How Hairspray Composer and Co-Lyricist Marc Shaiman’s Bette Midler Dreams Became Reality

Seth Rudetsky   How Hairspray Composer and Co-Lyricist Marc Shaiman’s Bette Midler Dreams Became Reality
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from his concerts with Lillias White, Jessie Mueller and Megan Hilty, and the never-in-a-million-years dream that came true for a 16-year-old Shaiman with his idol Midler.
Bette Midler
Bette Midler

Happy December! I spent Saturday in Quincy, Mass which bizarrely is pronounced Quin-zy. Seriously. Instead of “Quin-see” it’s pronounced “Quin- zee” like “Liza With A Z”… except she actually does have a Z in her name. Why? No explanation except them telling me “That’s how John Quincy Adams pronounced it.”
A. How does anyone remember that?
B. So what? My mother pronounces the name “Streisand” as “Strei-SAND.”

Does that mean I’m going to name a city “Streisand” and demand you pronounce with the accent on the wrong syllable? “ It does not. Although, she should have a city named after her. I’m starting a GoFundMe ASAP.

Anyhoo, I had a great time. I was performing with the incredible Lillias White. She really is one of the best singers I’ve ever heard.

Lillias White, producer John McDonald, and Seth Rudestky

We were talking about Christmas music and she mentioned this recording I had never heard (posted below). WOW! You have to listen to it. It’s an arrangement of “Silent Night” by Tony Moran and Lillias recorded it for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The singing is off the charts:

Speaking of Broadway Cares, next Monday and Tuesday, December 9 and 10, is the annual Red Bucket Follies and I’m hosting again! And my SiriusXM co-host Christine Pedi is going to join me again for one of her brilliant numbers where she inserts various Broadway stars inappropriately into classic songs. This year, she’s going to honor the 40th anniversary of Evita!

Here she is doing “And I Am Telling You” as a mélange of ladies. You must hear/watch her brilliant Angela Lansbury as Effie!

Get tix at!

And speaking of Christine and Monday, December 9, right after Red Bucket Follies, we’ll be running downtown where I’ll be joined by Beth Leavel, Jenn Colella, Julia Murney and Norm Lewis! We’re all doing a fundraiser for Beit Simchat Torah, NYC’s first Gay/Lesbian synagogue. There’s going to be some amazing singing! Tickets for that here.

On Monday, I did the first concert in my second season of The Seth Rudetsky Series at The Town Hall. This time, I had two stars with me: Megan Hilty and Jessie Mueller. Boy, did they sing up a storm! And during sound check, we realized that they both had performed “My White Knight” from The Music Man. So, when we got to the song in the concert, I had two people in the audience in charge and around every 10 seconds, they signaled Megan or Jessie to take over the song. It was the craziest/most hilarious version of a duet…and then they both ended together on the high A flat. I love doing stuff in concert that no one has practiced. It makes it such a once-in-a-lifetime type event.

Jessie Mueller, Seth Rudetsky, and Megan Hilty

P.S. My next concerts star Patina Miller in February and then Brian Stokes Mitchell in April! Tix at

When we started talking about Smash, Marc Shaiman (who wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics) came onstage and played piano! Megan sang the stunning “Secondhand White Baby Grand” and then she and Jessie and dueted on “Let Me Be Your Star”! Here’s a little clip of their phenomenal blend!

Marc just had his 60th birthday party and has been in the business almost as long! The first Broadway show Marc saw was Fiddler on the Roof, and he remembers studying the souvenir program and being obsessed with the picture of the woman who played Tzeitel. He loved how her smile made her eyes get super-small. Then, when he was in junior high school, his chorus teacher gave him two albums to thank him for accompanying. They were Bette Midler's first two albums, and he became obsessed. He then realized that the woman in the Tzeitel picture was the same! Here she is!

He eventually found out where Bette lived and would go to the Village and wander down the street, hoping he'd see her. I asked him what he thought he’d see and he didn’t really have an answer. Finally, he said maybe Bette watering her flowers in the front yard? Hm…I guess…but does anyone even have a front yard in New York? Regardless, he wound up seeing Bette's concert on Broadway and fantasized that he'd run down the aisle saying, "Oh, Miss Midler! I know how to play every song from every album you've ever recorded!" Then, he'd sit onstage and play, and she'd say to the audience, "This kid is good!"

Marc Shaiman Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Well, one day, when he was 16 years old (!), he wandered into Marie's Crisis in the middle of the afternoon with some friends and began playing piano. The person sweeping up behind the bar was impressed and told Marc that a comedy group, The High-Heeled Women, were looking for a pianist, and Marc got the gig. He stayed with one of the women in the group, and she happened to live across the hall from one of Bette's back-up singers! Marc found out that the three singers (The Harlettes) were putting together their own act. He auditioned to be their pianist and got it! They got great reviews, and Bette said they could open for her in Los Angeles! Suddenly, Marc was in an L.A. rehearsal studio, and there, across the room, onstage, was Bette Midler!

He was freaking out! Bette suddenly asked the band if they could play "No Jestering" from her third album. They were just a bunch of pick-up musicians and not her actual band so they didn't know it at all. Suddenly Marc saw The Harlettes talking to Bette and pointing at him. Bette asked him if he knew it, and Marc got to live his dream! He actually ran up to the stage saying, "Oh, Miss Midler! I know how to play every song from every album you've ever recorded!" LITERALLY! He played it, and she told him to stick around for the tour in case she needed him. Then, instead of paying for a hotel room for him, she had him stay in her guest room! He said he went from walking down her block hoping to get a mere glimpse of her (as well as covering his room in posters of her), to literally eating breakfast across the table from her not wearing a bra!

The amount of high points he’s had with her is mind-boggling, but here’s one that is part of American media history: Here he his accompanying her on “One More For My Baby,” the song Bette sang to Johnny Carson on his final episode of The Tonight Show. Watch here here!

P.S. If you enjoy my columns, , I now have three volumes of Seth’s Broadway Diary available, which is a compilation of my many, many Playbill columns with photos and tons of inside Broadway scoop! A perfect gift for the holidays…or for yourself when you’re visiting your family and need to isolate in your old room because everyone is driving you up the wall. Find all my books here!

Peace out!

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