How Chicago’s ‘Cell Block Tango’ Got a Bette Davis Line Reading | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky How Chicago’s ‘Cell Block Tango’ Got a Bette Davis Line Reading This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth talks about meeting original Chicago cast member Cheryl Clark, his hilarious mixups with Jessie Mueller and Sarah Silverman, and more.
Graciela Daniele, Chita Rivera, Cheryl Clark, Pamela Sousa, and Candy Brown Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

I’m back in NYC after a week in France, a week in London, and a week in L.A. First of all, Chrissy, our new doggie (who we adopted when we were on a cruise in Aruba) has totally bonded with all the other doggies and now they’re best friends!

Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

We owe so much gratitude to Broadway animal trainer Bill Berloni and The Humane Society, who not only spayed her and got rid of her roundworm, but took wonderful care of her for an entire month while we were traveling. I’m so happy I get to do “Best in Shows,” their yearly benefit (next one is this Fall) and, if you haven’t seen it, here’s a great montage of one of the past shows. So obsessed with Emily Skinner as Mae West and Orfeh singing Whitney! Watch here!

My L.A. trip began with a performance of Rhapsody In Seth at Largo, which was so much fun. One of the main parts of the show is when I talk about the shows that I was obsessed with as a child, and it’s always so cool when there are people in the audience who were in those shows! Last time, I had the original Richie and Maggie from A Chorus Line, so it was so fun for me to talk about listening to the album all day long (as my mother complained “Seth! They’re dancers. Not singers!”). This time it was super cool for me to talk about how much I loved Chicago because I had Cheryl Clark, the original “pop” in the house. Yes, she was “Pop” as in “Pop, six, squish, etc.” from “Cell Block Tango” and when I was fawning over her, she told me that when she did the recording (in one take), she didn’t like her final line reading of “…into his head” because it sounded so much like Bette Davis. But Fosse loved it, so it stayed. Listen. It’s so Bette!

Combining my first two paragraph themes, I’m going to do Rhapsody In Seth once in NYC on Friday, May 31 at 7:30PM as fundraiser for The Humane Society! Tickets are free, you just have to make a donation to The Humane Society when you get there with cash or check! If you’re interested, email me at [email protected].

I had two “Who’s on First” experiences this week. But first, in case there are people reading this under 40, this is “Who’s on First” starring Abbott and Costello. So brilliant. I just watched it again and cannot stop laughing! The contrast between the two of them is so fantastic.

SO! Jessie Mueller was texting me from a plane and needed the keys of two of her songs from Beautiful. I told her that “I Feel The Earth Move” is in c minor and “It’s Too Late” is in a minor. She kept writing me back and asking the key for “It’s Too Late.” I kept writing back and saying a minor. I thought she was joking with the relentless questioning but realized she was serious when she kept asking. Finally, I realized that she didn’t know that when you write a minor key, you don’t capitalize the letter. So instead or writing “A Major,” you write “a minor.” Well, because “a” is also an article of speech, Jessie thought I was writing that her song was in a minor key but not telling her which key. It was relentless and hilarious. Look!

Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

Then I did a show with Sarah Silverman at the Wallis in L.A. The show was amazing and I will write about it, but here’s part two to “Who’s On First.” My producer Mark Cortale was ordering us food before the show from a place called “Café Gratitude.” It’s one of those very L.A. places where there’s a “question of the day” and other touchy/feely things.

Anyway, when I asked Sarah what she wanted, she wrote back “I am grateful w/ avocado.” I assumed it was her slight dig at having to say you’re grateful for everything when there. I was, however, surprised that all she wanted was avocado, but people in L.A. have all sorts of strange eating habits so I went with it.

Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

When I saw her at the show, she told me that all they delivered for her was avocado. I was like “Right…because that’s all you ordered.” Well, turns out, “Grateful” is the name of a dish. And, part of the whole Café Gratitude thing is, when you order one of their dishes like “Fantastic” or “Inspired,” you’re supposed to say “I am Fantastic” or “I am Inspired.” So, by saying “I am grateful with avocado” she was actually ordering an entire meal plus avocado. I got her only the avocado. I am Wonderful?

The show with Sarah was so much fun. When we were sound-checking, the nice woman from wardrobe asked Sarah if she wanted her outfit steamed. Sarah said “I’m wearing this!” The woman laughed….and then realized Sarah was serious. Check out her cool contrasting-to-mine outfit!

Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

We talked about her childhood where, devastatingly, she always wet the bed. Up until she was a teenager. The worst part was: She was sent away every summer to sleepaway camp! Her parents didn’t like their own home lives when they were kids, but they flourished in sleepaway camp, so they wanted the same thing for Sarah. But they didn’t take into account that she was going to be wetting her bed every night and being known as the kid who smelled like pee. Yet, not surprisingly, she still had friends because she was funny.

In terms of Broadway, she used to sing all the time as a kid in New Hampshire (she actually lived my dream and played Annie) and during our show together we performed lots of music including songs from Man Of La Mancha, Little Shop of Horrors, her big song from Ralph Breaks The Internet, a duet from Gypsy, and one of her hilarious songs from her movie Jesus Is Magic. We have even more to do in San Francisco when we’re there May 19!

We were talking about her early stand-up and she was telling us a joke she thought was bad, but I thought was hilarious. She said that she used to do a bit about the thing everyone says when they rhyme something by accident. You know, you say “I’m a poet and I didn’t know it!” But, she asked, what if you say something by accident in free verse. Do you say “I’m a poet…and I wasn’t aware of being one.” I love it! My absolute favorite thing was when I played a recording of one of her episodes of Crank Yankers, which is a show where comics make crank calls. Her call to a woman looking to hire a babysitter is so hilarious/massively uncomfortable I was almost crying laughing. And she hadn’t heard it in years so it was so fun to watch her react. I’m obsessed!

Sarah talked about being hired to write/perform on Saturday Night Live when she was in her early 20s and how naïve she was. One week, they did the dress rehearsal of the show and the host apologized for getting a line wrong in a sketch she wrote. Sarah told him not to worry…it’d be great when they went live at 11:30! One of the other writers was like, “Go live? Look up at the list of sketches. It’s been cut!” Basically, her whole year was like that. And yet, she had no idea she wouldn’t be asked back. She said her confidence definitely suffered for a while but then she recovered and even got to come back to the show to host. As a matter of fact, she revealed that she was not really featured at all during her year on the show except mainly to pretend to be an audience member and ask questions. So, during her monologue as host, she showed all of her audience appearances. Watch here!

Come see me and Sarah May 19 in San Francisco! (And May 18 I’ll be with Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess in Florida.)

While I was in L.A., I had a game night at my hotel with Paul Vogt and his husband, Dimitri, who runs the Garry Marshall Theatre, Keala Settle and her young friend, Piper, and Jack Plotnick, and his friend, Jim Hansen. We all played a fabulous new game called “You Don’t Know My Life.” OMG. So fun. It’ll ask a question like “What concert/event did you sneak into?” or “What is something you regret from when you were a child?” and then everyone anonymously writes down an answer. The winner figures out who wrote what answer. If, however, you get it wrong, the person has to say “You don’t know my life!”

Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

It’s so fun because you find out hilarious stories from people’s pasts! When I heard that one of the players was afraid of going to the bathroom in the basement at his summer day camp, so every day he would pee in the staircase (!), I knew it had to be Jack. When I guessed, Jack had to say “You do know my life!” So fun!!! Here’s the link.

And, finally, I just heard that 1776 is going to be revived. Here’s my deconstruction of Betty Buckley sounding amazing in the original production (at age 21!)
Peace out!

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