ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Someone Else's Story — Sutton Foster's
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Hello from good ol’ New York City!
I landed on Monday (from Australia) and then turned around on Friday to fly to New Orleans. I went there to do the Broadway Series at Nocca (upcoming guests are Megan Mullally, Audra McDonald, Betty Buckley), and this time my partner in belting was Sutton Foster! First of all, my episode of "Bunheads" had just aired last Monday, so even though we filmed it weeks ago, I felt like I had just hung out with her. In case you missed it, here’s the segment where she sings/sasses “If They Could See Me Now." It’s just a great little audition snippet. I’m obsessed with how she ends it small. Take a gander! PS, I did this little arrangement for her via iPhone. Literally. Juli had to go to the hospital for asthma a few weeks ago (she’s totally OK) and in the cab on the way home (at midnight), I thought of a cute 16-bar arrangement that would end on a nice C for Sutton. I got home, sang/played it and recorded on my iPhone. I emailed it to Sutton that night, she texted me the next day that Amy (Sherman-Pallidino, the creator/writer/director of the show) loved it and when I showed up on set, it was fully staged. Yay technology.
I was terrified to watch myself on the show, but, upon watching, I enjoyed it! Except for the part at the very end when I’m called back into the audition room. I scurry back to the room looking like I’m doing a ballet version of running. I guess it’s my homage to the show being called "Bunheads"? Sutton also noticed that I start my so-called run with a sniff to indicate I’m about to begin. If you DVR’d it, watch my “running” ASAP and make sure not to cast me in "Marathon Man."
Sutton was so great in New Orleans, and we’re going to do the show again this summer at the Art House in Provincetown. She let me choose tons of songs from her past that she hasn’t sung in years. For example, I first heard her sing when I was on loan from the Broadway company of Grease to play piano for one night at the national tour’s stop in Wilmington, DE. That was the moment I became obsessed with her, so we recreated it by singing “Summer Nights” as a duet, having the audience sing the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys. I also made her, I mean, requested her to sing “Someone Else’s Story” since she played Svetlana in my Actors Fund concert of Chess. Here she is way back when. And we closed the entire concert with “I’m The Greatest Star” which she had sung in my Funny Girl concert in 2002.
She talked about being 17 years old and seeing the Tony Awards on TV when she was living in Detroit. She noticed that the girls in The Will Rogers Follies were tall, and she knew she could dance like them. Then the national tour was getting ready to launch, and she read in the paper that they were doing a nationwide search for dancers. Sutton’s mom encouraged her to go (again) even though it specifically said that dancers had to be 18 years old. Sutton auditioned, and the associate (Jeff Calhoon!) asked her how old she was. She did a delicious doubletalk answer and told him, “I’ll be 18 on my next birthday.” Not since Wimpy’s “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger on Wednesday.” Regardless, he asked her to come to NY, and the very first Broadway theatre she ever walked into was the Palace, where she had her final call back. Tommy Tune lined everybody up on stage at the end and made cuts (a la A Chorus Line). By the end of the cuts, Sutton was cast (!) and spent her senior year of high school touring around the country. Let’s just say a perky, chitty chatty 17-year-old in the dressing was not what a lot of the seasoned older dancers wanted.
I have to say that her career should give hope to many struggling actors because she was cast in so many of her roles (Grease, Will Rogers, Les Miz) from open calls. Since she played Eponine on the road and on Broadway, I asked her if she ever had any mishaps. She remembered that once there was a Marius understudy on and they were doing Eponine’s death scene (spoiler alert?). Anyhoo, she was lying in his arms singing “A Little Fall of Rain,” and he was clutching her tightly to keep her from dying/falling. Well, instead of clutching her shirt, he was clutching her shirt and breast! She kept singing and trying to pull her boob out of his vice-like grip, but he thought the character was pulling away because she was dying, so he held on and squeezed even tighter. Suffice it to say, a young French girl has never been happier to die.
Speaking of Les Miz, I told her I had heard a rumor she was going to be in the film, and she confirmed onstage that she was one of the final contenders to play Fantine! How cool would that have been? I asked her how much weight she lost for the screen test, and she said she was doing Anything Goes so she was already super-skinny. Speaking of which, Reno was the hardest role she played and “Anything Goes” was the hardest number. Her dressing room was right underneath the stage, and when she’d go there for intermission, she’d see all the pictures on the wall hanging askance because of the enormous vibrations from the stage. Sutton said that after she’d perform that song she felt like her face was going to explode. That’s a real fun way to feel eight times a week.
Of course, we talked about the day she found out she was getting the role of Millie after being the understudy. She was on the phone with her boyfriend that morning and got a "call waiting." She told him to hold on and clicked over to hear Michael Mayer tell her she had the role. She immediately started crying hysterically saying, “You’re making a mistake. I’m not ready!” Her boyfriend had no idea what happened. He was talking to her, she said a chipper, “Hold on a second,” and then 30 seconds later she came back and tearfully/hysterically said, “I have to call you back!” Click. He spent a wonderful day thinking that someone she knew died, not that she was in a wig fitting.
OK, the big delicious news is that the New York Times article about the Midtown March Medley came out in the Arts and Leisure section. The online version happened on Thursday and I freaked out, but people told me the print version would probably be cut. Then Sunday came and it was the same big, fat write-up! So amazing! Take a gander!
And, I’ve put up two new videos with cast members from the show doing shtick: Here’s the cast of The Daring Duo (starring me, David Turner and Billy Selby…and my violin), and here's the cast of Unbroken Circle (with James, Juli, Eve Plumb and a big Southern family). (PS. Don’t tell Elton John. Trying to avoid a lawsuit). The annoying part is, I keep running into people who think that each night of our play series features four short plays. No!! There are four full-length shows, and they run at various times all throughout March! Get thee to MidtownMarchMedley.com four times. Unbroken Circle opens this Friday, Daring Duo next Monday and Art and Science with John Tartaglia and Tony Sheldon opens March 14.
Speaking of shows I’ve written, I’m working on getting Disaster transferred so it can eventually move to Broadway. I was talking to a theatre owner who happened to be working this weekend with Denis Jones, who directed/choreographed Disaster. I texted Denis that I thought it was so weird he was with the guy I pitched the show to and I’m rehearsing again in the same studios where we did Disaster. Then something weirder happened; I don’t know if you remember, but on the last night of the show, I ruptured a part of my left calf and couldn’t walk. Well, in THE DARING DUO rehearsal yesterday, the same thing happened…to my right calf! A matching set! I sent Denis all the parallels and ended it with the question, “Full circle?” I’m not completely devastated about my calf injury because last year it took five days for me to walk almost normally, and the show doesn’t open til the 11th…so I have enough time for physical therapy to do its job. Until then, I’m going to go ice and keep my gam elevated! 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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