo for proof. Then, her signature bizarre comments started. When I said our flight was at gate C110, she said, "C110? I've never heard of such a gate." Why would she have ever heard of it? Regardless, we had a nice time traveling all over Florida; West Palm (The Kravis Center), Ft. Lauderdale (The Broward) and Sarasota (The Van Wezel).

Three coats!

Before I left for the South, I saw Nothing Like a Dame, the Actors Fund Benefit for the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative. This year there were so many women over 80 who sassed it! Marilyn Maye sounded fabulous as usual and I can't wait to see her at Feinstein's later this month. Here she is at my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show from last year singing "It's Today" and doing her signature "I'm-over-80-but-I-still-got-it" high kick! Hunter Ryan Herdlicka sang the man's part of "You're Just in Love" and then got Elaine Stritch to sing the duet with him ("You Don't Need Analyzing…."). They sang it four times (I know! But it worked!), and between repeats, she told a story about being on the Upper East Side, demonstrating the staging for the concert number to her friend while standing on the street, having a random shopkeeper come out and yell, "I have the perfect outfit to go with those moves" — and the whole thing ending with Michael Kors giving her the outfit for free because he wanted to support the charity. Then Polly Bergen came out and told everyone that she met Phyllis Newman doing a musical version of "Pride and Prejudice" years ago when they both very young (she's now 83). She then qualified it by saying, "Well, one of us was very young. I was 18 and Phyllis was in her mid-30s." Hi-lar. That would make Phyllis more than 90 years old, which, by the way, reminds me of the fact that when my mom sits in the audience at my Florida shows, it's the only time she feels young.

This week is Passover and it's also the time that I get to star in a big Jewish musical! It's the third annual Everything's Coming Up Moses performance. This year it's at the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca. The show is the story of Passover as told through the songs of Gypsy. Rachel Shukert has written such a brilliant parody and it parallels the story of Mama Rose incredibly closely. Here's part of my big breakdown from the 11-O'clock number, "Moses Turn":

I had a dream…
I dreamed it for you, Jews…
It wasn't for me, Aaron…
And if it wasn't for me, then where would you be?
Dead! In the Red Sea!!!!!!!

Get tix here

Jim Gaffigan
Photo by Robb Johnston
This week on "Seth Speaks" I interviewed comedian Jim Gaffigan. Jim and I met when I first began doing stand-up comedy back in 1996. His signature bit was all about the manatee. I asked him why, and he said he had visited Florida and noticed that they are obsessed with manatees. There are streets and a town and tons of other things named after them and, P.S., this weekend I saw a Manatee Memorial Hospital and found out the local community theatre was called The Manatee Players! He said he loved that fact that manatee is the proper name but they're also called "sea cows." His bit would always feature a sweet manatee being a guest on "The Ricki Lake Show," and some hostile person from the audience would always get up and say, "Yeah, what up? I got something to say to the sea cow…"

"I'm a manatee."

"Yeah, whatevah. Listen, sea cow, you need to get a job!"

Jim is taking a page from Louis C.K.'s business model and he's filmed his own comedy show that he's selling from his website. Get thee to www.JimGaffigan.com to buy it. During my show, he was talking about food and how nobody admits to buying McDonald's, yet there are over four million hamburgers served. I haughtily told him that I don't eat so-called Big Macs because I'm a vegetarian. He then asked why I sounded like I wanted praise for it. "Being a vegetarian doesn't mean you work in a homeless shelter." Touche.

I also had Kurt Peterson and Victoria Mallory on the show. They first met at AMDA in the late '60s and then got cast opposite each other as Tony and Maria in the City Center revival of West Side Story. They then got cast in Follies; he was young Ben and she was young Heidi (aka "One More Kiss"). They've now reunited (40 years later!) and are going to do a big concert for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in April (tix at BCEFA.org). Kurt definitely knows how to put on a good concert. He was the one who produced that "Sondheim Evening" in the late '70s whose CD cover has the crossword puzzle and featured essentially everybody. He started that whole trend of doing one-night Broadway events (aka the bandwagon I jumped on for my Actors Fund concerts of Dreamgirls, etc).

Kurt has an amazing history of Broadway highs and notorious cult flops like Dear World with Angela Lansbury and The Baker's Wife with Patti LuPone. One of the most amazing things about Victoria's past is that during A Little Night Music she played Anne, who begins the show married to Frederik (Len Cariou) but, at the end, runs off with Henrik, Frederik's son. Well, cut to: She really did run off with the actor playing Henrik! They got married and had a daughter named Ramona. The crazy part is, when A Little Night Music was revived, Ramona auditioned got the role of Anne! Talk about passing the torch. That's like the child I had with Rosie Perez getting the role of Googie Gomez in the 2040 revival of The Ritz. Wait… I didn't have a child with Rosie Perez? Then why I am constantly mailing her support checks made out to "cash"?

Lindsay Mendez and George Salazar
photo by Robb Johnston

At my Chatterbox, I interviewed some cast members from Godspell and found out that Lindsay Mendez's big break happened in high school when she entered a California arts competition. During the finals, it was between her and another boy…Adam Lambert! And she won! She didn't bring the video, so I don't know who sang higher or wore more makeup. I, of course, asked about devastating auditions and Uzo Aduba told me about one where she forgot her words. Not to a wordy section of the song, by the way. She started out singing, "I don't know how to…" and was stumped. Finally the pianist sang "…love him!" It's pretty bad when the lyrics you can't remember form the actual title. The same thing happened to Priscilla Lopez when she was starring in A Day In Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, for which she won the Tony Award. She had taken a week's vacation and when she came back, everything was fine 'til her big song, "Best in the World." She said she sang the first verse and got to the part where she sings "Papa said you're the best. You're the best in the world." All she remembered was "Papa said…" And then she faded out. Finally, someone offstage loudly whispered, "…you're the best!" Hmm…maybe "Papa" needs to re-think his praise.

The whole week began with the final performance of Disaster! at the Triad. The first act was amazing! Until the very end. I have an entrance where I run onstage with Felicia Finley and try to warn everyone that an earthquake is coming. I turned to run onstage and as soon as I stepped down on the floor, I thought Felicia had kicked me in the calf. With a pair of pointy shoes. Really hard. I thought maybe my calf bumped into her because I was too close to her as we were running. I kept thinking the pain would dissipate but it really hurt. I then realized it wasn't Felicia, it was something I did when I stepped down. I finished the last small scene at the end of the act and told Denis Jones, the director, that something happened to my leg. He gave me Advil (four!) and I said I could finish the show if I could lean on something. The only cane they could find was an old broom. Seriously. So, I did the first scene leaning on the broom and then I decided I looked crazy and/or like Elphaba, so I decided I would just limp for the rest of the act. The thing I was the most scared of is the scene near the end where I have to rescue people by crossing a beam that's supposed to be 50 feet over a gas tank that's on fire and surrounded by snakes. I'm supposed to cross the narrow beam and the whole rescue winds up looking like a balance beam routine a la Nadia Comăneci featuring a grand jete and scissor leap. After the show, Zak Resnick, who plays the romantic lead, asked me what I did onstage; he was in the dressing room and heard me get all my laughs. Well, since I was able to walk fine on the other leg, I just did all of my gymnastic routine focused on my right leg. As they say, the show must go on! That is, I'm needy and would rather risk a second injury than lose any laughs. Regardless, I knew I looked crazy limping through the whole show and prepped myself for a slew of "What happened?" from my various friends in the audience after the show. Cut to: People came up to me after the show, I prepared my story ("I put aside my pain for the sake of the show") and no one asked! When I finally confronted one of my friends in the audience, he told me he thought it was part of the show. That's right, the limping happened after the earthquake hits, so people thought it was a so-called character choice. Annoying! I wanted sympathy! Anyhoo, I saw an orthopedist and he said I ruptured my something or other in my calf and it will take a maximum of six weeks to heal. It actually feels a million times better already. The thing that helps me the most is that I have to wear compression socks. They're black and end right under my knee. Yes! I finally get to wear Liza Minnelli's half-stockings from "Mein Herr." And on that note, I now have to go walk around the plane for a bit to prevent what my doctor lovingly calls "deep vein thrombosis." Horrifying. And I'm out!

(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.)