ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Bella Pelosi, Plus a Harlem Home

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Bella Pelosi, Plus a Harlem Home
A week in the life of actor, musician, music director and talk show host Seth Rudetsky.
Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi Photo by Aubrey Reuben


Hail Ragtime! Kevin McCollum invited me to the opening night and it was not only fabulous but star-studded as well. Politically star-studded. During intermission we saw Barney Frank and after the show we saw Nancy Pelosi!!! I so wanted to tell them how much I support them and their policies and the Democratic Party but as I passed them, I lost my nerve. All I was able to do was look at them both and mutter, "Brava." I'm sure they'll now go back to Washington re-energized.

As for the show, I loved it. There have been a lot of musicals over the past decade where the music part hasn't been that important. Well, sitting in the audience last night, listening to the exciting opening number and the showstopper "New Music," I felt like I was back in the Broadway Golden Age, when musicals had amazing, glorious songs. I used to play piano all the time in the pit during the first run of the show and it was so great to hear all the beautiful music again…and not have to be worrying about hitting a clam. Besides the great singing, I was obsessed with the comedy moments that Rob Bohmer (Father) and Christiane Noll (Mother) found. I'm also obsessed with the bathroom Steven Pasquale found. During intermission, James and I headed out to get some coffee. We went into Starbucks and saw Steve who told us he bypassed the long bathroom line at the theatre by hightailing it across Eighth Avenue to the Starbucks. What a great trick!

[AUDIO-LEFT] On a side note, I'm writing this column sitting on my king-size bed. We have a big, fat bed because it has to fit me, James, my dog Maggie and James' dog Sonora. Normally, the bed pretty much takes up the whole bedroom but right now there's a ton of space next to both sides and in front of it. Speaking of "in front of it," there's actually a fireplace directly in front. And, to the side, an enormous walk-in closet where Gwen Verdon, Shirley MacLaine, Debbie Allen and Christina Applegate could all fit as they sang "If They Could See Me Now." (Tip o' the hat to the Sweet Charity scene in Vittorio Vidal's closet). Why am I in such spacious digs, do you ask? Because…we finally moved to a new apartment!!!! And by "apartment," I mean "townhouse." That's right, a fully-renovated 1880s three-story townhouse with a backyard, three bedrooms, three bathrooms and, most deliciously, three fireplaces! How can we afford it, you ask? Because we're in a so-called "up and coming" neighborhood. That's right, a la the Jeffersons, we moved "on up"…to 125th street! Last Thursday. I was getting off the A train and someone recognized me, looked shocked and then concluded, "Seth Rudetsky in Harlem? There's only one reason you're here; Dreamgirls at The Apollo!" I told him that I do, indeed, love that show, but I was in Harlem because I live here now, and a la Effie, "I am telling you, I'm not going."

I LOVE IT! If you don't know why we had to move, here 'tis: Back in April we had a flood in the downstairs of our duplex and asked our landlord to check for mold, which he didn't do. When we finally hired out own mold specialist, we found that not only did the flooded area have mold, but most of the downstairs had mold as well! Then when the city checked it out, they discovered that the entire downstairs had no certificate of occupancy. In other words, it was not only mold-infested, it was also an illegal apartment! We found the apartment through a very big New York realty firm (that shall remain nameless…for now) and they should have known when they showed it to us that it was illegal. The good news is, we got a place that's ten times bigger and were able to fill it with stuff because Costco just opened up in Manhattan! We have giant boxes of Raisin Bran and Charmin and I've now completely transitioned into suburban Soccer Mom. Speaking of transitioning, after auditioning to be just a plain old drag queen in La Cage, I've now moved into the realm of full transsexual. I just tried out for the Terrance Stamp part in the upcoming Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I was nervous waiting to go in because they were running late and while I was sitting in the waiting area, I kept seeing amazing people before and after me who were making me feel more and more intimidated. For the days leading up to it, I had been thinking of canceling because the big move hadn't left me a lot of time to work on the three (!) scenes. PLUS I was supposed to use an Australian accent and I thought mine clanked. But as soon as I walked in, I went from "I hate myself" to "Yay! People think I'm funny!" I brought John MacMahon to play for me and when I entered the room , I saw my friend Jesse Vargas sitting behind the piano. I walked right up to him and said, "Jesse, I brought my own pianist. Clear for talent." Well, that old chestnut I'm constantly hauling out made the director laugh up a storm and that audition wound up being one of the most fun I've ever had. So, if you're thinking about canceling an audition, DON'T! You never know what can happen. Unless you make the bad choices of Lewis Cleale or Ann Harada.

I went up to Ithaca with them to do a benefit for The Hangar Theater (which our friend Peter Flynn is the artistic director for) and we were talking about bad auditions. Lewis said that he once did an audition for a comedy role using the song "On the Street Where You Live" but singing it as a stalker. It went great. Then he did it again, but this time, while he was singing, he made the bold choice to pull out a prop…an enormous butcher knife. Silence from the people auditioning him. Silence and terror. Speaking of terror, Ann Harada said that she once decided to sing the duet "I Know Him So Well" as an audition song. And instead of just singing one part, she sang both:

Wasn't he good? Oh, so good.

Wasn't he fine? Oh, so fine

Maybe it would have worked with a knife. Then, Ann and I were talking about that excuse casting people give when you don't get a role: "We went a different way." Back in the early '90s, she was living in Chicago and was told that if she flew herself to New York and just read once for "The Cosby Mysteries," she'd get the part. So, she flew herself, read once and flew back. She was then told she didn't get it! "Why?" she asked. "They went a different way," her agent told her. "Really?" she asked disbelievingly. "Who got it?" Pause. "Austin Pendleton." Wow. It's the one time, they did go a different way!

Last week I saw the fabulous Miss Coco at the Laurie Beechman Theater on 42nd Street. Miss Coco is the drag name of Clinton Leupp and his material is so smartly written. He talked about how depressing it is to still have to print up flyers and pass them out to people. Years ago, he had a misprint on one: the word monologue was printed as mono louge. Suddenly, everybody he ran into would have a very concerned look on his/her face and say, "Um…you know. There's a misprint on the flyer. It doesn't say you do 'monologues,' it says 'monolouges.' Clinton had finally had it and decided to gaslight everybody: "Yes," he would say, "it does say that and rightfully so. A monologue is a long speech, but a monolouge is a French word for a speech that's broken up into a few parts, separated by song." Then he'd pause and shake his head, "I'm surprised you didn't know that." Cut to: he started to tell an amazing story about taking his mother to Ireland because, ever since she was a little girl she wanted to see a real castle and at a climactic part in the middle of the story, he stopped and the piano began a song intro. Then he looked at the audience and said, "See? It's a monolouge." Brava!

If you've never seen his/her brilliant turn in the fabulous movie "Trick," rent it ASAP. And, you must also rent the HI-larious "Girls Will Be Girls" starring Miss Coco, Varla Jean and my friend Jack Plotnick as Evie Harris. Go to Www.Girlswillbegirlsmovie.com.

Tom Lenk and Seth Rudetsky

I recently interviewed my L.A. friend Tom Lenk whom I've known for years through Jack (Plotnick) and who is now in Rock of Ages on Broadway. He grew up on the West Coast and always dreamed of being in a Broadway show. He was incredibly skinny, blond and around 5-foot-3-inches in high school so naturally he set his sights on playing…Raoul in Phantom. He said that he was in total denial of his type for years. His big break on TV was playing one of the "nerds" on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. He thought he was only going to do a couple of episodes, but he wound up doing it for years. The stressful part was that no one ever knew if they were going to be killed off the show. He said that he would get the script and always flip to the end of it to see if he was still alive. One day, he was driving with one of the other "nerds" and they had just gotten a new script. As the other guy was reading it, he was loving it. He would read a page and say, "This is amazing! This week's episode it going to be so much fun!" Tom finally muttered, "Um, yeah. Did you…did you read the ending yet? The part where I…uh...where I stab and kill you?" Devastation. Tom literally had to be the one to tell his friend that it was his last episode. And that Tom himself was the one who was going to kill him. And… awkward rest of car trip. Speaking of awkward car trips, Tom travels around the world to do Sci-Fi conventions and meet fans/sign autographs. He told me about who was with him in the van going to the sci-fi venue: The guy inside Chewbacca, Boba Fett, the little person who played "Willow," Jaws from The James Bond movies, Mini-Me…and Margot Kidder. AMAZING!

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.sethrudetsky.com.

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