ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Autumn . . . and Bailey . . . and [title of show] in New York

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Autumn . . . and Bailey . . . and [title of show] in New York
When did it become the end of July?
Seth with Bailey and Bardlee Hanks.
Seth with Bailey and Bardlee Hanks.

I started leaving town at the end of June, first to go to San Fran for Andrea McArdle, then Texas with Betty Buckley, then the Rosie cruise, and the next thing I know, a million shows have closed, we have a new Elle Woods, and I'm buying back-to-school outfits. Speaking of which, I still remember some of my favorite September outfits. Remember the T-shirts that had a different color inside so you could fold up your sleeve and see it? It was a 1983 special…that wound up in a 1984 garbage heap.

All right, people, updates. Last Monday night I hosted and played piano for a NYCLU benefit. It was star-studded. Julia Murney gave a hilarious tip about performing in benefits. She said that she loves to go to the audience and watch her other friends perform, and she and Jen Colella have developed a way of doing it that still allows them to warm up. As they applaud their friends, they also add a loud Whoo! or Whoo-hoo that seems like extra cheering but is in actuality a vocal warm-up! Judge it if you will, but it's deliciously subtle and much better than applauding and chanting "Red leather, yellow leather." Watch Julia demonstrate it (and sing an amazing version of "Back to Before" on www.SethRudetsky.com).

Seth with John Gallagher, Jr.

At rehearsal I chatted with John Gallagher Jr. who, of course, I didn't recognize at first. He looks nothing like he did in Spring Awakening. I hate the mortification of seeing someone and having no idea who they are, so I told him from now on he has to be recognizable to me; i.e. walk around with an Eraserhead hairstyle, lederhosen and commit suicide. Anthony Rapp also performed and sported a beard rendering him unrecognizable. Stop already! Why can't people retain their signature looks? And why can't Liza ever change hers? Right after the NYCLU benefit, I rushed to the fabulous apartment of Amanda Brown Lipitz, the executive producer of the Legally Blonde reality show. She had tons of people there watching the final episode. I got there late, and while I was walking over, I got a text from Bernie Telsey busting me for the way I ran onto the Palace stage. When I got there, I informed him that I already dished myself in that week's video blog. I commented that my run informed the audience of two things: a. I was not popular in high school and b. I need a sports bra.

Bernie was trying to bust me because I spent so many previous vlogs busting him. On one episode he told Autumn that at her previous audition, she "literally hit it out of the park." "Literally"? They had an audition at Shea Stadium? Then he said he was nervous about whether one of the girls could perform that well "eight days a week." Hmm… I commented that maybe Bernie was confused by the ubiquitous commercial from years ago stating that "Sunday is Funday at Carvel" and informed him that "Funday" isn't an actual day. I'm going to upload all my Legally Blonde vlogs to my website so everyone can see my slams, I mean, playful jabs against Bernie et al. PS, why do I wonder why I've never been cast by him? Anyway, it was super fun to watch the finale with a bevy of the Elle contestants: Celina, Emma, Lindsey, Autumn, Lauren and Bailey. The coolest thing was seeing Bailey there with her seven-year-old sister who hadn't been told that Bailey won. They were too nervous she wouldn't be able to keep a secret. Hmm…if they were nervous about that, they shouldn't have told me. Anyhoo, it was so sweet when her sister saw Bailey win on TV. She totally started crying, and Bailey and her sat on the couch hugging. Awww…

Seth and Autumn

On Wednesday I hightailed it to the Palace Theatre to see Bailey make her debut. In "Omigod You Guys," all of the Delta Nu sorority sisters start the song. Suddenly Autumn Hurlbert appeared (who was the runner-up for Elle Woods) and when she sang her opening solo, she got crazy cheers from the audience. I felt so great for her! She's extremely talented and Miss Thing can sing! When Bailey rose up in the elevator, the place went nuts. I thought I'd be nervous for Bailey, but she was on her gig. As a matter of fact, I had spoken to Jim Sampliner (the music director of the show), and he told me that Bailey had her put-in rehearsal the previous Friday and they went straight through the show without stopping once! That's amazing for a first timer on Broadway…who's 20 years old…playing the lead! I did start to get nervous as the show progressed because the end of Act One has the song "So Much Better," and the reality show made a big deal about how hard it was to hold the last note (it's a pretty high note, and it's supposed to be held for four counts of eight!). It's one thing to have to do something hard in a show, but it's a nightmare when the whole audience knows how hard it is! I always feel bad when an ice skater is doing a triple axel because I know that they know the whole audience is wondering whether they'll make it. It's like asking someone stunning out for a date while 1,000 people watch to see if you get rejected. Anyhoo, as the last note of "So Much Better" approached, I had a mini-anxiety attack, but not only did Bailey hold the note the whole time, it actually didn't matter because the audience started cheering so loudly after the first four counts that you could hardly hear her voice anyway. She could have taken it down the octave and no one would have noticed.

Speaking of noticing, I was spotted by some reality show fans in the audience and I felt like a celeb. See the picture below. Then, when I saw Damn Yankees, I went backstage and there were tons of people lined up waiting for the cast. As I passed some of them, I had several requests for autographs. I felt bad that James had to wait, but I assumed he knew I had a duty to my public. Then, I went to go visit backstage and when I was through, I geared myself up for my exit. I figured there'd still be people waiting for the cast and probably some of the newcomers would want my autograph…after all, I'd made nine different five-to-ten minute appearances on "Legally Blonde: The Search for Elle Woods." I opened up the door leading from the backstage area to the street, and as soon as I did, the crowd reaction went wild. Full out Beatles-fan screaming. "I still got it!" I thought to myself. I scanned the crowd to decide which crazed fan I should give my autograph to first, when I noticed them all looking down. That's odd, I thought. My curiosity turned to devastation when I realized that the screams were not due to my dedicated public recognizing me, but instead a direct result of the appearance of a large water bug on the sidewalk. Once it ran down the block, the screaming stopped, and I was met with a sea of blank faces. The only request I got was not for an autograph but rather for an answer to the question, "Is Jane coming out soon?" "Yes," I muttered as I shame-facedly put away my unused Sharpie and ran down the block, with James laughing behind me. I still don't got it.

Seth with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen

This week my Chatterbox was a joy because I interviewed the two brilliant creators of [title of show], Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen. Way back in the mid-nineties, one of my best friends, Jack Plotnick, was starring in The Boys From Syracuse at the Alliance Theater down south. Jack suddenly got an offer to do a TV pilot with Janeane Garofalo and Bob Odenkirk right before The Boys From Syracuse was about to start previews. He called me and asked me what to do. He knew the show could go on because they could get a replacement for him, but he felt that it was wrong to leave a commitment. But he also really wanted to start doing more TV, and he thought Janeane and Bob were great people to work with who could jump-start his career. I didn't know what to tell him, so he finally called Dick Scanlan whom we both met while working with him Off-Broadway in Pageant. I took over being the music director from James Raitt, Dick was hilarious as Miss Great Plains, and Jack was the swing. Most Broadway people know Dick because he wrote the book and lyrics to Thoroughly Modern Millie. Jack presented his moral dilemma to Dick, and Dick presented him with the query, "What would Madonna do?" Seriously. Well, that clinched it for Jack. He quit The Boys From Syracuse and hightailed it to LA, and the Alliance had to replace Jack asap. There was an understudy for the role in the show, but the powers-that-be thought that one of the non-Equity chorus boys would be great in the role and asked him to learn it in 24 hours. He learned it, nailed it and got his Equity card. That chorus boy's name was…Hunter Bell! Jeff grew up in Florida, and in [title of show] the Jeff character talks about being in high school and painting a glow-in-the-dark Aspects of Love mural in his bedroom. Jeff confirmed that indeed the real-life Jeff did just that. He also 'fessed up that there is a Phantom mask thrown into the mural as well. And, the delicious news is that it's still there! He also said that he went to a master class when he was a late teenager, and Terrence Mann had flown down from New York to lead it. Jeff got up to sing his song, opened his mouth, and out came all four verses of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina." With no irony. He can't remember the "critique" he got from Terrence, but I'm assuming it began with "What the-?" He and Hunter met doing a production of Good News. The non-equity chorus was called a week early to learn the dances (Jeff), and then the leads arrived (Hunter). Hunter showed up knowing every line and every song, and Jeff hated him. He found out later that Hunter had just played the role, but then it just seemed like annoying over-confidence. Afterwards, they drove home to the cast house in the company van and hearing Jeff gabbing with some other ensemble member, Hunter remembers thinking, "Hmm….they sound a little negative. I don't need that energy around me." Around a week later, they were all rehearsing, and Hunter commented on someone in the cast wearing jazz pants ("Where did you get them? How did you get them to flair out at the bottom?"), and he and Jeff became best friends. They started writing together and completed a musical version of "9 to 5"! They actually did a full reading of it with some great people whom they just left the material for at the stage door with a letter (not unlike the blind phone call made to celebrities in [title of show]). However, they never got the rights to the show, and eventually found out there was another version being written. But that's what led to them writing [title of show]. The whole "9 to 5" experience helped them realize that you yourself have to do something you want and not wait around. PS, if you don't know what I mean by the blind phone calls to celebs, I'll explain. Throughout the show, Hunter and Jeff are looking to help sell their show by having a big name attached. And throughout it, you hear phone messages from real Broadway people turning them down. They're all hilarious, and I'll tell you two that were in the Off-Broadway version, but didn't make it to Broadway. One used to be Amy Spanger saying very sweetly, "Hi, guys. It's Amy Spanger. I got your message, and I am very honored you thought of me for your show but, because of my schedule, I can't do it." Then you hear the sound of the phone starting to be hung up, and Amy's voice continues to someone in the background, "Stephen Oremus is giving out my f***ing number to anybody." Her line reading was amazing. There was another one where Sutton Foster called in all excited. "Hey, Hunter, I heard about your show. Of course, I'll do it! We Fosters need to stick together!" Then you hear someone say something to her and she says, "Huh? Hunter Bell? Who the f***is that?" and hangs up. Brava!

I saw Michael Berresse, the director or [title of show] at the Chatterbox, and he told me that he sat in the same row as Betty Buckley during the show on opening night. She loved it and during the curtain call, the cast was receiving thunderous ovations. Betty leaned down the row and said to Michael, sweetly but sternly, "Stand up and get on that stage right now!" which, of course, he then did. Nobody turns down Grizabella! At the Chatterbox, Jeff, Hunter and I discussed all the headache-y comments about whether or not [title of show] belongs on Broadway. First of all, I can't stand the "the show is too inside." Did people say that about A Chorus Line? "No one wants to know what it's like for a dancer to audition for a show. They won't get it." Why can't an audience understand a show about people writing a musical? Do they not know what a composer and lyricist is? Hunter said that he's not Jewish, but he loves Fiddler on the Roof. I agree! I'm not a tough kid from the fifties, but I love Grease (although not 60 percent of the casting choices in the nineties revival).

All right, everybody, enjoy the last gasps of July, and I'll give you an update next week! *

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway" and the novel "Broadway Nights." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and hosts the BC/EFA benefit weekly interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama every Thursday at 6 PM. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

Seth and his admirers.
Seth and his admirers.
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