How Lillias White’s Fib Helped Her Book Barnum, Which Led to Her Tony-Winning Role in The Life

Seth Rudetsky   How Lillias White’s Fib Helped Her Book Barnum, Which Led to Her Tony-Winning Role in The Life
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth tells stories from his travels with Beth Leavel, Andrea McArdle, and White.
Lillias White
Lillias White Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I’m writing this on the lovely island on St. Thomas. We’re at a beach called Secret Harbor, and the woman in the surf store was very thankful tourists are starting to come back. She said the island took a huge hit in business after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, which were Category 5 hurricanes, or as she kept calling them “Cat fives.”

Since this trip began, James and I have been trying to figure out how many cruises Juli’s been on. We don’t have an exact answer, but lemme just say this: I didn’t go on my first cruise until I was in my 30s and Juli just turned 19 and has been on at least 20! Kids these days! When I first met James, I was doing the Rosie O’Donnell Family cruises. Juli was six-years-old and James had just adopted her (she’s biologically his niece). Those cruises were amazing and helped better the world. If you don’t know, Rosie started it with her (then) wife Kelli Carpenter and Greg Kaminsky. They had been to family week in Provincetown, which is for gay parents and their kids, and Rosie thought it would be cool if there was something like it on a boat. So, she paid to rent an entire cruise ship ($$$) and the ship became filled with gay parents, their children, and their friends. It made such a huge difference in people’s lives.

Some of these kids had never been around another family similar to their own. And some gay people hadn’t considered having children until they sailed. For instance, Alec Mapa was booked as a performer on the Rosie Cruise….the next thing he knew, he and his husband were adopting a son! He talks in his act about how different his life is before and after. He says that before having a son, his bathroom was a like a spa at the Four Seasons with accoutrements, like cucumber water. Now, he said, “It’s like a port-o-potty after Mardis Gras.” You must watch his hilarious special about how his life has changed called Baby Daddy. Take a gander!

I also noticed how that ship changed people in my own life. When James was first raising Juli, she called him Uncle James and after he adopted her, she called him “Poppy.” But, after she was on the cruise with all the other kids with gay parents, she started calling him “Daddy.” The only extremely annoying issue is that she also started calling me “Daddy.” Not “Dad” not “Daddy Seth.” So, the past 13 years has been a lot of:
“Not you. Other Daddy.”

I should name our next dog Juli and see how she likes it.

Anyhoo, artistically, the cruises were so fantastic as well. That’s where we put on Annie with all of the orphans played by grown people. The main reason we did that is because I was devastated as a child that there weren’t boy orphans in that show….so I got to finally live my dream. Even more amazing is that I got to live my dream of doing the show with the original Andrea McArdle because she played our Annie! (Watch her sing “Maybe” from that performance here.)

My mom always came on those cruises and loved them. However, I’ll never forget the time she lost her balance and fell down the stairs on the first day! She went to the ship doctor and was (thankfully) totally fine, but word got to Rosie that my mom fell. That led to this wonderful introduction during the opening variety show.

I was slated to do some of Deconstructing Broadway and Rosie decided to mention my mom in the intro. But she neglected to say my mom was completely uninjured, so this is what the audience got from her:
Rosie: “Hi, everyone. I just heard Seth Rudetsky’s mom fell down a flight a stairs. So…please welcome, Seth Rudetsky.”

What a wonderful intro for me to do comedy. It was horrific because I only had two choices:
Me (devastated): Yes… my mom fell down a flight of stairs. [Audience extremely sad and unable to laugh]
Me (indicating that Rosie made much ado about nothing): Oh, please! She’s totally fine! [Audience furious I have no sympathy and refuses to laugh]

Sometimes we would do a Rosie Family land vacation. Here’s a video of when were in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with Audra McDonald and I arbitrarily modulated “I Could Have Danced All Night,” which made Audra end the song on a high D flat! Watch here!

In terms of European cruises, Juli, James, James’ mom and I all joined the very first Playbill cruise. I’ll never forget the tour of Corfu, Greece, with Andrea Martin on our tour bus. Our tour guide spoke so slowly and without any affect. At one point, she coughed slightly…and then she completely stopped talking. Andrea whispered to us, “She died as boringly as she lived.”

One of the coolest things that happened on that cruise was Juli’s 10th birthday which took place while we were in Venice, Italy! Here we are celebrating on a gondola with Andrea and Deb Monk!


Lillias White, Christine Pedi, and Beth Leavel are with me now. I always do a master class and, this time, Beth joined me. It was so fabulous! We both teach a little differently, but say the same thing: Everything should come from truth and the more you are yourself, the better! Look at her go!

Corey Seeman

Lillias and I did a show together and she talked about her relationship with Cy Coleman, which began when she auditioned to replace in Barnum. She auditioned with “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and Cy Coleman and Joe Layton came up to the stage after and asked her if she knew any circus tricks. She had just down an all-female version of Waiting For Godot in full clown makeup (something I’m not really sorry I missed) and learned how to juggle. They gave her three balls, she started to juggle..and promptly dropped them. She looked up and said “It gets better!” They bought that lie and promptly hired her.

Corey Seeman

Lillias wound up becoming really close with Cy, and he and Ira Gasman wrote The Life for her to star in . She talked about how amazing it is to originate a role “because that means everyone who then plays the role has to do it like you!” She paused, then added, “…if they can.” Werk! Here is her big song from that show, which won her a Tony Award…with Cy Coleman on piano!

We dock in Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday and that night I do a show with Stephanie J. Block at the Parker Playhouse. Come see us…and peace out!

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