ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Brian, Lea and Bubbles

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Brian, Lea and Bubbles
I just finished the second week of previews for The Ritz. It's so fun!
Seth (
Seth ("note my crazy 70's hair"), James and Juli caught in a bubble.

I have a little feature that's at the end of Act Two, so it gives me something to look forward to during the whole show, besides acting out with food. I'm the king of eating a healthy Zone Bar before the show, and then by intermission scavenging in the wig room for Twix Bars.

Off Topic (as they say on the message boards): I got an email that I was so proud of deciphering. Some man asked me about a song I played on Sirius. He said, "It was about a guy who didn't want to get married, but his friends said it was okay, and there was something about a chair." I got a splitting headache 'til I realized he meant "Being Alive." Why are those the only references he remembered? How about the words "Being Alive" which are repeated a thousand times!!

Speaking of Sirius, I interviewed Brian d'Arcy James, and I busted him on the pretentious three names, but he said he had to add the d'Arcy because there was another Brian James in Equity. Hmm… it's one thing to add a middle name, but a middle name with an apostrophe? That's pushing it. Actually, he said he first tried to just use an initial, but since his middle name is spelled d'Arcy, it was Brian d. James and even he knew that only e.e. cummings could get away with that.

Brian's first big job was in the revival of Carousel, where he understudied Eddie Korbich. Even though he was in the ensemble, he managed to get out of dancing because his character always needed to run into the onstage fish shack whenever a number began. Hmm…maybe Britney should have visited the onstage fish shack during last weeks VMAs.

We talked about Harmony, the musical by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman. Brian had the lead, and I was the vocal arranger. You may be shocked to know that I do vocal arrangements, but I think you'll be more shocked to know Brian's character name was Rabbi. I guess Alfred Molina wasn't available. We both thought the show has a ton of potential — great story and score. It's about an actual close harmony group called The Comedian Harmonists who were German but internationally known in the thirties. They were disbanded by the Nazis because there were Jewish members in the group and faded into obscurity. I first worked on it at the La Jolla Playhouse back in '97, and it finally came here a few years later to get ready for a Broadway production. We rehearsed up a storm and were preparing to leave for our out-of-town tryout in Philadelphia. The day before the whole cast was leaving, they announced that it was all canceled. The producer didn't really have the money he said he did and, essentially, that was it. The show was totally blocked, ready to go, and, suddenly, everything was off! And, people had sublet their apartments, and it was all over before it began. The cool thing is, the guys who played the Harmonists got to perform with Barry in his concerts across the U.S., and they're on his DVD doing two songs from the show.

At the Chatterbox, I had Lea Michele, another name I had to bust. I've never heard a more obvious first and middle name since Ann-Margret. I asked her if her last name was Fleishberger or Schwartzbaum, and she 'fessed up it was tres Jewish. I don't know why people don't keep their real last names. Rudetsky is beautiful. Anybody? Nobody.

Lea said she got into theatre because when she was eight, her friend was auditioning for Young Cosette in Les Miz and needed Lea's parents to take her to the city from Jersey. Since Lea was there, she auditioned, too… and got it. I was mind boggled that her friend didn't realize this whole scenario was doomed from the start. The same thing happened when Vicki Clark brought Ted Sperling to play for her Sunday in the Park audition in the eighties, and he got a pit pianist job and she was ixnayed. Didn't they know it was right out of the opening scene of "Fame" when LeRoy "helps out" his friend auditioning for the Performing Arts High School? Keep those LeRoys away from your auditions or pay the consequences: a scene with you cursing while walking down the stairs.

Lea got to play Young Cosette, Young Eponine and understudy Gavroche. I wish I got to do drag as an eight year old. Also, what happens when one of the little girls goes on for Gavroche? After the barricade shoot-out scene, does someone discover Gavroche's body and scream, "Sacre bleu! He's a she!" Billy Tipton style? (Does anyone remember him/her? The trumpeter who was married with kids but was really a woman? Too obscure?)

Anyhoo, after Les Miz, Lea got Ragtime, starting out of town in Toronto. She played the daughter of the immigrant played by the talented Peter Friedman. I asked her how annoying it was to be silent the whole show except for saying "My father speaks for both of us." She said she didn't mind. Then, I confronted her and asked that if her father spoke for both of them, how come she sings up a storm in the opening number. She said that she never thought of that. Maybe her father speaks for both of them, but she belts by herself.

She started working on Spring Awakening when she was 14! Before you go into shock, that wasn't like when we were 14 (when Alf was big) — it was only a couple of years ago. The cool thing is, she's been playing the role ever since the beginning of the formation of the show. The uncool thing is, she's had to audition every time another production happened! Before the Off-Broadway production, she was getting emails from her "friends" saying they were trying out for her role! She called the director (Michael Mayer) and told him that she still looked young enough and that she wanted to come in and audition…and, of course, she got it. I asked her about bearing her breast onstage, and she said that when the show was Off-Broadway, she got a handwritten note in her dressing room from Michael Mayer saying, "I think you should show your breast at the end of the act." Hello? Where's the build up? Where's the: "Tell me if you're comfortable with this" … "I know this may be shocking"… "Not since Janet Jackson," etc…. She said she ran into Jonathan Groff backstage before the show, and I asked if he was carrying a photocopy of the same note with the word "breast" scratched out and replaced with "butt."

Also, this week my Chatterbox is on TV again. It's Tuesdays at 12:30 in the afternoon on channel 56 and if you're not in NYC, you can watch it on mnn.org. But for some reason, instead of listing the title as "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox," they've been calling it "Let the Music do the Talking." Is that a spin on "My father speaks for both of us?" My guest this week is Kristin Chenoweth, and she's hi-larious. Speaking of hilarious, [title of show] is now doing episodes on youtube. Yay! It's like when the British "The Office" did another episode after their final one. A delicious treat you didn't expect.

Last weekend was my boyfriend's daughter's birthday. Juli turned seven, so we took her to Gazillion Bubble Show. If you haven't seen it, it's essentially a woman named Ana Yang onstage doing all these amazing things with bubbles and lights. I wouldn't say her character had much of a "journey," but it was totally super cool to watch. She chose some kid audience volunteers to come onstage, and Juli kept being not picked. I could tell Juli was disappointed, but I was thinking that it's important that she learn how to deal with that feeling. Then, Ana asked for an adult couple to come onstage, and when James and I weren't picked, I realized that it's important for me to learn how to deal with that feeling. I was in a rage, but it subsided after the show when we all took a picture inside a bubble.

And, finally, the Roundabout Theatre gave me a special discount code for The Ritz to get 40% off tickets during previews. You have to enter it at the website (roundabouttheatre.org) or call (212) 719-1300. They said they'd give me a special code like "Seth'sFriend" or "Brava." Then, they emailed me and said all they could give me was RISETH. What the-? Did they think that was my real first name and Seth was just a sassy nickname? If my Mom is mad at me, does she yell "Riseth Dennis Rudetsky!"?

All right, I'm off to do a photo shoot with the cast and Terrence McNally for Genre magazine! Hopefully, they'll spell my name right. (R-I-S-E-T-H)*

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com. His first novel, "Broadway Nights," is due in the fall.)

Lea Michele and Seth Rudetsky at the <i>Chatterbox</i>.
Lea Michele and Seth Rudetsky at the Chatterbox.
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