How a Google Alert Led to Derek Klena's Broadway Debut | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky How a Google Alert Led to Derek Klena's Broadway Debut

This week, Seth talks to Andrea McArdle about Rainbow, and Derek Klena remembers auditioning for American Idol.

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Derek Klena

I’m back in New York after spending Friday and Saturday in Houston, Texas. I did a fundraiser with Andrea McArdle and Adam Pascal, and we had such a great time. Adam sang lots of stuff, including songs from Rent and Memphis and Cabaret. (Remember? He was the Emcee on Broadway.) 

Seth Rudetsky, Andrea McArdle, and Adam Pascal

Andrea sang fabulous belt-y songs like “I Dreamed a Dream,” which she performed when she played Fantine on Broadway. That was the first long-running Broadway show I ever played for, and she was my Fantine. This was back when it lasted three hours and fifteen minutes. (They’ve since cut time off the show.) I was only a sub on the show, and I was subbing on many other shows at the time. The crazy part is one of the other shows I was subbing for was An Inspector Calls, which was 90 minutes long. The Inspector Calls theatre was right next door to Les Misérables, and the disparity between show lengths was crazy. When act one of Les Miz ended, I would walk out the stage door for a break and see the audience of An Inspector Calls literally exiting. That show was completely over, but there was still an entire act left of Les Miz. Hence this hilarious parody from Forbidden Broadway. Instead of “At the end of the day, you’re another day older.” It’s changed to “At the end of the play, you’re another year older.” So true!

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Andrea also sang from Rainbow, the film she did after she played Annie in London. Rainbow is about the young life of Judy Garland, and Andrea played Judy. I remember seeing that film when I was a kid and being obsessed with her voice. Holy cow, she sounded so good. What’s crazy is she told me that when she first learned the music, she recorded one take of each song so she’d have a guide track when she filmed, and then she’d go in and really record the songs. Cut to: they never let her go back in to rerecord. The version I thought was so good was just her first attempt at the songs! Listen: 

The fundraiser was for Temple Emanu-El and The River. The River is an amazing organization through Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars that provides affordable, accessible arts education to individuals with disabilities and their siblings. I was so blown away by those kids! Watch them in action: 

The kids sang “Seasons Of Love” with Adam Pascal and did all the harmony and the solos. Then we did a finale of “Trouble” with Adam as Harold Hill and the kids (and some of the congregation) as the townspeople. Yass! It was almost as amazing as the time I did “Trouble” with Patti LuPone at my SiriusXM show. Watch:

For the encore, Andrea sang her signature “Tomorrow.” She told everyone it was a song that gave her hope during the lockdown, and now she’s singing it and wishing the people of Ukraine have some hope. Then she told everyone that she is part Ukrainian. I had no idea! James and I are bringing her to NYC to join our telethon for Ukraine this coming Saturday from noon to 10 PM ET. So many stars are joining. It benefits the International Rescue Committee, and you can watch it on StarsInTheHouse.com or listen to Stars 109 on SiriusXM, which is simulcasting it.

Seth, James, Andrea, and Adam after the show

On Sunday, I did The Seth Concert Series with Derek Klena from Jagged Little Pill, Carrie, Dogfight, and Anastasia. He is so talented. So many high notes, and he is so not stressed about any of them. He told me that he sang all the time as a kid and was always doing singing competitions. Here he is at 15 singing “Bring Him Home.” He won!

I mentioned his amazing hairstyle and he told me his family is “famous for their bangs,” which I thought was hilarious. As a matter of fact, he told me his mom is still “rocking bangs.” Werk! Derek also told me that when he was in high school, he not only did theatre and singing competitions, but he was a baseball player as well. After high school, he auditioned for American Idol. He didn’t get very far, and I suspect it was because he didn’t have enough of a “story.” Jessica Vosk told me that when she auditioned for American Idol, it was nonstop questions like “Were you ever homeless?” or “Have you ever given up a child?” Her answers were decided “Nos.” Conclusion: she did not advance. Well, Derek said that they kept asking him, “So, was it really hard to do baseball and singing at the same time.” Derek said “not really.” They persisted: “So, you had to choose between them. How did you make such a difficult choice?” Derek answered, “I’m actually trying to do both at the same time, and it’s going fine.” Conclusion: he and Jessica had the same outcome.

Derek came to New York in such a circuitous way: years ago, he saw a video of Aaron Tveit singing “Goodbye” from Catch Me If You Can while the show was still in its out-of-town tryouts. Derek loved it and wanted to do it at a singing competition. His pianist figured out the music from watching the video, and Derek sang it in a singing contest. The show got reviewed on Broadway World and mentioned Derek singing the song. Marc Shaiman had a google alert set and got a notification about the article. Of course, Marc was in shock someone was singing that song because the show hadn’t even officially opened. He wrote to Derek on Facebook and mentioned that they were looking for an understudy for Aaron Tveit, and he’d love to hear him sing. Derek went to a studio, recorded the song, sent it to Marc, and the next thing he knew, he had a final callback to be Aaron’s understudy on Broadway. He was only 19, and they told him they felt he was too inexperienced for the gig, but the casting director, Bernie Telsey, called him in a few months later for Carrie, and that’s where he made his New York debut. All because of a Google alert! I knew Carrie was Off-Broadway and therefore not much of a salary. I asked if he had money saved up and he casually mentioned he had won money years before . . . on Family Feud. What? I had no idea. Turns out, the Klena family won numerous times, and he wound up with a few thousand dollars as his share. Here he is as a teenager with his family. Check out his blond hair (and “famous bangs”): 

Speaking of Derek, this coming Sunday I have his costar from Jagged Little Pill on The Seth Concert Series. Yes, Lauren Patten, who just won the Tony Award, will be joining me. However, because it’s the night of the Oscars, we’re going to do a matinee. Tune in at 2pm ET to see us in action. Here she is sounding amazing with the equally fabulous Celia Rose Gooding

Peace out!

 
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