4 Female Performers Who Inspired Audra McDonald’s Career

Seth Rudetsky   4 Female Performers Who Inspired Audra McDonald’s Career
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from his concerts with McDonald, reveals more performers for Concert for America, and more.
Seth Rudetsky and Audra McDonald
Seth Rudetsky and Audra McDonald Sachyn Mital

Hello from the middle of my Cape Cod tour! I’m writing this from the lovely Captain Jack Bed and Breakfast in Cotuit. This morning I drove with Audra McDonald and Will Swenson from Provincetown, after saying goodbye to my regular favorite summer place, The Anchor Inn. I left stuff at the Anchor Inn all summer that I finally have to bring back to New York and I also planned on doing some shopping. Hence, I brought my large suitcase. Well, Will had to comment on it, apparently, because as soon as he saw my suitcase, he loudly said to Audra, “I guess we’re catching Seth after a long jaunt through Europe.” RUDE! I need to travel with all my accouterments.

Anyhoo, I got to Ptown on Saturday and hightailed to East End Books to do a reading of my first “Justin Goldblatt” book (My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan) as well as highlights from all three volumes of Seth’s Broadway Diary, which are compilations of my Playbill columns. I read them outside, in front of the bay, and it was so lovely! It was hard for me to pick what stories to read from Seth’s Broadway Diary...there were so many I forgot that were so hilarious. I found the section where I wrote about filming Kathy Griffin: My Life On The D-list. I wound up not reading it, but I love it! Here goes:

Seth Rudetsky, Judy Kuhn, Ann Harada, and Charles Busch Marc J. Franklin

On this season, Kathy decides she wants to entertain at her mother's assisted-living facility. She knows she can't do her stand-up act because of her non-stop cursing, so she's decided she's going to sing a song from her mom's era. Kathy then realized she'd better learn how to sing. We met on Wednesday at Don't Tell Mama, and I taught her how to perform "You Made Me Love You" with us alongside the fabulous Kristin Chenoweth. And by "alongside" I mean in the back. Essentially, being on My Life on the D-List put me on the D-list. Seriously.

At one point, I was literally like Lisa Kudrow in The Comeback when she tries desperately to edge up from her place in the back during a photo shoot. As Kathy and Kristin were chatting, I started chiming in comments from my seat at the piano. Of course, they were both in the middle of the room, so I had to stand to get nearer to them. I was then asked immediately by the director to not to get off the piano bench.

Then, we took a break from filming, and a make-up artist ran up to Kristin and adjusted her face while another one flanked Kathy. I looked around and finally said, "Um… I seem to be the only person without anyone fixing my make-up." There was muttering into various headsets, and finally someone walked up to me. Not a make-up artist, mind you, but just literally a person. My make-up was then "adjusted." Not with a re-touch of powder, under-eye concealer or even some generic lip balm. No, the make-up artist (AKA crew member) simply blotted my face. Pat, pat, pat. Not with a brush, not with a make-up pad, but literally with a paper towel. Regardless, it still was SO MUCH FUN. Watch it here!

East End Books livestreamed my reading and if you watch it, you can see how pretty Provincetown is!

Our next Concert For America is September 21 at UCLA’s Royce Hall and we keep adding people to the roster. Eric McCormack and Laurie Metcalf just joined! You can get tix at ConcertForAmerica.com, but you don’t have to be in L.A. to see it. We’re going to livestream it so people around the world can watch and donate.


While James and I were in L.A., we met with the head of National Immigration Law Center, which is the organization we’re benefiting. If you don’t know, they’re the only national organization focused on helping low-income immigrants. Boy, do they have their hands full. They told us that the latest debacle is happening to documented immigrants; if they take advantage of what they’re entitled to, it is then held against them. For example, if they’re low income and hungry, the fact that they use food stamps will be a detriment to them getting resident status. Devastatingly, some people who were injured during the Wal-Mart shooting in El Paso didn’t seek medical help because they were scared that it would negatively affect them or their families. The suffering is rampant and National Immigration Law Center is truly helping. Buy tickets, watch the livestream or donate now at ConcertForAmerica.com.

While in Ptown, I went to see the unparalleled Marilyn Maye. Holy cow, you have got to see her in concert. She has all three talents for an incredible solo performer: stunning singing, brilliant acting, hilarious comedy. It was such a joy to hear the musicality between her and her music director, Billy Stritch. Here’s just a smattering of her comedy:

Around halfway through, she did a medley from My Fair Lady and, after it was over, she got a raucous ovation. While the audience was applauding, she started to reprise the big ending from the medley, but halfway through, she cut Billy off. “Nope,” she said, shaking her head. “Not doing it twice. Not for one ticket price.” So funny! And it’s really incredible how great her voice is. She’s literally 91! Last year, her show was called 90 at last! and this year it’s called I Wish I Were 90 Again. Here’s an example of her amazing acting and musicality. WATCH NOW!

That video is so great, but you have to see her live! She’s going to be at Feinstein’s/54 Below in October and then at Birdland for New Year’s and the first week of January. Here are all of her upcoming dates.

Right now, I’m on the ferry to Nantucket to do my third show with Audra. Last night, we went out to eat and dinner began by us talking about eating low carb….and ended with us getting the “Birthday Blitz,” which was a trough of layer cake/popcorn balls/butterscotch and chocolate sauce/whipped cream/strawberries/ice cream.

Audra McDonald and Seth Rudetsky
Audra McDonald and Seth Rudetsky

I always have my singers do unexpected songs, so during the show I asked Audra about the workshop she did a few years ago—it was Kiss Of The Spider Woman and she was the Spider Woman! Bertie Carvel was Valentin and James Corden was Molina. Sadly, before it could move to the next level, James Corden got his TV show (not sadly for him). Regardless, I wanted to hear what Audra would do with the title song but she told me she didn’t know the lyrics. I then asked (forced) her to sit next to me with her reading glasses and read the lyrics from my music. It was so fun! I guess she still has plenty of time to play the role one day since Chita was in her 60s when she won the Tony Award for it!

I asked Audra about her favorite memory seeing theatre as a kid. For her, it was seeing the national tour of Dreamgirls. She was a teenager and she’d known for a while that she wanted to do theatre, but seeing that musical filled with African-American actors inspired her to a new level. And she was obsessed with Lillias White as Effie. Amazingly, around 15 years later, I put together the Dreamgirls concert for the Actors Fund and Audra was Deena…and Lillias was Effie! Audra got to play opposite the woman who inspired her! Here’s footage of the entire rehearsal process. You can see the very first sing-through of the score and see Audra’s complete awe/love towards Lillias. (Fast forward to 57:57.)

I asked Audra about her favorite youth performing experience and she told me about playing Evita in her local theatre. On the very last performance, she came out for her bow and was so overwhelmed that she started crying and turned upstage, into the arms of her Che. He turned her around and gently pushed her forward so she could receive the applause of the audience. He wanted her to have that moment.

Well, years later, she was part of the annual fundraiser for Covenant House (of which she’s on the board). A former homeless youth named Mary came onstage to read a poem she had written. This young lady had been horrifically abused by her mother to the point where she is now legally blind. She went from foster home to foster home and eventually aged out of the system, becoming homeless. Then she found Covenant House, which gave her a home and a way to start living her life to the fullest. Well, Mary was extremely nervous to read onstage, her hands were shaking, and as soon as she was finished, she turned around to flee. But the audience was going crazy with applause. So, before she could exit the stage, Audra held her, turned her around and brought her back center to receive her applause. Now an adult, she was using the experience she had as a youth to help someone in a similar position.

READ: What I Learned From Sleeping on the Street With Stephanie J. Block, Audra McDonald, and the Broadway Community

Audra loves that there are so many wonderful people who pass down their knowledge to the younger generation (she mentioned that for her, it was Zoe Caldwell and Barbara Cook). It reminded me of Laura Benanti, who was uncomfortable taking her bow during Nine in 2003. Laura would run on, do a quick bow and run off. Chita Rivera came up to her backstage and told her that the audience wants to applaud and they want the performer to receive it. It’s not polite to not take it in. Chita informed her that a bow should be three seconds down and then three seconds up. Well, from then on, if that wasn’t clear enough, as Laura would bow, she would hear Chita in the wings yelling “One Mississippi, two Mississippi…!”

On that note, peace out! Visit SethRudetsky.com for all my upcoming performances…in Westport, Boston, Cincinatti, Lorain County and, of course, L.A.!

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