How Patina Miller Went From Understudy to Star in Sister Act

Seth Rudetsky   How Patina Miller Went From Understudy to Star in Sister Act
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from his concert with Kelli O’Hara, his discovery about his upcoming concert guest Miller, realizations about Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, and more.
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Patina Miller Joan Marcus

This week was a lot of travel, even for me!

On Thursday, I flew to Boston to do my concert series with Kelli O’Hara and flew back to NYC on Friday morning. Then that night, I headed back to the airport and flew to New Orleans! Saturday night was a fabulous concert with Liz Callaway and special guest—and New Orleans native—Bryan Batt, and on Sunday I took a crazy early morning flight back to NYC. Thankfully, this week I’m in New York until the weekend, when I fly to San Francisco to join Jeremy Jordan at the Herbst on Sunday afternoon! Tickets here!

As for the Boston concert, Kelli sounded amazing as per usual. On a related note, I’ve been reading up on The Judy Garland Show (the TV series) because I had never seen an entire episode before and recently watched the Christmas episode. Anyhoo, there was a whole chapter about the episode when Barbra Streisand was the guest star. I’ve always been obsessed with the “Hooray For Love” medley that Judy and Barbra sang (and Mel Torme arranged). Watch the brilliance!

What I didn’t know, is that during rehearsal, Judy called Mel Torme to her trailer and played Barbra’s version of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” She then began singing “Get Happy” as a counter melody. It was her idea! Brava to Judy for coming up with the concept of putting those songs together!

The reason I bring that up is because Kelli reminded me of a crazy thing that happened to us a few years ago. I was the music director/conductor for the Broadway For Hillary concert in the fall of 2016. Anne Hathaway suggested singing that particular duet with Kelli, and Kelli (who didn’t know it) learned it for the concert. Well, we wound up not being able to rehearse it all together until the day of the show—or should I say the late afternoon of the show. At 5PM when we finally got to it.

I started the signature vamp at the beginning and heard, “Forget your troubles, come on get happy…” sung by Kelli. And Anne! AH! They both thought they were singing the Judy Garland part!!!! And we only had like 10 minutes reserved to rehearse it!! Kelli immediately volunteered to learn the Barbra part and Anne began singing it to help her. Anne would sing a phrase, Kelli would repeat it. Anne would sing. Kelli would repeat. Finally, we were all like, “Anne! You obviously know both parts and you sound great demonstrating the Barbra part. You should sing it!” And she did. And the duet wound up being a huge highlight of the show. And, I just found out, it’s online! Watch!

During our concert, Kelli and I started talking about commercial auditions. She told us that she filmed one years ago that was really difficult. The commercial required her to do various things in a car: drive forward, stop, look out the window, see something, turn slightly, etc. Though she’s a good driver, all the various directions while acting were a nightmare for her to follow. She kept trying and failing and finally, they had to have a man lay on the floor of the car and push the gas and brake!!! I knew I would be scared to drive, stop, turn etc with cars moving all around me and I asked if she had to film it on an expressway. Well, she then admitted it wasn’t exactly on an expressway. Or even on a one-way street. It was filmed in a driveway. My sympathy turned to silence.

Kelli is one of the stars appearing at our upcoming concert Voices for the Voiceless to benefit You Gotta Believe, which is the only NYC organization helping older foster youth find homes! It’s on Thursday, February 6 at The Town Hall and you can buy tickets here.

We have so many wonderful singers and we have the hilarious Judy Gold making an appearance. She is performing all over the country (check here) and please watch this hilariousness.

Speaking of The Town Hall, I also have a concert coming up there February 3, three days before my foster care benefit! This one stars Tony Award winner Patina Miller! I didn’t realize that she began as the understudy for the lead in Sister Act. I was talking to Beth Malone (who’s getting ready to play the title role in Off-Broadway’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown) and she played the shy nun who sings “The Life I Never Led” in the pre-Broadway out-of-town production. Beth said that the woman playing the Whoopi Goldberg part was a great singer, but didn’t belt very high. One night, the leading lady missed the show and Patina had to go on. Well, that’s the first time anyone heard the score completely belted and, cut to: Patina was bumped up and wound up originating the role in London and then on Broadway. I will get the whole Sister Act story, plus plenty of songs, at our Town Hall concert!

My New Orleans show with Liz Callaway and Bryan Batt was so fun. Here’s a pic of me, Liz, and Bryan before we went onstage. We wanted to show the glamour of show business, AKA my dressing room was directly connected to the men’s room.

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Of course, Liz and I talked about her first Broadway show, Merrily We Roll Along. What’s amazing is, the day after she was cast in Merrily, she was cast in the off-Broadway revival of Godspell! She said it was an amazing two-day period…back-to-back job offers! It reminds me of when I interviewed Matthew Broderick and he told me about his audition for Brighton Beach Memoirs. While he was at his final callback, they told him that the director, Gene Saks, was also casting a film. By the end of the day, he had the lead in Brighton Beach Memoirs as well as the title role in the film Max Dugan Returns. He remembers thinking that this is how show business would always be for him…getting two job offers in one day. I asked him if it remained that way and he (succinctly) answered, “No.”

Speaking of Matthew, Kelli and I were in the lobby of Emerson’s Colonial Theatre in Boston and saw the poster for Plaza Suite, the new Broadway revival starring Matthew and Sarah Jessica Parker. We decided to recreate their pose in front of the poster and send it to them.

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That led to Kelli telling me that when she and Matthew were doing Nice Work If You Can Get It, they recreated the Audra MacDonald and Norm Lewis pose from the poster of Porgy and Bess.

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Which led me to remember that I re-created that same pose with Audra herself! Take a look at the photographic evidence.

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Last week was the airing of my Will & Grace episode, which wound up coming out so great! Here’s a clip of my first appearance and it’s one of the moments I’m most proud of because I love hearing about when comic actors take something funny and put their own spin on it. When my character sees Sean Hayes, I’m supposed to comment that he sang flat on a “G” when he auditioned for Rent. My next line is, “You were like ‘Gee! What if this were an F sharp?” I knew I wanted to add something to it and decided I should sing the line instead of speak it…and then go flat on the last note using the singing voice my friend Paul Castree and I use when we want to sound awful. Take a gander!

Peace out!

Liz Callaway and Bryan Batt have been a special guest performers on Playbill Travel’s Broadway on the High Seas cruises. Cabins are now on sale for Broadway in the Great Northwest, Playbill Travel’s first domestic cruise featuring Kate Baldwin, Tedd Firth, Aaron Lazar, Beth Leavel, and Faith Prince (April 26–May 4, 2020), and for Broadway on the Mediterranean (August 31–September 7, 2020), featuring Audra McDonald, Will Swenson, Gavin Creel, Caissie Levy, and Lindsay Mendez, and for Broadway on the Nile (December 27, 2020–January 7, 2021) and Broadway on the Caribbean (February 15–22, 2021), with performers soon to be announced. To book a suite or stateroom, call Playbill Travel at 866-455-6789 or visit PlaybillTravel.com.

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