ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: I Hit EW's Bullseye; Corbin Bleu Is Jesus; Melissa Errico Does Yale by Mail
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Countdown to Cleveland! Yes, I am returning to the city that I flew into many times while I was a piano major at Oberlin (only this time my flight is landing in Akron, cheapskate-style). I'm doing Seth's Big Fat Broadway on April 26 at PlayhouseSquare and it's not only a return to the state of my alma mater, but it's a return to the state where I music-directed Forever Plaid back in the mid-'90s. I have a strong visual image of the name PlayhouseSquare because a few years I was cleaning out an old wallet and found a check from them that I hadn't cashed, ADD-style. Of course, it specifically stated it was valid only for 90 days but I kept looking at the front and back of the check over and over again to see if there was another section that said it was valid for more than ten years. There wasn't. If you're in Ohio, here's where you can get info and tix.
The exciting news of the week began with a Facebook posting. Someone congratulated me about being in Entertainment Weekly. Huh? There's that new "Timeline" thing on Facebook that makes it impossible to tell when a posting was first put up, and I'm constantly seeing news about an upcoming event that I then find out was posted six months ago. It's making me crazy. Anyhoo, I had been in Entertainment Weekly last year so I thought the posting was old and/or the person was one those folks who are a year behind on everything (aka my mother: "I hear they're going to revive On a Clear Day…".) I asked for clarification and he wrote that I was in the Bullseye again. Ah!!! If you don't know, the Bullseye is inside the back cover of EW and it lists "pop culture's hits and misses" for the week. Well, my new book was a hit! There's a photo of the cover of my YA novel, "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," and EW states, "All the awfulness and awesomeness of being a teenager wrapped up in a great young adult novel." So amazing! I took a photo of the bullseye (and here's the Amazon link to the book.)
This week was chock full of fun interviews. First, I met with Corbin Bleu, who's about to star in Godspell as fellow Jew Jesus Christ. I asked Corbin about his name and he told me that his parents were big fans of U-2 and his dad wanted to name him Bullet Blue after one their favorite songs: "Bullet the Blue Sky" (I was completely lost after the phrase "U-2", but I nodded). His mom allowed the "Blue" but not the "bullet," and thus Corbin Bleu Reivers was named. He dropped the last name when the family moved from Brooklyn to L.A., where Corbin studied dance at Debbie Allen's Dance Academy. He said that she has two (!) canes that she brings to class; one named Debbie and one named Allen and when you were doing something wrong, she'd give you a "love tap" (aka hit you). She's old-school. Here she is in a You Tube clip, in the signature "Fame" opening, holding a single cane. I don't know if it's "Debbie" or "Allen." Hmm…maybe it's her one named "cane"? Orfeh?
I asked Corbin about auditioning for In the Heights, and it turns out he was originally brought in for Benny because he's half black/half Italian and not Hispanic. But at his audition, they asked if he spoke Spanish and he told them that he grew up surrounded by his parents' friends, who were Hispanic, so it was very much part of who he was. They ixnayed the idea of him playing Benny and he made his Broadway debut as Usnavi, the part created by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He said that Godspell is the completely opposite in terms of staging. In In the Heights there were so many characters walking in and out of scenes and/or dancing inches away from you that it was vitally important to know your specific placement on stage. There are numbers on Broadway stages that help people know where to be during dances; 0 is in the center and then it goes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 towards the right and the left. Dancers have to know what number they're supposed to be on during songs so they don't block the person in back of them or crash into people etc. Corbin said that in In the Heights, people doing straight acting scenes also had to know what number they were on or they'd have someone crash into them! However, in Godspell, everything is pretty free-form. Throughout the whole show, he's been told to pretty much go wherever he wants. Of course, he's overwhelmed by the lack of boundaries now, but he knows he'll love the freedom once he gets into the run. Here's a section I put together for my show Broadway 101, in which I talk about the importance of being on your number and demonstrate with a little "Music and the Mirror" from A Chorus Line.
Corbin and I talked about "High School Musical," and I asked if he saw the recent pictures of Zac Efron with his shirt off. Corbin laughed and told me that he often has pool parties so he's used to seeing Zac look like that. He then told me I could come to his next pool party. When I awoke from my self-induced coma, we concluded the interview and I wished him luck on his Godspell opening. Speaking of Godspell, my latest Playbill Obsessed! video stars Morgan James who can sing anything!
At Seth's Broadway Chatterbox I had Melissa Errico as my guest. She's prepping for her new show at Joe's Pub on April 17 at 7 PM. She's a Long Island native and remembers the moment when theatre became her dream. She saw the Broadway revival of On Your Toes at the Virginia Theatre in the early '80s and during the show, she started weeping! Her mother didn't know what was wrong, but Melissa said it was because she was so moved by all the different aspects the show…singing, ballet, tap and wanted to know who those people were and how they got to do that. She was completely riveted and obsessed with it. Cut to: Her first lead on Broadway was ten years later….at the Virginia Theatre! The stagehands heard how obsessed she was with On Your Toes, and one day she came to her dressing room and found that they had gone to the basement and retrieved the original giant placards that were outside the theatre and decorated her room with them! Coincidentally, Christine Andreas who played Frankie in On Your Toes has a very similar voice to Melissa's…soprano but with a smoky grit. Here's a clip of her from 1983 with all the ballet and tap dancers that Melissa was obsessed with.
Melissa got her big break when she was on her way to Yale (yes, she's a smarty pants). She was auditioning the summer before freshman year for Theater By the Sea and…Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus. I asked her what the H she wanted to do in the circus and she said the audition notice in Backstage said you had to be able to stand on an elephant and she was confident she could do that. Natch. Also, she wanted to be one of those women who hang on a rope from the ankle and spin. Who doesn't? Thankfully, before she auditioned she was spotted in the hallway by Richard Jay-Alexander, who asked her to come in and sing for Les Misérables. She thinks his interest in her was based on her long curly hair, which gave her a Les Miz quality. She sang "A Heart Full of Love" (that has the difficult pianissimo high B flat at the end) and he asked her if she could start in ten days as Cosette on the national tour! Of course, she said yes immediately. Actually, no she didn't! She started arguing with him and said that her B flat wasn't good. He then said, "You should hear what we've hired in the past." Compliment? Insult? Both? Regardless, Melissa decided she could do it but then had to call her parents and ask if she could put off going to Yale! They said yes and she wound up doing her first-year courses via correspondence, or as she called it, "Yale by Mail." She wound up spending so long on the road that she missed a whole year of school. I asked if that meant she had to graduate late and she hemmed and hawed. She finally admitted that she was able to graduate with her class because she began Yale as a sophomore. That's right, she had enough smarty-pants classes/test grades to place out of freshman year! But all of her smarts didn't help when she forgot the lyrics one night to "In My Life." Normally it goes"
In my life
Unfortunately, she panicked one night and could only remember the title. So she sang, "In my life, in my life, in my life, in my life….in my life etc…" However, the most awkward moment for her was during Jean Valjean's death scene. She comes onstage at the end of Act Two with glasses for drinking, puts them down and starts to sing. Unfortunately, one night she dropped the glasses. The sound of breaking glass wasn't the horrible part. That moment came when she started to sing soulfully to her dying father and three stagehands dressed in black came onstage to pick up the broken glass. With a broom? No. With a loud, battery-operated portable vacuum cleaner! I'm sure the audience felt they were right in the middle of France circa 1800s when all the bourgeoisie used "Le Dustbuster."
My fave story, however, doesn't involve Broadway. She was cast on the TV show, "Central Park West," and her character was pretending to be pregnant to trick her boyfriend. She remembers that she had some crazily-written line where she told her doctor that she needed to have a baby already. It was something like, "I'm not a rhino. I can't gestate for 15 months!" She didn't really know how to make that line work (understatement) and right before she filmed it, Lauren Hutton (who was also starring on the show) came over and gave her some advice. She whispered, "If you ever have a line that you can't make sense of, just say it while crying." In other words, the subtext will be, "I'm so hysterical, I don't know what I'm saying." Melissa turned on the tears and it worked! P.S., her boyfriend was played by John Barrowman and I found a clip that begins with his shirt off. Not since Zac Efron…
OK, everyone. This week I'll be seeing some of the slew of new Broadway shows that seem to be opening every day — and enjoying the amazing spring weather. Don't forget, the Easter Bonnet Competition is coming up soon! Get tix here at BroadwayCares.org. Peace 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.)
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