Onstage & Backstage: How Seth Got His Start in Writing

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: How Seth Got His Start in Writing
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth tells the story of his first writing gig, even more BC/EFA performances at Disaster!, and a chat with Zachary Levi.
Seth Rudetsky and Roger Bart in <i>Disaster!</i>
Seth Rudetsky and Roger Bart in Disaster!

First of all, I love the piece NBC did on me and Disaster! Such great footage from the show and I love that they used my old headshot from when I was 11! It was the late 70’s and I have that hairstyle again today! Watch!

Well, it’s the end of six weeks of fundraising by all of Broadway and national tours for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. If you’re reading this before Tuesday at 2PM, come see the Easter Bonnet Competition at the Minskoff. There are always amazing sketches, songs, dances that blow your mind. It also was responsible for changing my career; in 1994 I was asked to create the opening number of that year’s Easter Bonnet.

I had written song parodies before the show, but never a full opening number. I didn’t know if I had it in me, but I really love being challenged so I said yes! They paired me with an up-and-coming choreographer named…Kathleen Marshall (22 years ago!). The show always features hats, so I decided to write it to “Food, Glorious Food” and call it “Hats, Glorious Hats.” Kathleen did some fabulous staging, and the most amazing part was at the end when we had a cameo featuring someone saying the most famous Broadway line about hats: “Does anyone still wear a hat?” Who said it, you ask? The originator!!! Elaine Stritch! Watch it here! Watch how she fills the time with the business of taking off her gloves. So great!

What’s interesting is right after they asked me to write the opening number, I got a fabulous job offer: Forever Plaid (I show I love!) in Hawaii! I’d always wanted to go to Hawaii, and this would be like a paid vacation. Plus, it was a good salary, and I wasn’t making much money at the time. The Easter Bonnet Competition was a volunteer gig…a.k.a. no money. However, I decided I really believed in BC/EFA’s mission plus I wanted the experience of writing an opening number for the first time. I told myself that I had already played Forever Plaid Off-Broadway, and I could always get to Hawaii eventually. I turned down the job and wound up loving working on Easter Bonnet and did the opening number for many years.

And when Rosie O’Donnell started doing her TV show, she knew about the numbers I’d written and hired me to write parodies like that for her show! So, yes I turned down a good salary in Hawaii, which would have lasted a few weeks…but in the long run, the volunteer gig got a TV job that lasted for two years! Always go with what makes you happy!

Sydney Lucas, Oscar Williams, Jake Lucas and Seth
Sydney Lucas, Oscar Williams, Jake Lucas and Seth

We’ve been raising money over at Disaster! by auctioning off a song after each performance. This week we had the fabulous Sydney Lucas, who was Tony-nominated for playing young Alison in Fun Home, because she tweeted she was coming to the show. Instead of letting her just be an audience member, I asked if she’d come up after the bows and sing “Ring of Keys.” She said yes and was fantastic.

I’m obsessed with her acting. She’s able to sing the song from an adult’s perspective of looking back on a pivotal moment from childhood…yet she’s still a child!!! How does she have that well of knowledge/feeling and the ability to convey it? Obsessed!

Vanessa Williams came to Disaster! on opening night and told me she wanted to come back and bring her mom and kids. She came Saturday and did the auction along with Roger Bart. What’s the connection, you ask? They’re both Disney singers! Roger sang the role of Hercules and Vanessa sang the pop cover of “Colors of the Wind.” They came onstage, and I started auctioning (the winners get to come onstage during the song); it started at $400, then $800, then $1500, then $2000, then a woman said, “$2,500 and my company will match it!” Then a guy in the box seats said “$2,500 and my wife’s company will match it!” One more person kicked in $1,000 and we wound up raising $11,000 just from that performance!

And on Sunday, we had Billy Porter (currently starring in Shuffle Along) come over to the Nederlander on his day off. He saw the show in previews and made sure to remind me that he was the one who introduced me to Jack Plotnick! Yes, back in 1989 (!) when he was at Carnegie Mellon, and I had just graduated Oberlin, he was playing in Dreamgirls in Pittsburgh (starring Natalie Belcon, Virginia Woodruff, Venita Harbor and Michael McElroy—who did the Disaster! vocal arrangements). Billy and I had done the show in summer stock a few months earlier, and he called me to ask if I’d come down and teach the cast how to sass the singing. Of course, I said yes and had a great time. It was there that he introduced me very quickly to Jack whom I was passing in a hallway. And with whom I then wrote Disaster! 25 years later.

Therefore, Billy basically takes credit for the show. Brava! He sang “Sunday” with the amazing Broadway Inspirational Voices backing him up and Michael McElroy conduction. So incredibly moving!

I had Zachary Levi at Seth Speaks, my SiriusXm talk show, and told him how much I loved She Loves Me. He recalled his very first Broadway audition…for Young Frakenstein. He did one of the classic scenes but kept forgetting his lines. He knew he’d lose momentum if he started the scene again, so he didn’t stop and would just keep energetically calling “Line!” and plow ahead. Afterwards, he called his agent and said he gave his audition a C+. While he was talking, his agent got another call telling Zac he had a call back. Zac then changed his grade to B-.

He went to more and more call backs…and eventually was offered the role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. On Broadway! Well, he had just filmed yet another pilot like he had done many times and had to wait to see if it had been picked up. Usually, his pilots were not so he geared up to star on Broadway. This time however, after a few weeks of waiting, he found out that Chuck was indeed picked up, and, since he had already singed a multiple year contract, he had no choice but to not star in Young Frankenstein. The brilliant Roger Bart had been cast as Igor and Susan Stroman and Mel Brooks decided move him to the lead (and give Chris Fitzgerald Igor).

Seth Rudetsky and Roger Bart in <i>Disaster!</i>
Seth Rudetsky and Roger Bart in Disaster!

Speaking of Roger, he just got nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for playing Tony, the crooked owner of NY’s first floating casino in Disaster! It makes me so happy that he’s being recognized! And the brilliant Jennifer Simard was nominated for a Drama League Award for playing Sister Mary Downy, the nun with a gambling addiction. Brava! Jack and I have performing comedy with her since 1992. We’ve gone from writing for her to perform at the front room of Don’t Tell Mama to writing her her to perform on Broadway!

We have one more BCEFA performance this week; Tuesday night will feature Aaron Tveit so come visit!

P.S. As I write this my two doggies are on either side of me on the couch. I can’t take the cuteness! Here they are when they take over the couch. Peace out!

Mandy and Bagel
Mandy and Bagel
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