ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: A Prom Story Worthy of the Stage, Plus Patti LuPone, Caroline Rhea, Lilla Crawford

By Seth Rudetsky
January 14, 2013

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



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Hello from Boston! I'm here because the Boston Children's Theater is holding auditions for Reflections of a Rock Lobster, and they asked me to do a master class with the kids who are trying out and then help run the auditions. I read the play (by Burgess Clark) on the way up and it's so good. It's the story of Aaron Fricke. I remember this story from high school. Aaron was a senior at a Rhode Island high school and he wanted to take his boyfriend to the prom. Naturally, the school said yes right away. End of story. No, actually, what happened was the principal forbade it. He claimed it was a "safety issue," that the other students wouldn't accept it and the result would be violence. Well, instead of fading out, Aaron (who was only 18!) sued his school! The play has the judge's verbatim decision and I'm obsessed with it!

First, he totally busts the principal's prejudice by writing: "I've discovered that just last year two boys attended a prom together at a high school in New Jersey. There were no incidents to speak of. I believe that it is the attitude of fear and intolerance fostered by this school administration that is cultivating any unrest or anxiety that may exist within the community." Then he busts the claim that the student body won't accept it by saying that not allowing Aaron and his boyfriend to attend would be letting students have a "'heckler's veto," allowing them to decide through illegal and violent methods what speech will be tolerated. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution does not tolerate mob rule by unruly schoolchildren." Brava!

Aaron took his boyfriend to the prom (under police escort) and the play has such happy ending. The real Aaron himself Facebook'd me (!) and we were writing each other about how the play also has the potential for a great musical. I love how he described it: part coming-of-age story, part underdog story, part love story, part courtroom drama and it's all true! Come see the show in Boston or get the book that Aaron wrote

Patti LuPone
photo by Ethan Hill
The Patti LuPone show in New Orleans was so much fun and, turns out, Patti is just as much of a TV addict as I am. On Sunday night, she was invited to a New Orleans "Mask Party" that began at 6:30. Patti was very excited to go…as long as she could be home by 8 PM to watch "Downton Abbey." She decided to go to the party at 9 PM, right after "Downton." Then, at 8 PM, PBS ran a special on the real Downton Abbey estate and she realized the actual show wouldn't begin 'til 9. Then Laura Linney welcomed everyone to a special two hour edition of "Downton Abbey"! Cut to: Patti got to the mask party, not at 6:30, but at 11:30! On a side note, her voice is so unwavering. We did two shows in a row and Patti wound up singing around 20 songs! At the end of the second show, the audience was screaming for an encore. She didn't know what to do so I suggested we let the audience request one. Someone shouted out "Invisible" from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and someone else yelled Gypsy. Of course, ol' Lungs of Steel said she'd sing both and she did "Invisible" directly followed by "Everything's Coming Up Roses." Don't forget, if you want to hear her sing tons of amazing Broadway songs (in the original keys!) you can see her entire Provincetown concert (104 minutes!) at SethTV.com/patti. Brava!

On Wednesday, I had the hi-larious Caroline Rhea on "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM talk show. Caroline has a four-year-old daughter named Ava and her so-called Baby Daddy's last name is Economopolous. Caroline claims she tells Ava that her full name is Caroline Rhea Economopolous and the Economopolous is silent. Caroline began as a stand-up, and I asked what her signature was. She told me that because she really was "always a bridesmaid," she would literally walk on stage wearing one of her bridesmaid dresses. She'd tell the audience "Well, my best friend told me I'd wear the dress again, so I am." When she had her own talk show and was planning on getting married, she had her bridesmaids come on the show and they each had to wear the dress they forced Caroline to wear at their wedding. None of her bridesmaids matched, but the revenge was delicious.

Speaking of her talk show, she remembered that her mother was always in a state of shock that it was on every day. Her mom would call and say, "It was on again today!" I asked her about "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," her long-running TV show, and she told me that she was asked to audition right after a terrible break-up. She wasn't that interested in playing Aunt Hilda, but when she found out the character was jilted by a man and kept him imprisoned in her house, she was like "I'm in!" She did the audition but when they asked her to go "to network" (the final audition) she passed! She just "wasn't feeling it." Caroline said the TV network then called her and said she didn't even have to come in again. If she wanted it, they would just give her the part. She advised the audience if they want a network and/or a man to be super-interested, simply reject them. P.S., Caroline also hates the iPhone like I do because of the horrific lack of a keyboard. For every correct letter I hit, I wind up hitting three by accident that I have to erase. Caroline claims she now needs to get lipo on her fingers.

Lilla Crawford sings at Chatterbox.
At Seth's Broadway Chatterbox, my Thursday talk show at Don't Tell Mama, my guest was Lilla Crawford who's starring in Annie. She is such a mature, well-spoken kid! Her first Broadway show was Billy Elliot, in which she played the daughter of the dance teacher. Sometimes that show would have technical problems with the set, and one time they had to stop it…for more than 90 minutes! One audience person was able to go to a restaurant, order lunch, eat lunch, come back to the theatre and the show still hadn't started back up!

I asked Lilla about her Annie audition and she remembered that after her last one, she didn't hear anything for a few weeks. One day, her mom picked her up at school early because her agent told her she had to film a PSA. On the way to her agents to film it, her mom kept getting different texts with conflicting information: Lilla got the PSA or she had to audition for the PSA but she had it anyway, etc. It was confusing and bizarre. Lilla brought two different outfits to wear but her agents said her school clothes were fine. They set up a camera to film her. Mom took Lilla's younger sister into the waiting room so they wouldn't disturb the filming. The agents thought her mom was coming back, so they waited 15 minutes. Finally, they went to get her and, even though her mom was saying Lilla's younger sister might make noise, they told her they wanted her in the room. Her manager started filming and asking Lilla random questions about dogs and suddenly her manager said, "How does it feel to be playing Annie on Broadway?" Lilla was about to respond that she wasn't playing Annie, she had only auditioned, but before she could speak, her agent yelled, "You got the part!!!"

Yes, the whole thing had been a set up to see Lilla's reaction. Apparently, every orphan was filmed being told that they were cast! I'm sort of obsessed at how not well-thought out it was: confusing information about whether or not she got the PSA, awkwardly waiting for her mom/younger sister to return, her mom being told it was fine if there was noise while they were filming, and then before Lilla could respond about how she felt, her agent blurting out the news. I guess that's why agents agent and Ken Burns makes documentaries.

Lilla finished the Chatterbox by singing her amazing rendition of "Disneyland" (that she did at the New Year's Eve Marvin Hamlisch salute at Lincoln Center). The entire interview/performance is available at SethTV.com. (At this week's Chatterbox, the Broadway vet with 1,000 stories, Phyllis Newman! Get info at SethsBroadwayChatterbox.com.)

This week's "Playbill Obsessed!" video stars the beautiful Rebecca Luker...and it just happens to coincide with the debut of her (and Howard McGillin's) show at the Carlyle!

And soon I'll be announcing a fun project I'm doing in New York during the month of March with some other Broadway folk. So make sure to keep every single date free, please. 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.)