How Linda Lavin Scored the Lead in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife

Seth Rudetsky   How Linda Lavin Scored the Lead in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth gets the deets on the Harriet stars, spills the beans behind a old Broadway feud, and shares what to expect from the upcoming Actors Fund benefit.
<i>The Tale of the Allergist&#39;s Wife </i>
The Tale of the Allergist's Wife

It’s cold! Well, that’s because it’s November, but it also reminds me that I missed posting the hilarious Halloween Obsessed! I did with Christine Pedi. It’s the rap section from “Thriller” as a variety of women, including Angela Lansbury. So great! Watch!

This week I had one of my idols, Charles Busch, on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. The backstory is this: He and Julie Halston have been incredibly close, ever since she was in the first play he wrote, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, went up at the Limbo Lounge back in the ’80s. Their theatre troupe transferred Off-Broadway, and Charles and Julie kept working together and became great friends. Then, in the ’90s, they went through a rough patch and didn’t talk for five years. As Charles tells it, "We did a show called You Should Be So Lucky, where I played a role that was quite daring for me…a man." All the reviews ignored him and praised her. He got incredibly jealous of her, and Julie then admitted that she became "very obnoxious." Julie did something untoward, but Charles now admits that he was “waiting for it” and this led to their rift.

While Charles was stewing, he thought to himself, "I'll show her! I'll write another play that features the same type of loud, Upper West Side woman, but this time I'll get someone really famous like Linda Lavin to play the role!" He had just seen Linda in a series of one-act plays in the village called Death Defying Acts and loved her. Lynn Meadow from Manhattan Theatre Club had asked him to write a play and he decided to base the main character on someone he had been developing called Miriam Passman…a older woman whose gone back to her first love: singing. She is constantly suffering indignities (the only time she can get her show booked is Sundays at 4:30) and she’s consistently blaming everyone else. Here is Charles as Miriam talking about being impeached as President of Manhattan Independent Cabarets, Restaurants, and Clubs…acronym MICRAC.

Lynn asked him who his dream leading lady was and he said Linda Lavin. Lo and behold, Lynn got Linda Lavin to do the reading. Charles said she was fantastic! He’s certain it was a cold reading and yet every line was nuanced and hilarious. They raced to Linda and asked if she would star in a full production and naturally her answer was, “Of Course!” Actually, her response was more “…possibly….” I guess that’s her favorite word since her brilliant performance of “You’ve Got Possibilities” back in the ’60s. Watch!

Charles said he then stalked her around the country. Wherever she was, so was he. Orso in L.A., Joe Allen’s in New York, always lurking, asking her to do the play. Finally, she agreed! The Tale Of The Allergist’s Wife was a hit Off-Broadway, transferred to Broadway, and garnered a bunch of Tony nominations (including one for Best Play), ran for a long time, and did a big national tour! Michele Lee, Tony Roberts, and Anil Kumar also starred. A number of distinguished actors auditioned for the role of Linda Lavin’s mother, who is a cranky ass and moves through Linda’s apartment using a walker. One day, 80-year-old Shirl Bernheim came in. She didn’t have any Broadway credits, but she was fantastic and had her own walker. She got the gig and did the show on Broadway and on national tour. Charles said she was “quite a character”! As a matter, after she passed away, there was a memorial for her, and her understudy told everyone that before each performance, she would check in on Shirl. The conversation would be this:

Understudy: How are you tonight, Shirl?
Shirl (whirling around): What? Are you hoping I’ll break my hip?

Anyhoo, a few months ago, Linda called Charles and reminded him that it was the 20th anniversary. She suggested they do a concert version of the show for The Actors Fund. He loved the idea and assumed she’d want to play her role again, but Linda told him that she wants to play her character’s mother and she told Charles to play the lead! Well, it’s happening! The whole original cast is reuniting and it’s taking place on Monday November 18. Linda Lavin still looks fantastic, and Charles remarked that she’s no fool; Linda’s going to come out at the beginning, looking like her glamorous self and introduce the evening. Then she’ll haul out the walker and play the mom! Get your tickets here.

I also had Leslie Odom, Jr. on the show; he has a new album out called Mr. Leslie told me about going to Patina Miller’s wedding years ago. (He went to Carnegie Mellon with Patina—he was a senior when she was a first-year.) When Patina got married, Leslie was asked to sing and went to rehearse. He noticed a young woman there who looked extremely young and was very quiet. He assumed she was Patina’s sweet little cousin. Well, that night he sang and then Patina’s “sweet little cousin” sang. Turns out, she was not quiet. Her voice was enormous and amazing! And she wasn’t Patina’s cousin. She was West End star, Cynthia Erivo! She and Patina must have met when Patina was in London doing Sister Act. Well, Leslie was blown away and also became friends with Cynthia. Then, not too long ago, he got a call from her asking if he wanted to star opposite her in a film. He said YES and their film, Harriet about Harriet Tubman, just came out! Brava!

Speaking of films, I asked him about a film version of Hamilton and told him that better start ASAP, because frankly all the original leads are aging into Ben Franklin territory. He told me that the Broadway show itself was actually filmed! I mentioned that I’m always in a panic when something is filmed…wanting it to be perfect and petrified it won’t be. He said that they filmed the show after the Tony Awards and everyone was relaxed and on their game! Brava!

Here’s Leslie when he was on Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox talking about seeing Shoshana Bean fall into the pit during Wicked and then singing and sounding amazing!

Speaking of Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox, my 20th anniversary show is Sunday December 1 with my original guests (who were all starring in Saturday Night Fever at the time) Paul Castree, Paige Price, and Orfeh—and my longtime pals Roger Bart and Kevin Chamberlin. You can make a reservation here!

Or you can do a fun combo package: Come to brunch with me on Sunday afternoon, see the Chatterbox, then see my Town Hall concert with Jessie Mueller and Megan Hilty! Email me at for details and reservations.

I’ll leave ya with a deconstruction of something I love: delicious scales. There’s Gilbert and Sullivan, Bernstein, Sondheim and more!

My next show out-of-town is in Quincy, Massachusetts, which is right near Boston. I’m performing with Lillias White November 30 and you can get tickets here.

I just interviewed Bob The Drag Queen, who won Season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race (more on that in another column) and he told me that his favorite Lillias video was this one of Lillias singing “Zero To Hero” from Hercules. It’s from the Rosie O’Donnell cruise and she’s rehearsing with Brian Nash on piano with backup from The Broadway Boys. So amazing to hear incredible singers with no mics. Just brilliant singing! Watch here.

Watch and come see us in Quincy, Mass! PEACE OUT!

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