ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Megan Mullally and Seth in a Land Down Under
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Hello from a bright summer's day! That's right, I'm writing to you from Sydney, Australia, which is in the Southern hemisphere where the seasons are reversed. That means I'm experiencing their version of August. It's actually very similar to our version of August but with a few more "G'day's." Speaking of that stereotype, I have to tell you Australians really do say that! Though I have yet to hear anyone ask for more "shrimp on the Barbie." However, they do insist I order coffee by calling it either a "flat white" or "long black." I still don't know what either of those terms mean but they're both delicious. I'm in so-called Oz doing five shows with Megan Mullally. I left on Monday, Feb. 18 with my good pal Paul Castree. My contract had another ticket designated for James but he felt he couldn't leave rehearsals since we're doing those four plays in March (Perfect time for a plug for my collection of one-acts, Midtown March Medley). I mentioned my extra ticket to Paul and he jokingly said he'd go. Cut to: The joke became reality. It was perfect because he and Megan know each other really well since we all did Grease! together on Broadway in 1994 and then he and Megan were roommates in L.A.
Paul and I first had to fly to Los Angeles for an hour layover before we took our 14-hour flight to Sydney. Well, I sat in my seat on the L.A.-bound plane and right before we were going to take off, I suddenly saw someone get on who looked familiar: It was my friend Ana Gasteyer! She lives in New York but flies back and forth to L.A. to play Sheila Shay on "Suburgatory." I was so excited to see her. So was she, until she looked at her ticket and told me I was sitting in her seat. Busted. We wound up switching seats and settled down…for a two-hour delay! I was in a panic because we only had a one-hour layover at LAX til our next flight. Thankfully, they held the Australian flight and Paul and I landed in Sydney the next morning at 9 AM.
We went to our super-fancy five-star hotel, which was so fancy that we didn't know how anything worked. Seriously. First of all, there was no way to simply turn on a lamp. There were only switches on the wall that said "morning," "evening" and "night" and they chose how the lighting was in the entire room. So, if you woke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, you had no way of just turning on the bathroom light. You had to choose one of the three options, which also turned on the room lights. Yay? Speaking of the bathroom, there was no "room" in the bathroom. There was a separate shower and separate toilet and they both opened up into our bedroom. So, if Paul or I wanted to take a shower, we had to tell the other one to look away because as soon as you stepped out of the shower you were immediately in full view of the entire room and starring in a live version of "Girls Gone Wild." The other "fun" part was, the internet didn't work and it took hours to get it fixed. Why so long? Because the internet person rang our doorbell and, in an Australian fancy hotel, a doorbell sound has no relation to the sound of any other doorbell in the world.
Paul was waiting for the internet to be fixed and heard a soft electronic "beep boop bop beep" noise like a 1970s Spaceship being programmed. He told me later that he looked around the room and thought, "OK…I guess all systems are a go." Then he heard it again. He looked around to see if there was something flashing. Nothing. He picked up the phone. "Hello?" *Silence* Finally, a half hour passed and he thought, "Wait a minute. Could it be?" He went into the hallway, pushed the doorbell and heard the random beeping sounds of the Star Trek Enterprise.
Now Paul was prepared. The internet guy came back and as soon Paul heard the sound of a Moog synthesizer, he opened the door. P.S., when the guy came back he told Paul that he had heard him walking around inside the room when he first rang. For reals? Then why couldn't he follow his bizarre ring with an actual old-fashioned knock? Too old school?
On Thursday, we were able to get a VIP tour of the Sydney Zoo which was amazing. We did the up-close Koala experience, which was so cool. They are adorable. But we were not allowed to touch them. Why? Apparently, they all have Chlamydia. Who knew Koalas were such tramps? Then we fed and pet a Wallaby (adorable) and also saw the bird show, which was right on the bay with the Sydney Opera house visible. Stunning!
I met Megan for a rehearsal that afternoon and she told us that she's now obsessed with Sydney and wants to move in. We did our first show Friday night at the Sydney Theatre, which is run by Cate Blanchett and her husband. It's has 900 seats and all three shows were sold-out! Megan is a big star in Australia and the screaming and applause throughout the show made me feel like I was at a rock concert. But instead of the house erupting in crazy stomping and cheering after a Metallica song, it was after Sondheim's "Losing my Mind." Amazing! It was the same type of show I do in Provincetown (and currently once a month in New Orleans at Nocca) where each song is broken up with a mini-interview. Of course, Megan was hi-larious.
I asked about "Will and Grace" guest stars and she said one of her favorites was Madonna. Turns out, Madonna was a big Karen Walker fan and she requested that most of her scenes be with Megan! Megan said that Madonna was a very hard worker and rehearsed a lot to get her scenes perfect. I asked what she was called around the set and Megan said people called her Madonna but apparently she prefers to be called M. Megan thinks it's easier to be in public that way. She said that if Madonna is out with some girlfriends and one says "Hi, Madonna!" everyone will stampede. But if they say, "Hi, M" people won't be interested. I guess…unless they're major fans of Auntie Em. Anybody?
Megan said that Cher was the opposite of Madonna in that barely anyone saw her. She thinks Cher was simply lowered onto the set to do her scenes and then airlifted back up. Megan remembered that Cher had her own enormous mini-trailer parked on the set and one day the cast and writers snuck into it and took pictures of themselves laying all over the place. Thankfully, Cher never found out. Cut to: She reads this column and takes Megan to small claims court.
The first Broadway show Megan saw was Chicago with Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera, and years later Megan was offered the revival. She actually aged through her offers: first she was offered Roxie, then a few years later she was asked to play Velma and recently…the Matron!
She said she had a lot of ups and downs work-wise, and when she was offered "Will and Grace," she only had $200 left in her bank account! She didn't have enough money to buy a Karen Walker-type outfit for the audition so she wore things she got in a thrift-store: boots, leggings, a skirt she had cut herself to end above-the-knees, a shirt that said "Utilities" and a fake-fur wrap. She recalls that it was her nicest outfit at the time. She claims if she had been invited to the Oscars, she would have had to wear that. After her audition, the creators told her she was called back but asked her to bring an outfit that was more "Madison Avenue." Megan said that she thought at the time, "An outfit more Madison Avenue? Yeah…fresh out."
We were talking about all of the guest appearances she'd done (she was George's girlfriend on "Seinfeld" in the so-called Double Dipping episode) and years before that she was on "Murder, She Wrote." She's obsessed with that episode. In one scene in it, she was running and had to say, "Grandfather! No! Don't! Please! Wait! Stop!"
After our three shows in Sydney, we went to Melbourne and did two final shows (also sold-out!). It was exhausting but really fun. In every show she did a song with her friend Stephanie Hunt. They met doing a film together and soon Stephanie is about to star in the ABC series called "How to Live With Your Parents." She and Megan have a group called "Nancy and Beth" (weirdly, the names of my two sisters!) and they do tight harmony and choreography. They really sound great together and they have two shows coming up in Alexandria, VA and Boston (info at NancyAndBeth.com).
Even though Paul was here just to take a vacation, we wound up suckering him into the show and he sang harmony with all of us on this beautiful gospel song called "Waiting For My Child" and brought down the house with some hilarious stories. The best was about a fish smell on stage during Grease! and his imitation of Megan saying, "Who would go home between shows…and cook a cod?"
The weirdest thing is all of the Americans we ran into in Australia. Paul's friend Holly Davis Bebout, with whom he did 9 to 5, was there because her husband was helping direct the Australian company of The Addams Family. Then we had lunch with our friend Spring who was also in Grease! with us on Broadway back in the day. She's now a yoga singer/busker and is touring through Australia. Then in Melbourne, I hooked up with my friend Curt Skinner with whom I did Joseph… in 1989 (!) with a non-Equity Norm Lewis! Curt went on to do Rent on Broadway and now he's married to an Aussie and living in Melbourne. And at the show that night was my friend Jen Bender who's touring Australia as the director of a Cirque Du Soleil show. Jen went to Northwestern just like Megan, but wasn't there the same years so she missed Megan's triumph in West Side Story…as Anita. For reals. If you think that role's inappropriate for Megan, how about the fact that right before she was cast as Karen, she almost got the Leah Remini part on "The King of Queens." Megan explained, "I was up for it because I'm so blue collar."
Well, now I'm on the Melbourne-to-Sydney flight as I write this, and soon the 14-hour Sydney-to-L.A part. Oy!
While I'm in the air, get thee to SethTV.com and see some of the new programming! I just put up my Purim show from the early 2000s when I told the story of Purim using the songs for Funny Girl! It has some amazing performances by Shoshanna Bean, LaChanze, Billy Porter, Andrea Burns, Leslie Kritzer and Peter Gallagher. And, if you want to hear some hilarity, watch the Playbill "Obsessed!" video I just did with Susan Blackwell. Not only is she a master storyteller, she is another actress who inappropriately played Anita in West Side Story, and she recreates it in the video.
The New York Times article about the Midtown March Medley is supposed to come out this weekend so buy tickets now before the Grey Lady makes us sold out. Once again, go to MidtownMarchMedley.com, and 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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