ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: A Little Fall of . . . Traveling

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: A Little Fall of . . . Traveling
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.

Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky Photo by Aubrey Reuben

I'm officially starting my fall full o' traveling.

Next Tuesday I'm hitting Toronto to do Deconstructing Broadway. You can get info at http://ca.brownpapertickets.com/event/119427, and the tickets can bought with Canadian money meaning that I'll come back to the U.S. with around five actual dollars.

Last Monday began the first full week of school for Juli, first full week of bags under my eyes. Her bus comes at the delicious hour of 7 AM, which means [AUDIO-LEFT]that she should be up an hour before that we've now amended to be 6:55. James can actually handle everything that needs to be done in the morning, but I feel like I should help out so I've been waking up at 6:30 every day to "help," AKA shuffle around and ask for coffee. It's even earlier than I used to wake up to go to the "Rosie O'Donnell Show." We had to be at the studio by 7:30, and I would wake up at 6:45, have all my clothes laid out from the night before (like a 14-year-old girl) and jump on the number 1 train at the 72nd Street stop by 7 AM. Then I'd then run into delicious Au Bon Pain on 50th Street and make it to 30 Rock by 7:25. All the writers had to write three topical jokes culled from the newspaper to show Rosie at our 8 AM pitch meeting. Why, you ask, when she never told jokes on her show? I have no answer. I was only following orders (a la circa 1941). Unfortunately, I'd often read mine, get a laugh from the room and Rosie would say, "Those jokes are only funny because of the way you say them." I'd argue that the jokes themselves were funny and not just because of my delivery. Finally, one day Rosie decided she was going to bring me on the show so I could read my so-called jokes and the audience would see that they were indeed bizarre and could only get laughs because of my line readings. Rosie was at her desk and read one of my jokes and then told the audience that she was nervous to read it because she feels that only I can execute my jokes correctly. She then called me out and I did a string of jokes and (thankfully) got delicious laughs. It was so thrilling! I couldn't wait to see myself on TV. I'm still waiting 11 years later. As you know "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" was live, but as you may not know, it wasn't live on Fridays. We would tape a live show every morning at ten but on Thursday afternoon we would tape Friday's show. Well, after we taped the day I was on, I was told that the show went too long, and they had to cut my whole section. Still devastated? You tell me. Actually, I will. Yes. Even though the national audience never saw me tell my clunkers, I mean amazing jokes, I do have a tape of the performance to prove that I got laughs. I watched it recently (Norma Desmond-style) and saw that all the jokes were based on a random newspaper article saying that a form of bowling existed in 1600's America, but it was not called "bowling," it was called "Belgian Cheese." I was so mind-boggled by that, I wrote five jokes on the subject. And, of course, since it was Puritan times I had to make a Crucible reference. One of the "jokes" was: Can you imagine what it was like in a 1600's Belgian Cheese Alley? "Goody Hopkins, it's your turn at today's Belgian Cheese tournament. Yay, ye got a strike! (suddenly inciting the crowd) She's a witch! Burn her!" Hmm…ye olde crickets? Maybe it is all about my line readings. Anyhoo, back to this week. On Wednesday at my Sirius Live on Broadway show I had Daphne Rubin-Vega, who's starring in the film version of Jack Goes Boating, which is directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. She loved being directed by him and said that he would help the cast find out what the characters were going through by telling anecdotes about his own life. They were talking about the extremes one goes through for "love," and he said he once actually threw himself on a moving car. I, myself, remember waiting by the campus restaurant in Oberlin when I was a freshman because I saw someone I had a crush on go inside. I decided I would wait the length of his meal until he came out and then "run into him" as he took the long walk back to his dorm. I waited in the cold Ohio night, and at one point my friend Ben came by and asked if I was all right. I told him I was perfectly fine and acted like it was normal to stand, freezing, half hidden behind a rock. Finally, my crush came out of the restaurant…and immediately entered the apartment building next door. Yay. That's a memory which always feels me with self-esteem.

Seth with Daphne Rubin-Vega
photo by Robb Johnston
Anthony Rapp
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

On Thursday, I had three performers who are doing shows at NYMF (New York Musical Theater Festival). Anthony Rapp is doing Without You based on his book by the same title. He said that he first started writing the book because the editor who did the big Rent coffee-table book asked him if he would write about what it was like dealing with his mom who had cancer. Anthony said that the first thing he wrote was the story in the book I was obsessed with when I read it because it's so scary. His mom told him that when he was a baby, he and his parents were driving on a deserted highway in Joliet, Illinois, and a car bumped them. The car kept bumping them trying to make them pull off the road. His parents were about to slow down and stop on the side of the highway but suddenly one of the bumps made Anthony's head roll forward (he was sleeping in the back seat). Anthony's mom noticed that one of the men in the car suddenly saw Anthony and motioned to the driver to drive away. Later on, his parents found out that the men in the other car made people pull off the road and then they would shoot them! But Anthony saved his parents lives, and later on his mom was a witness at the trial. How terrifying is that! After he wrote that, he got a book deal but couldn't finish the book. He wound up returning his advance and then finished the book on his own. He submitted it, got a book deal, and the novel sold great. Then many people suggested he should turn it into a show, and now he's doing 11 performances at NYMF…and they're all sold-out! Passive/aggressive.

I also asked Anthony about his famous classmate, Andy Dick. Anthony remembered playing Oliver in a local high school production, and Andy had the tiny role of Dr. Grimwig in the second act. Even though the role was one scene, Andy managed to turn it into a hilarious tour-de-force that had the audience in stitches. Apparently there was a running bit where the elderly doctor had emphysema and would consistently cough into young Oliver's face. Later on, Andy wound up winning class president primarily based on his campaign posters which said, "Vote for A. Dick."

Anthony also does a lot of work for "Friends in Deed," which is the group that Jonathan Larson based his life support group on in Rent. They help and support people who have any kind of life-threatening disease. And, the meetings are not only for the people who are ill but also for anyone in their circle of friends/family and for people who are mourning the loss of someone close to them. Right now the group is having difficulty getting funded because they help such a wide variety of people, and funding is easier if a group is more narrowly focused. So, Anthony asked people to donate (even a couple of bucks) to help him help continue a great organization. Go to www.FriendsIndeed.org and, PS, this is the same group that is going to benefit from the star-studded reading of The Normal Heart on Oct. 18 directed by Joel Grey. When I saw it announced that it was going to star director Joe Mantello, I fired off this email to him: Subj: What the-? You have the nerve to be trotting the boards again? I already have Brooks and Mario stealing all of my roles and now I have to worry about you? He wrote back The Times got it wrong. I'm going into "Freckle Face Strawberry". Hilarious.

Ann Harada
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I also had the fabulous Ann Harada and Liz Larsen on the show who are playing the married couple in My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. It was written by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, and it came to be because David would always regale people with the story of his mom getting divorced, finding her Jewish roots, discovering her sexuality and marrying a Wiccan. People would always say, "That should be a show," and finally he and his wife wrote it and it became a big hit in Canada. Speaking of regaling, Liz (who's playing the Jewish mother) talked about the doomed Broadway production of Starmites. Liz was the lead and she got sick during previews, necessitating her understudy to go on. Unfortunately, her understudy ran to make a quick change and bumped into one of the pillars backstage. She wound up coming out for her triumphant final scene with blood dripping down her face. That was so traumatic that she fled the production and Liz had to come back before she was healthy. Then the "deluge curtain" came down. That's a wall of water that separates the stage from the audience and is set off in case there's a fire. Unfortunately, it came down for no reason, and it completely flooded the pit. All the music got soaked in the pit and became unreadable. This happened in the days before people used computers to write out music, so they had to close the show (!) until the score was completely re-written. Finally, Liz said that a shaman was hired to rid the theatre of its evil spirits. Seriously. At one point, he wanted everyone in the cast to figure out what animal they were. He informed everyone that he would say the name of an animal and the actor would tell him if that animal was him or her. Liz kept her hand down because none of the animals felt right. The shaman would say "snake," someone would raise their hand and the shaman would point and intone, "You are an earth creature who is one with the ground and can strike with great strength. You are strong, silent and steady." A tiger? "You are always in control and choose to show your power only when necessary." Finally, he was nearing the end and he called out "A Thunderbird." Liz thought, "That sounds cool…and my mom had a Thunderbird when I was a kid. That's what I am!" She raised her hand proudly, and he pointed to her and said, "You fly recklessly into the sun and then plummet to earth… and die." Liz was nominated for a Tony three years later, and the shaman is still looking for a gig.

This upcoming Sunday is going to be the always fun Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market in Shubert Alley. I'll have my own booth where I'll be selling DVD's of all my past Chatterboxes (interviews and performances) with stars like Lea Michele, Katie Finneran, Nathan Lane, Jonathan Groff and Matt Morrison. Go to www.ILoveNYTheater.com for deets, and hopefully I'll see ya there! *

Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.

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