Onstage & Backstage: Cheyenne Jackson's Close Encounter With Sutton Foster and a Late Night With Martin Short and Bette Davis

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Cheyenne Jackson's Close Encounter With Sutton Foster and a Late Night With Martin Short and Bette Davis
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.


Back to the cold weather. I spent the weekend in the deliciously warm South, and now I'm heading back to chilly New York and soon to freezing Toronto. Why was I in the South, you ask telepathically? Because I started this year's Broadway @ season in New Orleans and the one in San Antonio at the Woodlawn Theatre. I was in New Orleans with the handsome and smooth-voiced Cheyenne Jackson. We did a concert Friday night, and afterwards there was a great reception organized by Wedon Brown at a beautiful mansion owned by Marc Behar and his partner, which is where Patti LuPone's character lived (and died) on "American Horror Story." Next door was the mansion where the "American Horror Story" coven lived, and Cheyenne and I had to take photos in front of it because it's stunning/terrifying.

Photo by Wedon Brown

Before our show, Cheyenne and I did a Q & A session with the theatre students at Nocca, an arts high school. Someone asked how many Broadway auditions Cheyenne had before he got his first Broadway show and the answer was none. He got the very first show he auditioned for in New York, Betty Buckley-style. It was Thoroughly Modern Millie and he became the understudy for Gavin Creel and Marc Kudisch. However, Cheyenne told the kids he "paid his dues." Of course, for most actors, when you want to prove to people how you paid your dues you tell them, "I did years of summer stock!" or "I did non-stop chorus work!" For Cheyenne, who first described his childhood growing up in rural Idaho with no running water, he reminded everyone he paid his dues by yelling, "C'mon, everyone! I had an outhouse!" Good point.

He enjoyed being an understudy in Millie, but he mentioned one mishap he had onstage. He and Sutton were doing what's known as the "Scooby Doo Scene" where they're sitting close to each, quickly stand up, turn to each other, say a few quick lines, then sit down again. Cheyenne said that one time he and Sutton were sitting super close like they're supposed to, and when they stood up and turned to each other, they were so close they bumped foreheads. No, I mean they bumped noses. No, actually what he was, they bumped teeth. Yes, apparently his teeth and her teeth made contact. I told him I've never heard of such a thing, and he explained that both he and Sutton have big teeth and when their faces turned towards each other quickly, both sets of their chompers crashed into each other. Let me simply say they must have been really close and/or the size of their teeth qualify them to skip the preliminary auditions and go right to final callbacks for the musical version of "Alien."

Seth with David Steinberg
Seth with David Steinberg Photo by Chris Smith

Speaking of onstage Broadway mishaps, Entertainment Weekly printed a huge article where I listed my favorite ten Broadway debacles! It's a promotion for my new book "Seth's Broadway Diary," which you can order right here, and you can read the article with disasters from Wicked, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Seussical, Phantom and more here. I had two Canadian comedians on "Seth Speaks." First was David Steinberg, who is from the northern part of Canada, but wound up coming to America for college. While in college, he was acting in a production of The Caine Mutiny Court Marshall and forgot his lines. In his panic, he wound up making up dialogue that had nothing to do with the show. The play basically made no sense, and the audience started laughing because it was so bizarre. Well, like a bad sitcom episode where and angry boss storms over and yells, "How dare you….(suddenly smiling) be so brilliant!?" the director came backstage and told David that the audience loved it so much he should do the same thing the next night! David told us how much the cast "loved him" (aka not at all) because they were told to do the play as is as he just pranced around saying whatever came into his head.

This led David to Chicago's Second City and then his own TV show in Canada called "The David Steinberg Show." It was amazingly ahead of its time: The premise was the making of a weekly talk/variety show where you saw all the people involved... aka "The Larry Sanders Show." This was in 1976! Plus, David put together the cast which was Dave Thomas, Martin Short, Joe Flaherty and Andrea Martin, AKA he put together the people who then did "SCTV." The show was popular, but was cancelled the following year for "Stars On Ice" because, as David says, in Canada, anything "on ice" is better. He told me about one plot involving Ethel Merman coming on the show (!) and they decided to sing "You're Just In Love." That's the song where the guy sings, "I hear singing and there's no one there…" and Ethel sings, "You don't need analyzing…" and then both parts are sung together. The joke was that that every time they rehearsed the song, David would start on his own part but get sucked into singing Ethel's part. Finally, Martin Short, who played a cheesy lounge singer (before Bill Murray on "SNL") is primed to take over for David. Then the following scene happens.

Seth with Martin Short
Seth with Martin Short Photo by Chris Smith

Speaking of Martin Short, his new book "I Must Say" just came out, and I loved it! He gives great show biz stories and insight into all his characters including one of my favorites, Jiminy Glick. I'm obsessed with Jiminy's interview of Edie Falco. Everything Marty does as that character is improvised, and at one point he's talking about her playing a prison guard and then asks if she'd ever been arrested. She says no, and when she asks if he's ever been arrested he does that old improv rule of saying "yes and." He says he was arrested for shoplifting. She asks if he actually shoplifted and he immediately says yes. He elaborates: "I took a curling iron and tube of this wonderful cream called Ass Be Gone. You rub it in and you look thinner from certain angles." So hilarious. Then later on he begins to ask a question and she speaks at the same time. He immediately shushes her and then goes into a rant about the fact that he has more questions and when she interrupts him, he can't "double task." "How can I possibly double task? You expect too much from me, girl. (Pause) I don't mean to get heavy, and I know you're my guest, but that's wrong!" I am so obsessed with it. Marty told me he loves the fact that he shushed her because he thinks it's such a horrible thing to do. Edie later told him that it really did scare her in the moment. Watch!

Marty said he never has had and will never get plastic surgery because it always looks bad on a man. He thinks that when 65-year-old women get work done, she can look like a sexy 45-year-old. He then said he if got surgery, people would say, "Who's that 65-year-old man who's been in a fire?" On my radio show, he told us about the time he, Eugene Levy and Paul Shaffer went to Las Vegas. They saw Ann-Margret, Wayne Newton and Liza Minnelli. At one point, in the middle of the show, Liza introduced the famous people in the audience. She talked about what a great musician Paul Shaffer was and pointed him out to the audience. She introduced Eugene but obviously didn't know who he was since she introduced him as "Eugene Leevy." Marty assumed he was next, but then he heard her begin to talk about someone who obviously wasn't him. She was waxing rhapsodically about a guy "who really helped her though some tough times." Since Marty had never met her, he knew it wasn't him. He did hear that George Hamilton was in the audience and assumed Liza and he were friends. She went on and on about how "this genius was always there for her" when she was down in the dumps. "Hmm…" Marty thought, "I like George Hamilton, but I don't know if anyone would describe him as a genius…" Finally, Liza introduced the man "who was the reason why I survived the previous year… Mr. Martin Short!" He was completely miffed, but stood up nonetheless. He later found out Liza was referring to the fact that whenever she needed a lift, she would watch him on TV.

Andrea Martin would play Lorna Minnelli on "SCTV," and here's a quick clip where she and Catherine O'Hara as Lola Heatherton are doing an opening number. I love the very end where Lorna is leaving the stage and has to do her signature hand move one more time.

My other favorite Marty story involves his first time on "The Tonight Show." The other guest was Bette Davis (!) and his friend told him he'd give him $50 if he did Bette Davis to Bette Davis. So, Marty came out, gave Johnny a nice hello then turned to Bette and said, as her, "And whaaaat a pleasure to meet you!" She simply said, "Thaaaaank you." No reaction at all? Marty then realized that she had no idea who he was so she probably thought that was his actual speaking voice. He told us that throughout his interview with Johnny, whenever the camera was just on Marty, there was always a plume of smoke coming from the left because Bette was sitting there, blank-facedly smoking up a storm.

Johnny started talking to Marty about his various imitations and Bette piped up and asked, "Do you do me?" Of course, he had already done her, but he decided to do her again and said, as her, "Well, you're noooot that easy to do!" Bette remained blank-faced and told him, "Theeeen skip it." To this day, he doesn't know if she was in on the joke and simply "Yes and-ing" him! Here he is telling the story. Marty would always play a Bette Davis character on "Primtime Glick." She was called Miss Gathercole and was based on the lady who always was in the audience for "The Tonight Show." But Miss Gathercole would sit in the front row, with her nurse and make rude remarks while smoking. I love how Jiminy tells the audience that there's "nothing quite as much fun than an embittered older person. Especially when they're in that 'personal hygiene is for sissys' phase." Watch! Well, I'm now at Newark airport, ready for my fifth plane trip in four days (I had to take a connecting flight to San Antonio) and after this, my next gig is Nov. 22 in the Poconos with the hilarious/high belting Ana Gasteyer. Tix/info here. Best of all, I can get there by car. Delish! Peace out.

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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