Bernadette Peters and James Lapine Were Both Hesitant About Sunday in the Park With George

Seth Rudetsky   Bernadette Peters and James Lapine Were Both Hesitant About Sunday in the Park With George
 
This week in the life of Seth, Stars in the House has its first in-person concert and Andrea Martin hosts a birthday party.
Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin
Bernadette Peters Martha Swope/©Billy Rose Theatre Division, NYPL for the Performing Arts

“If I…if I had a million, a million dollars, tell you what I’d do…” Anybody remember that song from The Me Nobody Knows? The reason I know that show is because my sister Nancy did it when she was a senior in high school. Such great music. I was just looking for the song and saw the one of my favorite singers recorded it in 1971: Melba Moore! Listen here.

Anyhoo…I bring up a million dollars because, on June 30, Stars in the House officially raised $1,000,000 for The Actors Fund. We had our first live in-person show to celebrate that milestone and it was so fun. We felt super-safe because we made sure everyone in the audience was fully vaccinated and everyone wore masks as well.

At the beginning of the show, I acted like I was going to play the pre-recorded theme song we do every show but then Liz Callaway popped up from the audience and volunteered to sing it live. As many people know, we always sass each other (Liz calls me “the brother she never wanted”) so, when she told us she’d sing, I warned her that if she sang live we wouldn’t be able to autotune. #Busted. She did her signature smiling and told me it wouldn’t be a problem…and then asked the audience if there was a good pianist who’d be able to play it. She’s #StillGotIt. Here she is doing the number live for the first time.

38_Stars in the House_Live Show_2021_Seth Rudetsky, Josh Bryant, Kristin Chenoweth, and James Wesley_HR_Credit Marc J Franklin.jpg
Seth Rudetsky, Josh Bryant, Kristin Chenoweth, and James Wesley Marc J. Franklin

We thought we would get to $1,000,000 by the end of the show, but Maggie Oberrender, our Actors Fund liason, told us we had actually reached it the previous Saturday. So, at the beginning of the show, we had Kristin Chenoweth and Josh Bryant come on stage and I had Kristin do a “cold read” of how much money we had raised. It was so fun because we didn’t rehearse it. She was so thrilled!

People continued to donate throughout the show and periodically Marc Shaiman would come up and set their donations to music. During his last appearance, he brought up his husband Lou Mirabel just to show the audience how handsome he is. When he first came onstage, he sang this hilarious song that he wrote with Bette Midler.

Amazingly, we wound up raising an additional $30,000 that night. One of the highlights of the show was Dr. LaPook’s appearance. We knew he had been in an a capella group at Yale and, instead of giving us a medical update as per usual, he joined me and James in a trio. He was on his gig. He brought his own prop and was relentless in his acting…constantly making eye contact between me and James to show how confident he was that his horse was going to win. Watch here.

PHOTOS: Go Inside Stars in the House's $1 Million In-Person Live Show Celebration

Our audience was made up of The Actors Fund staff members and Stars in the House workers and volunteers who had flown in from all around the country. We asked them who they wanted to see in our live show and picked our cast based on their suggestions. Jason Crespin, one of our volunteers (whom we had never met in actual person) flew in from Amarillo, Texas, for the day and had told us how much Chita Rivera meant to him. Well, when Chita appeared with her fabulous daughter, Lisa, James decided to bring Jason to the stage so he could tell Chita in person what her influence had meant to him. Watch it here. There were so many fabulous (and hilarious) performances that night so I advise you watch them all on YouTube.

Andrea Martin
Andrea Martin Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

Last Tuesday was James’ birthday and we had a little get together at Andrea Martin’s fabulous apartment. She has a wraparound terrace and this is a photo of us in the kitchen when Andrea surprised us at the window, giving her order like it was a diner.

So many funny stories were told including the time Brenda Braxton was backstage during Chicago (she was playing Velma) watching Charlotte d’Amboise on the monitor do “Roxie.” Charlotte had gone into the audience and on the way back to the stage, she completely wiped out. Charlotte gave us the inside scoop and told us it was because she was so frazzled. Normally, she’d go into the audience, find a kid, and say “You are way too young to be hearing this. How old are you?” It would always be a young kid so they’d say they were 7 or 8 years old and then Charlotte would “Oh. That’s fine then!”

Well, her nephew was in the audience and she, for some reason, thought he was 8. She went up to him and did her usual bit. He then responded with his age: 11. She was so thrown, she immediately said, “No, you’re not. You’re 8!” It made no sense to the audience who didn’t know why Roxie was arguing with a random child in the audience. Charlotte then hightailed it to the stage and was so flummoxed by her bizarre argument with a child that she face-planted. Now, she can laugh about it. Back then, she remained immobilized for a long time.

We also spoke about her amazing late father Jacques d’Amboise and how important it was for him to be a positive force for everyone around him. Not just his family, but everybody. She told us that if he bought a coffee, he would tell the server, sincerely, “I hope you have an amazing day!” Here’s his Kennedy Center honors where Charlotte dances with her brother Christopher.

Sunday in the Park with George_Broadway_Rehearsal Photo_1984_Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters, Mandy Patinkin and James Lapine_HR
Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters, Mandy Patinkin, and James Lapine in rehearsal for Sunday in the Park with George Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

On Stars in the House last Thursday we had Bernadette Peters and James Lapine on to talk about Lapine’s new book “Putting It Together,” all about the making of Sunday in the Park With George. Lapine had never seen Bernadette live on stage when he was writing the show, but he then saw her sing on the Oscars telecast and thought “That’s Dot!” Here’s the performance that got her that wonderful role. Right in the middle she sings “What’ll I Do?,” which is what clinched it.

In the book, Lapine talks about having a fear of commitment—when Sondheim asked him to work on another show together, he went into a slight panic—and Bernadette told us on the live stream that she has the same thing. She was very happy to say yes to Sunday in the Park because it was just a workshop and she wouldn’t be stuck in it for a long period of time if she didn’t like it. After the workshop, the show got the greenlight to go to Broadway but Bernadette was hesitant. She told Lapine and Sondheim that her character kind of disappeared in the middle of the first act. Lapine said he listens to actors because they often know what’s missing and that’s when they added the song “We Do Not Belong Together.” Such a fantastic addition. While you watch, please note that the show seamlessly incorporates dialogue and song. Sondheim talks in the book about this show being a first for him in terms of that kind of merging.

And speaking of songs being added, Mandy wanted to leave the show during the workshop. It was still being written and all he was doing in it was basically being quietly grouchy and painting for the whole act. That’s when they added “Finishing the Hat” and it changed everything.

Well, I have to stop writing because our plane is about to board. Yes, James (Welsey, my husband, not Lapine) cashed in our frequent flyer miles and we’re on our way to Mykonos! And, to paraphrase the seder: Next week in Rochester. Yep, as soon as we get back from Greece, we drive to Rochester, so I can do two shows. Come join me (and peace out!)

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