ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Gay or European?

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Gay or European?
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Buon Giorno. And, hola! I'm on the Alitalia flight to Rome from Barcelona. Then I get on a flight from Rome to JFK. It's fun to not only not have a direct flight, but for your first flight to be in the opposite direction. Insert the Italian word for Yay!

Anyhoo, my European working vacation was great. The first day was in Monaco, which is beautiful. We went to a museum dedicated to Matisse in Nice, which coincidentally rhymes. Because this was a smaller rFamily cruise than usual, we didn't have a big opening show. Instead, [AUDIO-LEFT]the first show on the boat was comedian Julie Goldman from LOGO's "The Big Gay Sketch Show." The audience loved her, and I was so happy that she commented on something James and I were obsessed with: All of the other rFamily cruises were for gay parents and their kids, but this one was a regular cruise with a section chartered for rFamily. There was no way to know who was a regular cruiser and who wasn't. We thought it would be obvious who was whom, but it wound up being a case of the Legally Blonde song coming true. How can anyone possibly tell who is gay and who is European? Two men hugging and kissing on each cheek? European. Man with bright yellow pants? European. Lady with short-cropped hair and unshaven legs? European. It was exhausting. A hilarious section of Julie's act was about a lesbian wedding she went to in San Francisco. She was devastated to find out that not only was the wedding vegan, but each guest had to do chores like food prep and clean-up. Also, it was over an entire weekend, and guests were supposed to attend workshops ("Understanding the Trans World") and camp in the woods! She commented that she may look like a tough girl who wears flannel and wants to dirty it up by sleeping outside, but although she's a lesbian on the outside, underneath it all she's a Jew first and foremost and she wants a four-star hotel. Brava!

The next day we docked in Florence (Henderson), Italy. That's when Anika Larsen finally arrived and we got the full story from her: The night before she was supposed to fly to Italy she was packing and took a quick glance at her passport. When she saw that it expired, she went through all the stages of grief and then repeatedly kept looking at the expiration date muttering, "Wait…Apr/Avr definitely stands for April, right?" She finally accepted that she couldn't take the flight she was scheduled for, so she bought a whole new round-trip ticket. To Europe. It was either that or buy a house. Well, she got her new passport and flew to Italy via London. After all of that stress, she took the train through Italy to where the boat was docked, but Italy has this weird thing where you have to validate your ticket after you buy it. Anika didn't know, so when the conductor came over to her on the train and said he had to fine her, the stress of the last three days hit her and she started weeping uncontrollably. Then she got off the train and on the way out of the station, she realized that she left her suitcase on the train! Weeping. She ran back to the track and, magically, it hadn't left the station yet. After babbling in a combination of whatever foreign languages she knew, she was let back on the train and retrieved her bag. Then when she got to the boat, she was told she wasn't listed as a passenger. More tears. Finally, they found her name, and when they gave her the key to her cabin where all she wanted to do was sleep, the key didn't work. Tears. When she finally got into the room, she noticed some candy. How sweet, she thought. The cruise puts candy in passenger's cabins to welcome them. Then she noticed some coins. Hmmm…that's an interesting gift from a cruise line, she thought. Then she noticed a shirt in the closet. What the-? She realized she was in somebody else's room. No! All she wanted to do was lay down after a horrible three days. She managed to stave off the tears long enough to find out that she was in Julie Goldman's cabin, who had flown back to the U.S. that morning but had left some stuff behind. Ah. Tears again. But of happiness (and jet lag).

Anika Larsen
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Wednesday was Rome. James and I went to the Coliseum and had a guided tour, which was fascinating. And for all of those people who talk about how society is going downhill, just know that in olden times, it was normal for thousands of people to watch two different kinds of animals fight to the death or two gladiators kill each other. So when you're lamenting how reality TV is ruining the world, be happy that Snookie isn't in a death match with Heidi Montag. On Thursday, we went to the place I was looking forward to the most: Pompeii, which was destroyed by an enormous eruption by Mount Vesuvius. They've unearthed 70 percent of the city, and you can walk all around it. I couldn't stop imagining myself living there. Eve though it was built more than 2,000 years ago, it's shocking how advanced that city was. It was essentially like living in New York but not having cable. I felt like I would have loved it. The roads had marble built into it so it could light up at night by reflecting the moonlight. So pretty! Also, there was a stunning gym I would have gone to every morning that had a dry sauna and steam bath. We saw that there were two different-sized theatres, and James felt I could have had a run of Deconstructing Broadway (at the smaller one). Even though I hate the taste of wine, I love that they had a wine bar where people hung out. I also loved how egalitarian it was. There was no rich section of town. A rich person could have a house next to a regular person. And Jewish people lived side-by-side with everyone else in the town, too, as opposed to the fate they suffered most everywhere else (See: Inquisition etc…). We couldn't understand where all the knowledge of technology went after it was destroyed. Why did the horrible Dark Ages have to happen when years before Pompeii-ites were hanging in wine bars after a delicious workout? That night Anika did a version of her show Shafrika: The White Girl, and it went over great. It's about how she grew up with nine brothers and sisters from all different countries. She also talked about her adulthood and how she's often playing lesbians (in Zanna, Don't and Rent to name a few) and then she launched into her song "Ain't Got Time" from Zanna, Don't! She asked James and me to sing back-up, and we all figured out the harmony at the tech rehearsal two hours before the show. Unfortunately, it was like a microcosm of when you cram right before an exam and then forget everything the next day. Unfortunately, we didn't wait 'til the next day to forget it. The hour between the tech and show was enough time to wipe our minds clean. We not only clanked on the harmony, but there was one part where I'm supposed to take over the main melody and Anika is silent. Let's just say that at that moment, Anika wasn't the only one who was silent. Click here a deconstruction of the song: http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/?s=anika&submit=Search

Gregg and Kelli

The next night was the final show, and James and Anika were slated to perform. There was a wide variety of songs from their repertoire that I wanted them to sing. Pop songs like Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation" and David Bowie's "Life on Mars," as well as more traditional stuff from Les Miz and Little Mermaid, etc. I didn't just want to do a performance where I introduced each random song and the show had no beginning, middle and end, so I took a cue from some of the awful jukebox musicals I've done on Broadway — i.e., as long as you have some line before a song that relatively make sense, you can shove whatever you want into that slot, no matter how awkward. So, I wrote a little jukebox musical of how rFamily started and had Gregg and Kelli (the founders) narrate it. Here are two examples from the script of "perfect" lead-ins:

GREGG: Before rFamily existed I was working for Atlantis Cruise lines. En Vogue cancelled at the last minute and when I asked Rosie O'Donnell, whom I was friends with, to recommend a performer, she asked if she could do it. I was thrilled and, naturally, she was a big hit on the cruise. I'm not saying we saw a mermaid in the ocean on that trip, but if we did, she might have sounded something like this. (ANIKA SINGS "Part Of Your World").
GREGG: Suddenly, a crazy plan started forming.
KELLI: What if we could combine the fun of Family Week in Provincetown…
GREGG: With the excitement of an enormous cruise ship?
KELLI: It had never been done before. Hmm…would the kids get along?
KELLI: Would the lesbians feel comfortable by the pool wearing bathing suits?
GREGG: Would the gays feel comfortable by the pool having to actually wear a bathing suit?
KELLI: Is it a crazy idea?
GREGG: Crazy? Why, it's as crazy as wondering if there's… life on Mars. (James sings "Life on Mars.")

The last day was spent on Majorca, which is a beautiful island near Spain. Gregg, Kelli, Parker (her and Rosie's son), James, Anika and I went to a stunning white-sand beach and then decided to rent bikes. Turns out, the bike renter woman said we had to be staying in a hotel to rent them. We explained that we were on a cruise ship. No. We offered our drivers' licenses. No. Credit card? N-O. She then said that all the bike rental places would require the same thing. We were devastated and walked along the boardwalk 'til we saw another bike rental place. Surely this place will be different, I thought. James went up to the bike rental guy and when asked what hotel we were at, I was ready to go into my whole cruise ship/driver's license/credit card routine. Before I could speak, however, James calmly said, "We're staying at the Acapulco." Turns out, James had looked at the names of hotels on the boardwalk, remembered that one and decided to go for it. The guy wrote it down without a comment. "What room?" he asked. "1-0-4-8," said James. The guy didn't quite hear and said, "1-4-8?" I was then obsessed with James' commitment to the lie because he said, mildly exasperated, "1-0-4-8." The guy put down the room number, and we all got bikes! Yay to fraud! Anika was ready for the guy to say, "Really? 1-0-4-8? That hotel only has 4 floors." Silence. Then the sound of five American tourists running. PS, check out the sidebar. Kelli took a picture of me doing my signature arabesque on an illegal bike along the Majorcan boardwalk. Even as a felon, I still got it!

OK, there are only two days left to vote so poor Juli can win her precious, precious iPad. I posted a video of me and Juli singing the song I wrote that sits on the piano (we made out of Moishe's Moving Company boxes). In my plea for people to vote, I wrote that we're too cheap/poor to buy her an iPad. Someone then saw the video, noticed the inappropriate tank top I'm wearing and posted, "Are you also too cheap/poor to buy sleeves?" Touche. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxhAZhkll6s to watch and http://apps.facebook.com/contestshq/contests/34092/voteable_entries/4985874?order=recency&;view_entries=1&ref=mf to vote.

OK, I'm now back in NYC after a flight from Barcelona to Rome and then a flight to JFK. Of course, I was wide-awake at 6 AM this morning. Yay? Tonight we're going to go to the "Grease" sing-a-long movie. Hosted by Didi Conn! And, by the end of the week expect a big announcement about a show I'm doing with an amazing Broadway star at the end of August. Can't reveal more except to say…I'm playing a pianist (trust me, not Lang Lang http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b85hn8rJvgw). Arrivederci Roma! *

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.

Seth executes his signature arabesque
Seth executes his signature arabesque
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