I can't believe it's about to be August! That means it's less than three months until a big event on Broadway that I'm involved with…but can't announce quite yet. Let me start this week's column with last Wednesday, July 25, when I did "Seth Speaks" with Lea DeLaria, who was a hilarious guest. She told us that she began doing stand-up in San Francisco in the '80s and her stage name was simply "Big Fat Dyke." She wound up being a hit but had to get rid of the stage name and go back to being Lea DeLaria because when she'd walk down the street people would yell from their cars, "Big Fat Dyke!!!" She didn't know if they were fans or if they were harassing her. In the late '90s, she flew in from California when she was asked to audition for On the Town — and she got the role of Hildy, the brash cab driver. She only had experience doing TV and film so when they started dress rehearsals she told someone, "I can't wait to see what the make-up person does with my make-up!" She then found out that Broadway ain't like TV, and the make-up person's name was Lea DeLaria. The show opened in Central Park and she and her manager hiked it down to the New York Times building at 2 AM to get the review on the night it came out. Lea said she started reading the first paragraph and saw that it was about her. Then the second. Then the third. At this point she sat on the sidewalk to keep reading. There were seven paragraphs lauding her! Here it is. Soon, "I Can Cook, Too!" became her signature song and she was asked to sing it at many events, including the big Leading Ladies concert at Carnegie Hall. Lea was freaked out to be performing with so many big stars until she saw Audra McDonald backstage. Audra walked by and told Lea that she was a nervous wreck. Lea then thought, "If a Tony winner is nervous, then it's OK that I'm nervous," and that made her calm down. I remember that night because I played for Audra! She did a version of "Down With Love," the climax of which I arranged. We first ripped off the Barbra Streisand version of the song but changed the middle where Barbra mocks a medley of love songs. Instead, we interpolated a medley of Barbra's love songs to mock and then at the end I added a shout-out to the love song Audra sang when she won her first Tony. She was a brava! Watch! Lea then went on and sassed her song. Andrea McArdle was standing backstage listening to Lea bring the house down and when she came on to sing, she complained about having to follow something so fabulous. She then passed Lea backstage and Lea introduced herself. Andrea stared and said, "You're Lea?" Lea said, "Yeah." Andrea then said, "I thought you were black!" Speaking of Andrea and Lea, they're both performing tonight at 54 Below!
And speaking of Audra, Lea said she knew she had to share a dressing room at Carnegie Hall with one of the other ladies and hoped it was with Audra. Because she's a fan? Lea said, "No, because she's HOT!" Lea's wishes weren't exactly granted. She didn't get to share a dressing room with Audra, but she did get to share one with another great lady of the theatre, but one who is perhaps not as "hot": Elaine Stritch.
Faith went to Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and when she graduated she was voted "Most Talented." But it still took her ten years to get to Broadway! When she first moved to New York, her mom came to visit and Faith took her to see a little Off-Broadway show called Scrambled Feet. I saw that show when I was a kid and loved it. It was like a precursor to Forbidden Broadway, with comedy songs and quick black-out sketches. Faith went to see it because her college friend, Jimmy Walton, was the understudy and he was going on. The show starred three men and one woman, and at intermission her mom turned to Faith and said, "You would be good in this show." Since her mom was not a Mama Rose-type, Faith really listened when her mom would say something like that. As opposed to my mom, who would take me to Ain't Misbehavin' and ask me why I didn't audition. Back to Faith. During Act Two, she watched and imagined herself in the show and decided she was right for it. After the bows, there was a question-and-answer session with the cast because theatre students from Colorado were there. Faith, who is normally very shy, suddenly got up the courage to raise her hand. When she was finally called on, her question was, "Do you need another woman?" The actor onstage was taken aback but then asked her "Do you sing?" "Yes!" she answered. Then, since everyone in the show had to play piano (they accompanied each other), the actor asked if Faith played. "Absolutely!" she said.
I also asked Faith about the first Broadway show I saw her in — Jerome Robbins' Broadway. She reminded me that people auditioned for months and months, and, even though most Broadway shows rehearse six weeks, they rehearsed for six months! I've heard a lot of stories about Robbins being mean, so I asked her about her experience with that. She remembered rehearsing the scene before "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" where she was Tessie Tura, the stripper. It was now the fifth month of rehearsal. As the scene was being done, she heard Jerry Robbins snapping his fingers in the back indicating they needed to move faster. She stopped, turned to him and said, "No. This moment needs a pause to get the laugh." He told her no, it didn't. She said it did. He told her it didn't. Finally, she said, "Well, sir, there's no way I'd know that because we've been rehearsing the same thing over and over again for months and months with no audience!" Paul Gemingnani, the famous music director, turned to her and said, "You have the balls of God." Rehearsal ended and, like the duck fiasco, she thought she'd be fired. That night, Debbie Shapiro was throwing a Christmas Party. Faith showed up and the first person she saw was…Jerry Robbins. They looked at each other and finally Faith said, "Merry Christmas." Jerry looked at her and said, "Merry Christmas, Faith." Then he continued. "And listen… the next time we have a fight, can we talk about it right away? Because I've been upset all day long." Turns out, the show should have been called Jerome Robbins: Softie.
The whole concert was filmed and will soon be SethTV.com! And, speaking of which, the trailer for episode four of "Seth's Reality" is now up on my site; take a gander and what's coming up. And now I must finish my YA novel's sequel, which is almost two months late! I recently proudly posted on my Facebook wall, "Just finished Chapter 15 of my sequel." My friend Tim then commented: "Is it June 1st yet?" Busted. And 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.)