How an Onstage Mishap in the Original Les Misérables Led Fantine to Carry Herself to Her Death Bed

Seth Rudetsky   How an Onstage Mishap in the Original Les Misérables Led Fantine to Carry Herself to Her Death Bed
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories about the performers on Playbill Travel’s cruise to Greece: from Come From Away’s Jenn Colella to Dear Evan Hansen’s Rachel Bay Jones.
John Norman, Frances Ruffelle, Colm Wilkinson, Randy Graff, David Bryant and Judy Kuhn in Les Misérables.
John Norman, Frances Ruffelle, Colm Wilkinson, Randy Graff, David Bryant and Judy Kuhn in Les Misérables. Michael Le Poer Trench/Bob Marshak

Hello from Athens! I flew here to start the latest Playbill cruise…this one is around the Greek Islands. It’s going to be beautiful and it’s also a wonderful opportunity for sun damage. Man, it is HOT—99 degrees when we landed! But it’s not humid so it’s actually not completely horrific to walk around.

As a matter of fact, we went to the Acropolis at high noon which is when it’s super-hot and we were able to gallivant outside for a full 30 minutes before fleeing as fast as possible to inside the air-conditioned museum. By “we,” I mean James and my close friend Paul Castree, with whom I’ve done a ton of shows, and his husband Stephen Spadaro, who is a company manager on Broadway.


Here is a run-down of who’s performing on the Playbill cruise with one of my fave stories about each of them!

Terrence Mann is here and was the original Javert in Les Miz. Speaking of the original cast, I spoke to Randy Graff, the original Fantine, about something that happened during their run:

Terrence Mann in the original Broadway cast
Terrence Mann in the original Broadway cast Michael Le Poer Trench

One night Randy sang the beginning of “Fantine’s Death” (“Cosette, it’s turned so cold…”) and when the song got to the moment when Colm Wilkinson (Jean Valjean) enters and sings “Oh, Fantine, you’re time is running out…” he didn’t enter. Silence. Randy said, “I dragged my dead body back to bed” and covered by humming weird song phrases. Finally, Colm ran onstage and as he sang phrases like, “Your child will want for nothing” he would then whisper “Randy! I’m so sorry!” throughout the song. Well, I mentioned that story to Terry and not only did he remember it happening, he admitted that he was the reason! He told us that he, Colm, and Leo Burmeister (who played Thenardier) would hang out offstage before Fantine’s death scene and then again after the death scene. When it was the time after the death scene, Colm would change his outfit to prepare for a scene later in Act 1. Well, that particular night, Terry, Leo and Colm were talking about Irish whiskey and Colm had lots of opinions. He was distracted as he was talking and therefore started taking off his costume to get ready for the scene after Fantine’s death even though it hadn’t happened yet. Leo started to tell him, but Terry quietly stopped him. Terry and Leo watched Colm talk and undress and suddenly they all heard Randy humming those weird song phrases. Colm yelled, “You bastards!” and frantically started getting dressed again into his first outfit. Sadly, he had to put back on the kind of pants that have ten buttons in a square around the top so it took extra-long. The end of the story is: Fantine died and Colm earned a Tony nomination.

Charlotte d'Amboise in Chicago.
Charlotte d'Amboise in Chicago. Jeremy Daniel

Terry’s wife Charlotte d’Amboise is also performing on the cruse. She had a very rare Broadway experience that I think is so cool: One day, she was taken out to lunch while she was starring as Roxie in Chicago. The producers of Chicago were the same producers who were doing Sweet Charity and they asked Charlotte if she would stand-by for the leading lady Christina Applegate. Charlotte assumed that meant leaving Chicago for the run of Charity, but they told her she could be actually a standby for Charity while continuing to play Roxie in Chicago. HOW? Well, they explained that if Christina ever had to miss a show, which would never happen, Charlotte would simply take off from Chicago that night and go on for Charity. Of course, Murphy’s law-style, Christina broke her ankle and Charlotte suddenly had to go on with barely any rehearsal! She wound up taking over the role full time for a while and, even after Christina came back, Charlotte would have to go on once in a while. One night, she was seeing the gypsy run-through of Lennon (which Terry was starring in) and right before the show began, she got a call that she had to go on as Charity. Terry looked into the audience from backstage and saw Charlotte sitting in her seat before the show…and then he saw her leaving before it began! Everyone’s a critic? Another time, she did a matinée of Chicago and had to go on that night in Sweet Charity. Two different starring roles in two different shows in one day. It’s a combination of the Chorus Line song “Who am I Anyway?” plus Chinatown’s “She’s my mother and my sister.” P.S. She was so fabulous as Fastrada in the revival of Pippin and you have to watch this to the end because I’m obsessed with her final backbend. Werk!

Liz Callaway Joseph Marzullo/Playbill

Liz Callaway is also performing and, if you don’t know, she played Ellen in the original run of Miss Saigon. Liz was pregnant when she began rehearsals and took two weeks maternity leave when she gave birth. She came back, after having a cesarean with complications, and it was the first day of tech at the theatre. Oy! She soon went to do her scene in the hotel in Act 2 and, as a joke, the stagehands told her she’d need to climb a ladder to do the scene. Liz laughed up a storm. Imagine climbing after giving birth! And after a cesarean. Turns out, it wasn’t a joke. Yes, Liz, with a cesarean wound that was just beginning to heal had to climb a ladder eight times a week. She said she had to get to the ladder crazily early so she had time to slo-o-o-o-owly go up, rung by rung. There’s no album of the original Broadway Miss Saigon, but here is Liz and the original Kim, Lea Salonga, sounding great on their big duet (with a fabulous orchestra!)

Jenn Colella is here and I can’t wait to talk with her about her long-running hit show Come From Away. I’m sure the longevity of this show means a lot to her, because the last time I did an interview with her, she was coming off Urban Cowboy, High Fidelity, Lucky Guy, and Chaplin. Four shows that had short runs. Jenn actually said that she never decorates her dressing room because she’s so used to shows closing right away!! So, I can’t wait to find out how it feels to finally be in a delicious long run. P.S. Speaking of Chaplin, I so loooooved her performance as Hedda Hopper. Listen to how amazing she sounds!

Rachel Bay Jones is also here and her first Broadway show was Meet Me In St. Louis back in 1989, but she didn’t come back to Broadway until the Hair revival in 2009. Rachel was in “the tribe” as it was called, but she also played one of the parents. That meant that she wasn’t in the nude scene because it happened right after her scene as the parent. Well, she felt there was no way she could be in Hair on Broadway and not be naked onstage for at least one performance. So, for the closing show, they made her a costume that she was able to get out of in time to do the famous, end-of-Act-1, full nudity reveal. She did it! I asked her what it was like to be nude on a Broadway stage. Her answer: cold.

I was so blown-away by her performance as Catherine in the revival of Pippin that I had to do an episode of Obsessed! with her. Watch!

And speaking of Obsessed!, I did one with Jessie Mueller where she surprised me by going up to a high E flat! I love that someone made a GIF of that moment!

Jessie is my first star of The Seth Rudetsky Series, which is going to be in Boston at Emerson’s Colonial Theater on July 8! Get tix here and watch the full obsessed here:

Peace out!

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