First of all, watch this amazing highlight reel from the San Francisco Concert For America. So many amazing moments…especially the fact that Hal Sparks can sing so high and Shoshana Bean’s amazing final riff in “Last Dance.” Notice it goes from a belter F to amazing soprano to whistle tone…IN ONE BREATH!
OK, before I get into more details about that concert (and promo the fact that the next one is in Seattle in basically in a week) let me start with last week’s antics. I had Kirsten Childs (who wrote Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin) and the cast of her new musical, Bella: An American Tall Tale, on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. They performed (and sounded great!) and I asked Kirsten about her early years being a Fosse dancer. Of course, I really asked about any mishaps onstage. She remembered doing Chicago and (spoiler alert?) in the first two minutes of the show, Roxie is supposed to shoot her boyfriend, Fred Casley. Well, Roxie said her sassy line; “Oh, Fred…nobody walks out on me!” and fired her gun. And it didn’t go off. Literally nothing. What to do? The whole premise of the show is her killing Fred plus it all happens in a vamp during “All That Jazz” and the song has to end. So, Fred Casley tried to save the show and pretended he was shot and promptly died. And then the gun went off. Wonderful.
Also on Seth Speaks I had a brand new producer—my sister Beth Rudetsky! She’s helping develop a new musical called Cradle Song by author Robert Gregory Browne. Beth and Robert were both on my show discussing the musical, which takes place in the ’80s. It’s about a youngish man who has AIDS and his very religious parents. Through various circumstances, he has to move back home with his parents to die. His parents who threw him out when he was a teenager. Yes, it’s heavy but there’s humor and great music! Here’s one of the songs from Cradle Song sung by the dulcet tones of Liz Callaway! Listen:
Brenda Braxton was also on my show with her book every actor should have: The Little Black Book of Backstage Etiquette. Not only does it have amazing advice from Brenda, who is a multi-Broadway show veteran, but many of her Broadway friends have segments throughout. And there is a lot of sassafrass. It’s a great book to read if you do professional or non-professional theater and it’s especially helpful for someone in college. Brenda was telling me that many young people are trained in the arts but don’t know things that are considered standard when doing a show: she was recently sharing a dressing room with a (young) co-star and asked if the young lady wanted to tip their dresser separately or pitch in together. The young woman she had no idea you’re supposed to tip your dresser every week. Yikes! That’s a great way to get pins stuck into you “by accident” during a quick change! P.S., for all of Brenda’s sagacity and perfect rehearsal manners, I asked her if she’s ever been a diva. She admitted that during her run as Velma in Chicago, she had complained over and over again for a time period about how cold the theater was. Don’t forget, those Fosse ladies barely wear anything. Well, one night she had had it and “by accident” she went onstage in her revealing Fosse outfit….and a sweater. I guess Velma was really sexy that night. For men who get turned on by L.L. Bean catalogs.
Now into Concert For America, the San Francisco treat. We were at the stunningly restored Curran (spearheaded by Carol Shorenstein Hayes) and we loved the grandeur and history of it. They have the original ornate chandelier hanging and not only did Peter Pan debut there but the stage door we all went through is where a lot of All About Eve was filmed! So many highlights: Faith Prince and I outed each other for meeting in group therapy back when she was doing Guys and Dolls. She was performing 8 shows a week and would come to group on her one night off. That’s how important she thinks mental health is—and because of that she praised one of our sponsors, the Actors Fund, for fighting to keep (and improve) the Affordable Care Act, which allows people to get the mental health care they need. As opposed to the health care bill that’s been proposed recently, which doesn’t provide the same level of mental health care as ACA and will also severely affect Medicare and Medicaid, which an enormous number of people in the performing arts rely on. We then related her next song (“Adelaide’s Lament”) to ACA because her character certainly needed a doctor since she’d had a cold for 14 years.
The morning of the concert, Wilson Cruz called James and said he was in San Francisco and wanted to come to the concert. James immediately said he should actually be in it and, since it was Pride, thought of the idea of a segment featuring Wilson, Sharon Gless, and Hal Sparks discussing how their Queer As Folk characters helped the LGBTQ community. I had all three onstage and at one point Hal told us that nobody wanted to audition for Queer As Folk. He remembers when his agent handed him the script it was as if the guy picked it up with barbeque tongs and held it away from his body til Hal grabbed it. At that time, Hal was known as a stand-up and as he was auditioning he saw one producer say to the other, “Did you know he could act!?” Brava!
Sharon (who played his mother on the show) read the script of the pilot and called the head of Showtime and told him she wanted to play the mom. He told her yes, but he wanted her to meet the producers so it wouldn’t look like he was bullying them into hiring her. She was very happy to have a meeting and told them that often a pilot script is great but is then watered down during filming. She asked if they were going to keep the pilot as it was. They replied “Every frame.” She yelled “I’m in!” She then spoke to her agent, who told her she shouldn’t under any circumstances take the job because it was “filth.” She replied “Well, I already told them yes so negotiate the contract!” Sass!
Wilson talked about being a musical theater kid and getting an audition for the pilot of My So-Called Life. He was so theater-y that he didn’t even know what a pilot was. He read the script and freaked out because it felt like someone had been following him in high school. He showed up at the audition in a mutli-colored outfit and saw three boys auditioning wearing buttondown shirts and khakis. He thought, “They don’t stand a chance.” After he read, he told the casting director that he would like to express his thanks to the people who were bringing this type of character to TV, that his whole childhood, all he wanted was to see someone like himself on TV. She replied, “Tell it to the producers.” AKA you got the job!
Later on, Kevin Chamberlin came onstage and told the audience that, because it was Pride weekend, he wanted to sing something appropriate. And what is more perfect than a certain song from The Wizard Of Oz that is a classic gay anthem. He then proceeded to sing “If I Were King Of The Forest.” Hilarious! P.S.: It completely brought down the house.
The most moving moment of the show featured Armistead Maupin. James and I both spoke about how much we loved his Tales of the City series and then James spoke specifically about the “Letter to Mama” section of the book. Armistead said it was basically the letter he wrote to his mother when he decided to come out to her after she got involved in Anita Bryant’s horrific anti-gay campaign. James spoke of how it inspired him to come out and told Armistead how, despite the little wall space we have, he’s always had the framed “Letter To Mama” hanging in our apartment. Armistead then beautifully read the letter as James sat on the floor in front of him. It’s so perfectly written…warm, caring, brave, and full of healthy pride, and Armistead’s reading was amazing. After he finished, he got a standing ovation. Then he took the letter and autographed it and told us we could auction it off for the charities! Email me at SethRudetskyAsst@gmail.com if you’re interested.
This weekend I’m beginning my Provincetown concert series and Michael Cerveris is my first star! Come see us at the Art House on Saturday and Sunday. We’re not only going to hear him perform songs from all of his Broadway shows, but we’ll be talking about his long-running role as a British bad boy on the Fame TV series. Here’s a full production number with him and Debbie Allen:
There’s more to write about but James and I have to get back to work for the July 6 Seattle concert. Let me add, since this my Playbill column, that we’re so grateful to Playbill being a sponsor for the concerts and giving us wonderful full page ads as well as stunning Playbills in every city. Thank you Phil Birsh and the entire Playbill staff, and peace out!