ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Celebrating Terrence McNally | Playbill

News ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Celebrating Terrence McNally
A week in the life of actor, writer and music director Seth Rudetsky.

Terrence McNally and Seth
Terrence McNally and Seth


Yay. It's spring and it snowed last week. What is up with that? Is it too much to ask for the weather to simply follow a schedule? Does the weather also have ADD like I do? Anyhoo, this week I saw more Broadway because everything is opening at once and I'm frantically trying to keep up like Lucy in the chocolate factory. On Wednesday, I took my mom to see Catch Me If You Can. Not surprisingly, I'm totally obsessed with Norbert Leo Butz's voice. If you haven't seen my deconstruction of his vibrato [AUDIO-LEFT]and amazing hard R's, please watch this ASAP. Also, it was great to see Rachelle Rak in a great feature role as a Playboy bunny. If you don't remember, she was the one featured in the documentary "Every Little Step" — she was the frontrunner for the role of Sheila in the Chorus Line revival. At the final call back, she was told to simply do what she did at the last audition. The advice wasn't really helpful because the audition had been months before and she didn't remember what she had done. It put her into a panic and she lost the role. But now she's triumphing and looks amazing! I saw Marc Shaiman and wrote him a brava on Facebook. He wrote back with his usual sass, "Thanks for coming to Catch…. Our first Wednesday matinee. The ladies seemed to like it. You fit right in." Hmph. Speaking of matinee ladies, my mother pulled her usual panic based on nothing. We were standing in the lobby before the show and my mother immediately tensed because she heard the noise that signals the show is about to begin. What she actually heard was the beeping sound a truck makes when it backs up. Why would the new Broadway signal for starting a show be a slow "beep….beep….beep" issued from the street?

Monday night I went to a great fundraiser for Juilliard's The Acting Company, saluting Terrence McNally. There were so many great performances. Emily Skinner, who starred in The Full Monty (and is also featured on the Norbert video I just linked) told a great story before she sang. She was doing Full Monty when 9/11 happened and all Broadway shows were cancelled. A few days later they resumed and I remember there was a feeling from some people on Broadway of "why are we doing something so shallow when there are deep things in the world to be dealt with?" Cut to, a few days later, Emily came out of the stage door and was suddenly enveloped in a bear hug from behind. She reminded us that when a friend does that, it's a good feeling, when a stranger does, it's terrifying. Nonetheless, the stranger let her go and informed her that was an NYC firefighter. He told her that seeing the show that night made him feel something for the first time since 9/11. Emily was, of course, incredibly moved and after she left she waited at the end of the block and watched. Sure enough, he did that to every person exiting the stage door! Musicians, actors, hair, wardrobe etc.

John Glover at the Terrence McNally salute.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
John Glover did the phone monologue from The Lisbon Traviata and was hilarious. If you don't know it, the monologue is spoken by an opera fanatic who is desperate for a bootleg recording of Maria Callas' Traviata from Lisbon. He's on the phone with a young guy who doesn't quite remember whether he saw it or not and John Glover is mind-boggled at how non-plussed the guy is. First he says, "Believe me, if you saw it, you'd remember it," but it soon becomes clear that the guy may have seen it and hardly remembers it. It essentially ends with John Glover telling him that Maria Callas died because people didn't fully appreciate how brilliant she was. He then yells "Murderer!" and hangs up. So funny! P.S., John Glover trying to jar the memory of this younger person reminded me of two things. First, growing up obsessed with musical theatre and having no one with my knowledge/passion/obsession to share it with. This was before online message boards. When I was nine, I was walking around constantly asking adults if they'd heard of Chicago and they'd always nod yes and then start singing the Judy Garland song, "Chicago, Chicago." NO! Infuriating! Had no one heard of the Fosse show besides me and Chita Rivera? Secondly, I was once on Sirius/XM, interviewing a pretty famous female Broadway producer. I mentioned the Dreamgirls concert I put up for the Actors Fund. She nodded vaguely and said, "Hmm…I think I saw it." I was flummoxed! She literally didn't remember? It starred Audra McDonald, Heather Headley and Lillias White and was the first big theatrical event after 9/11! It literally took place ten days later! Everyone who was there that night (onstage and in the audience) told me that the experience was so cathartic for them and all she gives me is a "Hmmm…I think I saw it"? Unbelievable! I'm still in a rage. The interview didn't quite end with me yelling "Murderer!," but only because of my fear of copyright infringement.

Brian Stokes Mitchell performs at the fundraiser.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Also at the McNally tribute, Ragtime's original stars Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell performed their signature songs and both said Ragtime was their most fulfilling theatrical experience. I'm so lucky I got to play piano in the pit orchestra. It was so moving to me to hear them sing again, and have Stephen Flaherty himself playing for them! John Doyle directed the evening and asked Tom Kirdahy (Terrence's husband…they were married in DC), "Who would really surprise Terrence and mean the most to him to have onstage?" Well, up came Dr. Valeria Rusch, who operated on Terrence when he had cancer. She was so well-spoken and warm. And funny! She began by saying, "I'm Terrence's cancer surgeon. Cancer surgeon. Not plastic." Brava on the opening joke! The most moving part for me was when Angela Lansbury (who hosted) introduced Terrence at the end. She thanked him for bringing her back to Broadway (she starred in Deuce a few years ago after more than 20 years away from Broadway). And when she thanked him, she started crying. P.S., I went from being moved to jealous because Angela has the nerve to be in her 80s and be in better shape than me! How dare she be a size four? I'm out. At my Sirius/XM radio show, I interviewed "The Midtown Men," who originally toured as the original "Jersey Boys" until a lawsuit put the kibosh on that! Christian Hoff, who won the Tony Award for playing Tommy DeVito, was in the original cast of Tommy, which was in one of those tight Tony Award races that happened with Avenue Q vs. Wicked…all the way back to Music Man vs. West Side Story. What's nice to know is that even though the shows were competing, the casts got along. As a matter of fact, Christian said that he and some cast members had a break in the middle of their show that directly coincided with Chita Rivera's break during Spider Woman so the Tommy cast would spend their break hanging out with Chita in her dressing room! My question is, if they were in different theatres, how did they know their breaks were at the same time? Did Christian and his friends look across the street and see Chita through the window of her dressing room, sitting on her divan? Did they go to the stage doorman and ask if she was available for a playdate? Speaking of Spider Woman, I used to work as a keyboard sub on that show. I was subbing for Jeff Saver, who also conducted and is an all-around great guy. He just moved back to New York after spending a few years out of town. He moved away so his wife could get treatment for colon cancer, from which she eventually died. He wants me to spread the word that women need colonoscopies! Get one early, ladies! When his wife was diagnosed, she was 40 years old and had no family history. He told me that by the time you feel something, it's too late and if they had caught a polyp early on, it would have been easy to treat. So, ladies…get thee to a colonoscopy. ASAP!

Now, let's take a little break by watching my deconstruction of Gavin Creel and Sutton Foster. Amazing singing, amazing vibrato!

This week, I fly to Winnepeg (!) to play for Andrea Martin on a TV comedy special and then I play for Betty Buckley in New York for two shows! (Go to www.BettyBuckley.com for details). Here is my latest Playbill Obsessed! video where Tituss Burgess sings "Meadowlark," which was originally recorded by Patti LuPone. Tituss has the nerve to take it only one step down from Patti's key! Watch, listen and have prednisone on hand.

Tonight, April 4, I'm going to a benefit for the Point Foundation which helps fund LGBT young people who are pursuing academia. It's star-studded! Kelly Ripa, Andy Cohen, Ellen Barkin, Rob Thoms, etc., plus Montego Glover is singing. And, I'm playing for Kerry Butler, who's performing the 11 o'clock number from Catch Me If You Can, which brought down the house on the day I saw it. Yay! I'm also the auctioneer assistant and in charge of making people donate big by being sassy. Here's info on the event. Peace out and go see a show!

(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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