ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Annie Golden Talks "Orange is the New Black" and Norbert Leo Butz Shares Stories from Big Fish
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
First of all, I started doing my deconstructions again! A lot of the songs in Disaster! are there because I'm obsessed with them and we figured out a way to put them into the plot. So, I was obsessing about Michael Jackson singing "Ben" and decided I had to deconstruct it... here 'tis.
Speaking of Disaster!, it's Mary Testa's last week. Wah! I'm not allowed to say what show she's going into, but suffice it to say, I don't think she needs to be worried about it closing anytime soon. The cast made Mary a video where we all do an imitation of her saying various lines in the show... I'm obsessed!
Mary's final performance is this Friday, and next Monday, Annie Golden takes over as "Shirley Summers." Annie actually played the role when Disaster! was first running at The Triad in 2012. However, she was recently looking over the script and told me that she basically remembered nothing even though she did the show for three weeks. I told her that's because back then, the show only ran on Sundays. So a "three-week run" was actually just three performances, or, as I told Annie, if it were a Broadway show, it's as if she went on for a Tuesday night and then a Wednesday matinee and night show two years ago!
Annie came on "Seth Speaks," my SiriusXM radio show, and first we talked about her film debut in "Hair." She played Jeannie (the pregnant Tribe member), and you can see a great shot of her at 1:35 in the trailer. Her big song was "Air," but it was not in the final cut, because the film is supposed to take place in the late '60's but when they filmed her number, the Twin Towers were visible in the background (and they weren't completed 'til a few years later).
Speaking of video footage, here's one of my Annie Golden favorites: Her pop song "Hang Up The Phone." I'm not saying it's dated, but, the song is about her frustration calling her boyfriend and hearing a busy signal. Basically it should be retitled "Please Invent 'Call Waiting.'"
I praised Annie about her new gig on the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black," and she told about her audition. She reminded my audience that actors always have to appear like they're very much in demand. When she finished her audition and the people at "Orange is the New Black" asked her what she was up to, she started name-dropping all the various projects she was involved with, trying to sound like she had many, many irons in the fire. Then she began to realize they were trying to find out if she was available to do the series so she completely reversed course and flat-out said, "I have nothing. I'm totally available."
She had gone in for the role of the nun, which went to Beth Fowler, but when the director was watching the tape of her audition, she lowered the volume and watched Annie with no sound. Annie got the role of Norma, the prisoner who doesn't speak, and she loves it because she's always been obsessed with silent screen stars.
Speaking of silent screen stars (like Norma Desmond) and the film "Hair," Betty Buckley, who was amazing in Sunset Boulevard was also fantastic in the "Hair" movie. Yes, her face is nowhere to be seen, and quite frankly, neither is her name. She sings the big solo in "Walking in Space," but she never got credit for it. An Asian girl lipsynchs Betty's voice! For rizzle! Watch and listen at 1:47. That's Betty Buckley sounding amazing! Here's my deconstruction.
I also had the fantastic Michele Lee on "Seth Speaks" to talk about her new show at 54 Below, which runs Jan. 30-Feb. 1. She's going to sing a fantastic song she originated in the show Brava Giovanni, which she starred in when she was 18! Yowza! Listen how great she sounds on the recording. Once she was on Broadway, she began to do lots of the big variety shows with amazing people like Lucille Ball. She remembers one event, when Lucy was pretty elderly at the point, and Michele noticed that after Lucy used the ladies room, it was spotless. The entire sink area had been wiped down and dried. When she mentioned it Lucy, Lucy acknowledged she had done it and told her that at this point in her life, she wanted to make sure that God knew she wasn't a diva! Brava!
I also told Michele that I had read Steven Suskin's wonderful book "Second Act Trouble," which is all about musicals that didn't succeed. There's a whole chapter on Seesaw. Michele starred in the show on Broadway, but, when the show was out of town, the star was Lainie Kazan. Seesaw was not doing well, so the producers fired the director and brought in Michael Bennett, who promptly fired Lainie and replaced her with Michele! Michele was completely torn because she and Lainie had been friends ever since Lainie was in the chorus in Bravo, Giovanni! And Lainie lived in the same apartment building, down the hall! Nonetheless, Michele took the role because it was Michael's decision and really had nothing to do with her.
Sadly, it hurt the friendship between Lainie and Michele, and they didn't speak for decades! But, around 15 years ago, there was a New Year's party at Lee Grant's house and she and Lainie was standing on opposite sides of the buffet table. Suddenly, the clock struck midnight, people starting singing "Auld Lang Syne" and both she and Lainie burst into tears. They ran into each other's arms, and they've been best friends ever since. And, as Michele told this story on the air, she surprised herself by crying again. Paraphrasing Lorrell in Dreamgirls, let me say that show business sure has a lot of "ups and downs".
At "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox," I had Norbert Leo Butz, and the fist thing we spoke about was his recent Broadway show, Big Fish. He was asked to do it by Susan Stroman and went over to Andrew Lippa's apartment to listen to the score. That's what convinced him. Norbert said that he's considered a character actor, and the role's he's offered don't give him many opportunities to sing big, sweeping songs. He said the last show where he really got to sing lots of big songs was The Last Five Years, and he wanted to do something like that again. But, of course, singing all those songs in Big Fish was difficult to keep up during previews while they were rehearsing all the time. He got vocally fried and went on Prednisone which allows you to sing without feeling pain. But, if your voice is hurt, you continue to hurt it while you're singing.
So, once he stopped taking the Prednisone a few days after opening, Norbert said he felt like anesthesia was wearing off after surgery. His voice got dryer and dryer, and he said that by the end of Act One he was doing full out Rex Harrison speak-singing. He knew that there was no way he could sing Act Two and went backstage to tell stage management. Normally, he said, when an actor misses a show everyone is disappointed and also sort of judgemental. There's usually an attitude like, "Wow. You really can't go on?" However, apparently the cast heard Norbert singing and everyone was like, "You better go home ASAP." He was relieved/mortified.
I asked him if he watched his understudy go on and he smiled sheepishly and admitted (for the first time, he said) that while he was waiting to leave the theatre and go to his throat doctor, he watched the monitor to see the beginning of Act Two. Norbert said this his understudy, Ben Crawford, started the first number and got to the moment where he's supposed to be shot. (It's a fantasy sequence.) He fell on the stairs like he's supposed to do, but then he added a moment where he rolled down the staircase. Norbert loved it and told us that he promptly stole it for his next performance. Hmm... does it qualify as Eve Harrington-style if it's in reverse?
Well, this week a brand new "Obsessed" came out featuring my friend Mary Ann Hu and the lyrics I wrote for her. Years ago she had given me an assignment to change the lyrics to "When You Got It, Flaunt It!" to be about two things: The fact that she's Asian and has a big pair of you-know-whats. Watch the result!
If you're near a computer Jan. 14 at 4 PM, watch my live interview with Sam Harris on "Google + Live Hangout on Air." We both did Grease and The Producers together on Broadway and I'll be asking him about his long, high-belting career, his upcoming show at 54 Below and his new book "Ham."
Also, if you're midtown Jan. 13, come by Birdland on 44th and see Jim Caruso's Cast Party. The cast of Disaster is going to perform! And on that note, 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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