ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Music Director Steve Marzullo, Plus Remembering My Salad Days at Oberlin
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Greetings from Wilmington, Delaware. I've been traveling back and forth all week doing Andrea Martin's Final Days: Everything Must Go. The DuPont Theater is the longest operating theatre in the U.S. (100 years!) and the lobby has pics from past productions. The Bye Bye Birdie tour came through in 1991 and the cast featured a lot of people I became friends with later on in the '90s: Paul Castree, Jessie Stone, Susan Egan, Marc Kudisch, etc. When I arrived in Wilmington I got a Facebook posting from my friend Spring (who was known as Wendy Springer when we did Grease together) saying that she's in Europe and had recently downloaded both of my books ("Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan") to her iPad. She wrote that she just finished them and loved them both. Cut to: Right after I read that posting I went to the DuPont lobby, and directly outside the main doors is a big picture of Tommy Tune — and off to one side is Wendy Springer! No wonder Facebook traded at such a high price last week; it can foreshadow what photos you run into.
This week I interviewed Steve Marzullo, whom we all call "Marzullo." He has a new CD called "Show Some Beauty" that features amazing singers like Rebecca Luker, Andrea Burns, Terri Klausner and many other folk. His music is going to be featured on June 4 (along with the David Zippel and Kerrigan and Lowdermilk) at the hip, new 54 Below, underneath Studio 54. Tickets are here.
Marzullo is also a pianist and conductor (he did my recent Disaster!) and I subbed for him on Grease, Seussical and Mamma Mia! Usually, people get sick of shows that they play for a long time, but Steve has been playing Mamma Mia! since it opened in 2001 (more than 3,000 performances) — and yet when he cleans his house, he listens to ABBA! Either he loves it or he's the first musician to have Stockholm Syndrome. He relayed a story that I entitle "Back at'cha": When he was music directing the original Once On This Island he felt that cast members were adding too many riffs and starting to change melodies from the Ahrens/Flaherty score. He firmly asked everyone to sing only what was on the page and to not add any embellishment. Well, the song "Mama Will Provide" was then being rehearsed, and Kecia Lewis-Evans sang her part as usual. At the end of the song, she went up to the E as written. But, right before the song ended as she held the E, she quickly popped up to a G sharp, just to sass Marzullo. Well, instead of being irritated, Marzullo gave her a "right back at'cha" and told Kecia he loved it and she should sing it eight times week! Busted. And now, it's officially in the score! Listen how great Kecia sounds.
If you don't know Marzullo's music, here's Audra MacDonald singing "Some Days" with me playing at an rFamily Vacation in Ixtapa. If you don't remember, we were constantly having breakdowns due to the flies that seemed to be everywhere. During this performance, Audra not only had to deal with a fly attack but literally changed the lyrics on the spot to comment on what was happening. Hi-lar!
In academia news, I'm very excited to be heading back to my alma mater in a few weeks. Yes, Oberlin is having its first conservatory reunion. Usually, Oberlin has reunions in three-year clusters (in other words, everyone who graduated in 1991-1993 comes for a group reunion). This year is the first reunion for anyone who ever went to the conservatory. Back in the day, I was a classical piano performance major and I'm flying out on Saturday, June 14 with a vocal performance major — Judy Kuhn! I'm going to interview her/have her sing some of her classic songs and that night I'm going to co-host Mock Students. It's a comedy/variety show that happens every spring at the conservatory. The acts are always super funny and very inside. My senior year, I hosted it with voice major Cindy King (who was hilarious). I remember that for our opening, we prepared a whole slide show making fun of fellow students and teachers. First, we showed a picture of the very old harp teacher and told the audience that she's about to star in a spin-off of "thirtysomething"… it was going to be called "ninetysomething." FYI, it was the '80s, people…very timely. Also, there was a flute major named Pierre who was really tall and really skinny. We showed a picture of him and congratulated him on winning the "I Look Like My Instrument" Award. Hmmm…maybe you have to be a classical musician to find that funny. Or 21 years old. Anyhoo, if you went to the Oberlin Conservatory (or "con" as we call it), come to the reunion in June! There'll be plenty more jokes like those. Wait…that's not an incentive?
My sister Beth officially wins the entrepreneurial award. She's a singer/songwriter and, on an oddly related note, loves crime novels. She "friended" on Facebook some of the authors she reads all the time, and started writing back and forth with one of her favorites: British author Zoe Sharp. Zoe asked to hear some of Beth's songs and she sent them. Zoe loved them and then told Beth she was going to do a preview of her new book online. It would be like a music video/movie preview and she wound up asking Beth to write the song that would play throughout the trailer! Beth got all the details about Zoe's upcoming book ("The Fifth Victim") and wrote a song based on it called "The Victim Won't Be Me." Beth played and sang it (with Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf on cello), sent it to Zoe and the video just got made. It's fab! And now Beth is working with another author, making a trailer for her upcoming crime novel. Brava on discovering a new niche: writing pop songs about crime victims. Talk about specific.
My Not Since High School benefit (celebs singing songs from roles they played in school) now has Norbert Leo Butz, Melissa Errico, Mandy Gonzales, Josh Henry, Chris Jackson, Lisa Lampanelli and I just added Corbin Bleu! I know that Corbin did a lot of dancing in high school (he went to the arts school run by Debbie Allen). I asked him to haul out a song where he would bust a move. He mentioned doing a song from the musical Footloose and I was mortified to ask if he was in high school when that show came out (because I was essentially in my mid-70s). He emailed me back and said he wasn't. Ah… then I realized that Footloose came out before he was in high school! Holy botox! And I'm out. I've also decided to have the benefit end with a screening of the first episode of my new reality show! SethTV.com "goes live" on the same night as the benefit (Monday, June 18) so it will also double as a launch party! Get tix at and sign up for SethTV at SethTV.com. I just realized that it's less than a month away. Wowza. And, now let me have a private panic attack while you all 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.)
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