Onstage and Backstage: Tales from Behind-the-Scenes on the Playbill Cruise

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage and Backstage: Tales from Behind-the-Scenes on the Playbill Cruise
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky: what was it really like to be music director of Broadway on the High Seas 7?
Broadway on the High Seas 7 - Italian Riviera
James Wesley, Chita Rivera, Adam Pascal, Lisa Mordente, Jennifer Simard, Seth Rudetsky and Charles Busch

It’s time for a recap of the Playbill Cruise!

SO! We arrived in Rome and, after two days at a beautiful hotel, we boarded the ship. P.S. It wasn’t a giant cruise ship. It was more boutique-esque and had room for around 200 passengers, which I loved! The first night was Andréa Burns’ show and she sounded great and was hilarious. At one point, she talked about having a Venezuelan mom and a Jewish dad and a WASP husband. She said her son’s name is Hudson Rafael Flynn. Hudson for New York City, Rafael for his Latin heritage and Flynn for his Irish dad. Then she added “And don’t worry if you think he’s lost his Jewish roots. The kid wrote half my act!” Andréa is currently starring as Gloria Estefan’s mother in On Your Feet! and she sings to the rafters, nails total dramatic scenes, amazing laugh lines and dances up a storm.

Speaking of On Your Feet, I heard about a recent performance and have to write about it. A few weeks ago, at around 15 minutes to “places,” the cast gathered onstage to find out that the computer which handles the automation wasn’t working and therefore none of the set could be used! The stage manager, who is super organized, started rattling off how the show would work; this person would carry on this prop, those people would enter from there, etc. Suddenly the show began. The bizarre part is that the audience wasn’t told that the set wasn’t working. So they watched the entire first act of On Your Feet! with a minimalist/Grand Hotel/these-two-chairs-represent-an-entire-kitchen vibe. And I’m not exaggerating! Literally the kitchen set was represented by two (2) chairs!

By intermission, the set was working and the show proceeded as it normally does, with a full working set…that had not been used at all in the previous act. The audience was probably like, “Wow! What an interesting concept for a musical. The first half of Gloria Estefan’s life was represented as something stark, simple and barren…and the second part is so wild and big!” Then, because the show had started late and was about to go into overtime for the musicians, they let the orchestra leave and they cut all the sassy music during the bows. So after non-stop Gloria Estefan Latin hits, the cast came out to bow….in silence. Again, the audience was probably like, “Yes! It’s the circle of life. We being in the simplicity of the womb…then life takes us on a wild ride….and then we all end in a cloak of silent death.” Brava!

Back to the cruise! There were so many laughs throughout. Charles Busch was so funny because he kept going into his classic movie dame voice, which always has a smattering of Bette Davis in it. Lilla Crawford, who played Annie and Little Red Riding Hood in the Into The Woods film was Juli’s cabin mate. Charles soon decided to start treating Lilla Crawford like she was his rival… Joan Crawford. He’d walk into the restaurant, narrow his eyes and ask, “Where’s Crawford?” This continued through the whole week and we loved it! He went to see Kate Baldwin’s show and Kate’s second song was “Maybe” from Annie. As soon as it began, Charles leaned over to Andréa Burns and whispered “I bet Crawford is gnashin’ her teeth!” So funny!!!

The next show was Laura Osnes who looked and sounded stunning. And speaking of stunning, her husband joined her on “A Whole New World,” recreating the moment when they first connected. Yes, they were both understudies in a Midwest production of Aladdin and got to go on during the same performance. I’m not saying it was the whitest cast of Aladdin ever…but let’s just say it was equal with the Swedish national tour. P.S. Laura and I are going to be doing another show together October 22 at the Halfmoon Theatre so come see us!

Onstage and Backstage October 7 2016
Juli and Seth on a tender to shore

On the third day, we were docked in the middle of the water, and we were scheduled to take “tenders” or tiny boats to the shore to visit. Well, it was really rocky water so no tenders were going ashore. I should clarify and say no tenders from our ship. There was another ship docked near us that sent out tenders and we could see them rocking violently from side-to-side. Juli and I were looking at them from a window in the restaurant and a waiter joined us, pointed at the tenders and said “Someone’s puking inside those.” Wonderful.

Anyhoo, Phil Birsh, the head of Playbill, called our room at 9 AM and told us we couldn’t get off the ship. So, we decided to do an impromptu variety show. It was so great! Everybody pitched in, including Juli doing the stand-up she had done a few months ago at Caroline’s. One of her jokes is about having two dads and how we don’t know anything about girls. She says, “For instance, I asked them to go out and get me some pads because I had my period and they said ‘Didn’t you have that last month?’ I told them, ‘You’d be more upset if I missed it!’”

Anyhow, after the show, Charles Busch feigned shock at how Juli was “working blue” and how she was “gonna get this joint shut down.” Cut to that night, Juli and Lilla decided to leave their room after 11 PM to get some soda and, just to look funny, they put on bathrobes and wrapped their hair in towels. Charles saw them walking down the hallway in their bizarre outfits and exclaimed, “Look! It’s the foul-mouthed comedienne and the ex child star!” Brava!!

Onstage and Backstage October 7 2016
Juli and Lilla Crawford

Linsday Mendez did an amazing show. Her voice is so flexible, and her acting is always so real. She ended with one of my favorite songs she does “Hand in Hand.” I want you to watch this and when you listen, go into the same rage I did when she had the nerve to say to me in rehearsal “I have a low voice.” What?!?!!

I mentioned before that Kate Baldwin did her show, and one of my favorite parts was where she recreated inappropriate comments well-meaning audience members have said to her. I’m obsessed with “I wanted to applaud for you when you first walked out onstage, but I didn’t want to be the only one.” Why, thank you! It was very cool having her on the ship because they just announced she’s playing Ms. Malloy in the upcoming Hello, Dolly! She even ended her show with “Ribbons Down My Back.” I cannot wait to hear her amazing voice singing that with a full orchestra!!

The amazing Adam Pascal then did his show. His voice is crazy. His speaking voice is low, has a rasp, yet he had no problem hitting non-stop high C’s in “Pity The Child” from Chess and the sustained high B at the end of “Without You” from Disaster! (for which he got a standing ovation). P.S. We’re obsessed with the lyrics of “Pity The Child” and, after the song, demonstrated to the audience what the American chess players greatest fear is:

(If you know the lyrics, you’ll understand)

Phone Ring

Chess Player’s Mom (me): Hello?

Chess Player (Adam); It’s me!

Chess Player’s Mom: Who!?!?!?!?


Onstage and Backstage October 7 2016
Adam Pascal, Seth Rudetsky, Faith Prince and Jennifer Simard

The final big show was the amazing Chita Rivera. Talk about still got it! Near the end, she told everyone how, during West Side Story, Jerome Robbins insisted that the cast members playing the Sharks stay separate from the Jets. He didn’t want them socializing backstage or anywhere. Cut to, she brought to the stage a product of a Shark (Chita) and a Jet (Tony Mordente)…her daughter Lisa! They both sang “Class” and were so good! Their voices are so similar! Here’s Lisa when she starred in Platinum with Alexis Smith back in the ’70s.

OK, I will start next week’s column with a recap of the final night’s show where everyone performed. It was so good! P.S. Here’s a call back to “Pity The Child.” It’s a video of the Actors Fund Chess concert dress rehearsal with Adam in 2003. I’m conducting in my signature outfit: shorts and tank top.

And, if you’re on the West Coast, come see me do Deconstructing Broadway at Largo on Saturday, October 29.

Someone just added video footage to this deconstruction I did of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. I love it!

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