Onstage and Backstage: Putting Together Broadway For Orlando

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage and Backstage: Putting Together Broadway For Orlando
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, we learn how an overplayed song on his phone got turned into the Broadway sensation recording of “What The World Needs Now Is Love.”
Broadway for Orlando Promo Image for Story

OK, here’s basically The Making of Broadway For Orlando.

SO! Last Monday James woke up super early. He often does that and will sit and watch the news because he’s been obsessed with the news since he was a child. Proof: When he was a teenager, he crashed his mom’s car and basically ruined it. He was devastated. Why? Because he was almost killed? Because he had a single mom who didn’t have the money to fix the car? No. Devastated because the car accident and subsequent paperwork delayed him getting home for the 6 o’clock news. That’s how obsessed he is with watching the news. Speaking of James as a teenager, here he is 1,000 years ago playing a teen-aged Tony in West Side Story. Obsessed with his high B flat and the pitch of the “dancers who sing.”

Anyhoo, James didn’t want to see any stories about the Orlando shooting because it all seemed so sad and hopeless, so he went for a bike ride. He brought his phone so he could listen to music. Side note: When James listens to a song, it’s usually OCD-style. For instance, I have my own iPod and he uses it from time to time. Regardless, when you look at the playlist of “most played songs” the number one is an Olivia Newton-John song. I have never listened to it. Meaning that when he’s borrowed it those few times, he has relentlessly listened to the same song over-and-over again to make it the most listened to song on my iPod. This brings me to his bike ride.

He had Spotify on his phone, and the only song he listened to for the entire ride was “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” By the end of the ride, he decided the entire Broadway community should get together and do that song à la “We Are The World.” He came back home and got on the horn. He contacted Janet Billig Rich who secured all the songs for our production of Disaster! on Broadway and asked her to get the rights for a recording and video. Then he called Van Dean from Broadway Records who did our cast album. Van was in the middle of doing the cast album of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, but immediately said he’d produce the entire thing for free! Finally, around 8:30 AM, I woke up to a fait accompli. James said we had to get the recording done as soon as possible because, sadly, tragedies fade from people’s memories. He said it should be recorded Wednesday between shows, mixed Thursday and released Friday. I loved the idea but got nervous: All the recordings I’ve done as music director are of shows that I’d done (Dreamgirls, Hair, Disaster! ). I told James I had to ask Marc Shaiman to lead it. I emailed Marc, who said he was in the middle of a workshop of Charlie and the Chocolate Family (bound for Broadway) and the new film version of Mary Poppins. He wrote that even though he basically had no time, he knew he had to say yes.

We went to meet him at 11AM at 42nd Street Studios, and I talked him through what we were planning. We then spent some time trying to get the original Burt Bacharach orchestrations through a contact of his, but they were hard copies and couldn’t be sent in time. I contacted Cameron Moncur (who beautifully orchestrated the Foster Care Benefit James and I did last year) and he agreed to do it! I told Marc we’d reconvene later that night to talk through vocal arrangements etc. The rest of the day consisted of me emailing and texting people to see if they’d join the recording. I didn’t send one email/text and copy everybody, I sent every one separately. It took me the rest of the day.

One of the first people I asked was Idina Menzel. She immediately said yes, but that she was in L.A. Could she record it there and send it in? Then I asked Sean Hayes who said yes right away. He told me this is something Kristen Bell would love. He emailed her, and she wrote me right away saying yes. She was also in L.A., so I thought it would be great for her to record with Idina for a little Frozen reunion. Speaking of those sisters, here’s the video I did with Frozen co-stars Santino Fontana and Jonathan Groff where they sing Idina and Kristen’s song. It was at my Barnes and Noble book release of “The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek.” Obsessed with the new ending I wrote. #inappropriate

Then, I called Mark Ezovski at Playbill (who does all of my Obsessed videos) and asked if he’d be in charge of making the video. He said yes if Playbill approved (because he’d basically be not doing any other work for the next five days putting it all together). I called Playbill’s Editor-in-Chief, Blake Ross, who spoke to the head honcho Phil Birsh, and they said Playbill would help in any way possible. Mark told me that if people recorded in L.A., they should also film themselves so they could be in the video. Oy. Sounds like an imposition. Kristen Bell said no problem, she’d get a studio at Universal where she and Idina could record it and videotape it. Brava!

The problem arose with the recording studio. The amazing part was Avatar studios was donating everything: the space, engineers, etc. But the big studio where we recorded Disaster! wasn’t available. They couldn’t kick out the people who rented it. If we wanted to do it Wednesday, we had to use the smaller studio. Ah! How were we going to fit this giant Broadway choir in there? We said we were already up to around 55 people, and they said we’d have to film them in two groups. Ah! We wanted that “We Are The World” type pan shot where you saw everybody. Then I got an idea: When Andrea Martin recorded her song for Pippin, the show rented out a church on the Upper West Side and filled the entire thing with singers. James and I decided we could ask all the Broadway singers who wanted to do it to come to the church and sing! Then we realized that would mean the song would be delayed because we’d have to do it on Thursday, the day after the main recording when we were supposed to be mixing it. Forget it. We had no choice but to do it on Wednesday and I’d have to stop inviting people because we already had too many.

There is so much more to this story, but I will continue it next column! In the meantime, I love this video that Janie Willison made showing all the Bway folks meeting and greeting and selfie-ing at the recording studio!

And don’t forget to buy the single! And if you already have it, gift it for a friend! Every single cent goes to the Orlando victims, their families and for grief counseling.

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