ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: I'm Gonna Be a Producer; Wisdom from David Merrick and Annaleigh Ashford's Kinky Accent
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
OM to the G! It's really happening. No, not a day where I'm not constantly complaining about my weight, yet eating non-stop sugar because it's a "special occasion." It's something even more unexpected.
If you remember, James and I put up some plays in March for 16 performances each. After the first week of performances, an investor approached James and said he would put money into the show if it transferred. That was exciting, but where would it transfer? Oh, and who would produce it? Then, a few performances later, a woman told James she'd love to "be involved" if the show moved. We didn't know what "involved" meant. Did she want to start dating the show? As in, ‘We were involved for a few years back in the 70's'? Turns out, it meant she'd invest money if the show transferred!
But, again, what transfer? Then Kurt Peterson, who Broadway fans know as the original Young Buddy in Follies and the romantic lead in Dear World, came to the show. He's also a producer and recommended taking Unbroken Circle to St. Luke's on 46th Street. James remembered seeing Judy Gold's 25 Questions'For A Jewish Mother at that theatre when he first moved to New York and loving it. He met with Ed, the theatre manager, and found out that Ed uses a business model where he runs a few different shows at different times in the same theatre. It's essentially a shmorsgasbord of shows. They had a great meeting and by the end, Ed offered James a slot in the schedule!
But, encore une fois, who would produce our show? We decided to take a minute and think through all the things a producer does: contracts, ticketing, publicity, marketing and essentially general overseeing of everything. And, most importantly, a producer raises the investments that fund the production. We realized we had done all the things a producer does when we ran our shows in March. And, after we made a budget, we realized we had enough investors to fund the show. Turns out, we're producers! And the show is moving Off-Broadway!
That's right, Unbroken Circle will begin previews on May 29th and have its official opening on June 19th. And the whole cast is able to come back! Look at our sassy new website: UnbrokenCircleThePlay.com.
And, speaking of producers, I'm reading "The Abonimable Showman," which is all about David Merrick who produced Hello, Dolly!, 42nd Street and many other Broadway classics. He came up with the idea of having a "reserve" in the initial investment so a show can keep running until it finds its audience. So, besides raising that money, we're using another tactic that keeps a show running until it finds its audience—that's right, we're offering a ticket discount code to my fans. (And to my enemies.) Anyone can use it! Go to BroadwayOffers.com and put in the code UCSETH for ye olde cheap tickets.
The week began with a fundraiser for the Family Equality Council, which is an organization that focuses on changing various policies/attitudes to get equal treatment for all families. For instance, one of their recent coups is on the college financial application: when Juli eventually applies for financial aid (and believe me, she's gonna have to!) instead of having to fill out a line for "mother" and "father," the application will now read "parent" and "parent." It may sound inconsequential, but it's so nice for her to not feel like an outsider. (And for us, too; I'm sick of being listed as the mother!) Jenn Chrisler, who recently stepped down as the head of Family Equality Council was honored at the dinner. She is one of the people responsible for getting families with gay parents to participate in the White House Easter Egg Roll and she famously faced down the lies of Bill O'Reilly. I love how totally calm she is. Watch!
Dan Bucatinsky from TV's "Scandal" and "Web Therapy" was super sweet and invited James and me to sit at his table. He has two kids with his partner Don Roos, the writer/director of "The Opposite of Sex," one of my favorite films. Dan wrote the current bestseller "Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?," which is about his hilarious/moving experiences adopting and co-parenting his two kids. He was introduced by his bestest friend Linda Wallem and her partner, rock star Melissa Etheridge. If you don't know, Linda is an incredibly successful television writer/creator ("Nurse Jackie") but I remember her from the late 80's (!) when I was playing piano in Greenwich Village at a piano bar called 88's and she was a singing waitress!
88's is also where Dan met Linda and where Closer Than Ever began. Dan's speech was adorable and he reminisced about the night he met Don playing "Celebrity" with Linda. He'll never forget Don swaying his hips trying make Dan guess "Hula" which naturally rhymes with "Rula" as in "Rula Lenska." Anybody? Speaking of embarrassing behavior at games, a new episode of "Broadway Game Night" is up on SethTV. The preview is so good! Especially obsessed with how guests Orfeh and Max Crumm vibrato in this little clip.
Back to Family Equality Council. Also at our table was Debra Monk who told us the dirtiest jokes that I cannot print. But I will tell you the set ups: "What did Cinderella say when she got to the ball?" and "How do you make Martha Stewart scream twice?" Hi-larious (if you know the punch lines).
On Tuesday, I went to another fundraiser. Norm Lewis asked me if I'd play for him for a dinner where they were honoring Tony Goldwyn (they're both on "Scandal," just like Dan). The evening was for The Innocence Project, which helps exonerate people who have been convicted of crimes they haven't committed. The event was so phenomenally moving and inspiring. When Tony Goldwyn accepted his honor he told us to take a moment and think about the people right now who are innocent but are locked up in a 5x9 cell. Then, a group of around 20 men who had been released from prison because they were innocent walked onstage. These men had been incarcerated for 10, 15, 20 and 25 years…And some of them were on death row…for crimes they didn't commit! Think about what you were doing 25 years ago, and imagine being in jail all those years.
Each of the freed men made a statement and all were the same theme; essentially they were happy to be free and grateful to the Innocence Project. That's it. No bitterness. One of the men was from Minneapolis and said that every morning he wakes up and is filled with joy that he doesn't have bars around him. I kept waiting for the "I'll never forget the injustice that was done to me" but I never got it. I saw the man afterwards and I asked him why he is not filled with sadness/anger/rage at how unfair it all was and by how many years he lost. He said that if he concentrated on that, it would eat him up inside.
Of course that's true, but how is able to do that? I'm constantly raging to anyone who will listen about not getting the role of "Boy" in the sketch "Boy Meets Girl" when my 4th grade class did Free to Be You and Me and he's not thinking about being wrongfully imprisoned? What is wrong with me? I left feeling mortified about my shallowness. (And, quite frankly, still wondering why Michael Lager was cast as the boy and I only got to sing a section, not even the whole song of "William's Doll." So unfair!) If you want to help with the Innocence Project, go to innocenceproject.org. And if you want hear what song Norm sang, which was amazing, listen here. And if you don't know the hilarious sketch from Free to Be… that I was not cast in, watch here!
I saw I'll Eat You Last starring Bette Midler and loved it. She's so engaging and so likeable, and the play is so interesting. Of course, if you're under 30, you may be thinking "Who???" the whole time she talks about people like Robert Evans, Allie McGraw and Gene Hackman, but I was hooked as soon as she dished Barbra's late 70's perm! I also saw The Call at Playwrights Horizons and, of course, I loved seeing Kerry Butler who is great in everything. But I was super happy to see my friend Kelly AuCoin who was excellent! I've never seen him in a New York play. I only know him from an Ohio musical. That's right, we went to Oberlin together and he was in the production of Runaways that I music directed. To this day, I'm obsessed with that show. Watch!
I had Best Featured Actress Tony Award nominee Annaleigh Ashford on the Chatterbox last week and I asked her about the accents the cast had to learn for Kinky Boots. She told me it was Northhampton, but soon she found out her accent was so good it was actually unintelligible. During tech rehearsal, director Jerry Mitchell had it with the bizarre vowels and told her, "Annaleigh! I can't understand you! Just speak like Mary Poppins!" She told him that Mary Poppins is from London. He then said, "Fine! Just talk like Sandy from the 'Grease' movie." Huh? Olivia Newton-John is Australian! If she can pick any random celebrity to speak like, why not Rula Lenska? PS, what country is Rula from? England? Then why the name Rula? Is it really "ruler" but with a British accent? And what is Rula actually known for? Literally just this commercial?
OK, here's a final shout-out for those in the Bayou! Audra McDonald and I are a-comin' for two concerts on May 18th! Get thee tix at broadwaynola.com!
And for my fellow New Yorkers, i'll be doing a fundraiser with some sassy Broadway folk for the public school in my Upper West side 'hood! It'll be at The Computer School on 78th Street and Amsterdam next Monday, May 13th at 6:30! Buy your cheap tix here and peace out!
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