ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Hey, Old Friends!

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Hey, Old Friends!
Well, it's always fun to announce something and then, two minutes later, completely take back what you announced.
Rusty Mowery (in and out of Legally Blonde costume)
Rusty Mowery (in and out of Legally Blonde costume)

Essentially, the NFFR (National Foundation for Facial Reconstruction) and I decided that the cost of doing Broadway 101 on Broadway for one night would be way too high for this (I can't believe I'm using this hackneyed expression) economic climate. We really want the money to go to the charity and couldn't reconcile how much cash would have to be diverted for production costs to get the show up. Even when something is a benefit, there are many hidden costs, and it just seemed too extravagant to divert that much money when it could be going to help kids get facial reconstructive surgery. So, after many emails, phone calls, IMs and webcams (not really the last one), we're going to scale down all the costs and put up a show instead at Cipriani, where the NFFR is having their gala dinner and auction. It'll essentially be Broadway 101 lite. The only thing not lite will be my weight because when we finally decided to cancel it, my two-day diet stopped abruptly. Go to nffr.org for deets.

The other fun thing that happened this weekend is I was lifting a pot full of pasta and some water fell on my hand. Some boiling water, I might add. I felt like both the mother and the daughter from The Beauty Queen of Leenane. The bad timing part about having a burnt hand is that I'm just about to start a four-week run of Betty Buckley's By Request show at Feinstein's. Why do I always injure myself every February? Last year, I was sledding in Vermont, and I smashed my thumb into a tree. And the next day I had to spend six hours playing for the Legally Blonde reality show. I don't know which was worse; the pain coming from my hand or the pain of listening to some of those girls trying to hold the last C sharp of "So Much Better." Actually, I do know which was worse. And, a lot of times it came out as a C natural.

Let's talk Broadway; I just saw In the Heightsfor the sixth time. I seriously think I could see that show every week. There were three understudies on, including one for Lin-Manuel Miranda. A lot of times, when a show is built around a star, it falters when that person isn't in it anymore. PS, on a side note, I never saw Cheryl Ladd do Annie Get Your Gun after Bernadette Peters left, but the Forbidden Broadway song they had her singing was set to "There's No Business Like Show Business," and the title was "I've No Business In Show Business." Anyhoo, even though Lin-Manuel was out (he stars in the show and wrote the score) the audience was cheering like crazy by the end of the show. What I also realized after seeing In the Heights again is that sometimes I go to big Broadway hits and I'm very aware of the fact that the actors are slotted into the show. As in, everyone is told exactly where to stand, how to say certain lines/sing certain phrases, and the whole show works like a machine. Yet, I've seen In the Heights so many times, and it always seems so fresh and spontaneous. What I'm trying to say is: I want to be in In the Heights! Where is the In the Heights for Jewish people? In Golan Heights?

On Wednesday I had Jeff Blumenkrantz on my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show. Jeff and I met doing the show The Pajama Game when I was an intern at the Equity Library Theater…in 1986! I've literally known him for 23 years! ELT, as it was known, was like Encores! in the sense that they did revivals, but the cast was basically Equity members trying to get seen…aka a "showcase" which was a big thing in the eighties. Everyone got paid…in subway tokens. Literally. You got two per work day. Jeff had a small part (he recalled that his role was literally "worker number 2"), but during intermission there was something called "The Pitch," where the ensemble all sang their own 16 bars and asked the audience for money to keep the theatre going. Since it was Pajama Game, our music director, Fran Minarek, kept the songs sleep- related and Jeff sang a great cut of "Dream a Little Dream of Me." When the reviews came out, he got an excellent shout-out in the NY Times, and he suddenly began getting auditions for everything. He didn't, however, have an audition for the then-new Sondheim show, Into the Woods, but he went to the audition as pianist for one of his friends, Ivy Austin. FYI, Ivy was the lead in , one of the classic eighties bombs. It ran for a delicious five performances. All I know is, it was called Raggedy Ann…but it wasn't for kids. Didn't anybody realize the incongruity? That's like calling something High School Musical and having it be about a methadone clinic. Anyhoo, after Jeff played for Ivy, Paul Gemignani asked him to sing. He knew Jeff from the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific (that's right…there was one in the eighties before the recent revival) and figured that since Jeff was there, he might as well sing. The next day, Jeff got a call from a stage manager saying that Into the Woods would be auditioning choreographers, and they needed bodies for the choreographer to move around. They asked Jeff if he was interested, and he asked how much money he would get. He figured that since it was gonna be him and a bunch of just-starting-out actors, he might as well make some bucks. He showed up and, turns out, it was him and the cast of Into the Woods: Chip Zien, Joanna Gleason etc..! He freaked out! After that, there were little concerts around town introducing music from the show, and Jeff was asked to sing in those. Finally, they asked him if he would understudy Jack and both princes. And this was all because he played someone's audition. AKA, yet again, the Leroy from "Fame" syndrome. Please be aware: Anyone who brings someone else to an audition can be sure that the person who's there "just for fun" will be starring in said show and the person with the actual audition will exit down a long staircase, cursing.

Jeff is also a great composer. He sang a beautiful song he wrote called "Hold My Hand," which I put up on my website (www.SethRudetsky.com), and you can download his incredibly popular podcast at his groovy website, www.JeffBlumenkrantz.com. Then I had Paul Caanan and Tory Ross on the show. Tory just played Hatchet Face in Cry-Baby, and she's about to go into 9 to 5. Last time I interviewed her, I told you about how Mel Brooks yelled at Tory at her first rehearsal for the national tour of The Producers (http://www.playbill.com/celebritybuzz/article/118950.html). But I didn't know that she wound up playing that role in the movie! I guess she was forgiven. Paul was one of the judges on the Legally Blonde reality show and was also in the ensemble. He said that certain nights, there would be so many girls out of the show, they wouldn't have enough onstage to spell out Elle Woods' name at the end of Act One, so the dance captain, Rusty Mowery, would have to go on for one of the girls. Rusty is a boy. He would put on a full drag makeup and try to be one of the gorgeous Southern Californian sorority sisters. I begged Rusty for a picture of himself, and he said he would send it only if I showed his regular headshot. Underneath the sorority picture he sent he wrote: "Now that's a hard core dance captain sacrificing his dignity to keep the curtain up, when the b******* don't show up for their gig!!!!"

On Thursday I had a gaggle of Shrek cast members come to the Chatterbox. First was the brilliant Jennifer Simard, who plays the wicked witch and was recently hilarious in Spelling Bee. Jennifer and I met not long after I met Jeff Blumenkrantz (I was going to sub on Forbidden Broadway and she was in it) and then she was one of the stars of my first comedy sketch show, "An Evening With Joyce DeWitt." I wrote the show with Jack Plotnick and at the end, we featured a musical version of "Three's Company." Jennifer was a brilliant Janet Wood, and at the Chatterbox, she gave an impromptu performance of Janet's Act Two tearjerker. Right before the song, Jack and Chrissy head out to the Reagle Beagle and Janet is left alone. I will now write some of the lyrics for your perusal.

(Janet smiles and yells "Goodbye" to Jack and Chrissy. The door closes. She is blank-faced.)
I'm not the pretty one…
I'm just a laugh a minute.
My smile may be big and bright…
But there's pain it.

(After the modulation)
I'm not the pretty one…
Men don't really seem to care.
Do my snappy comebacks scare them off?
Or is it my short, short, short black hair?

Also at the Chatterbox was Dennis Stowe, who was brilliant as Lionel Ritchie in the Varla Jean Merman parody video of "Hello" with me as the blind ballerina (watch it on my website). Dennis was in the show Naked Boys Singing, and I asked him if his mom ever came to see it, and he said she did...and laughed the whole time. Laughter through tears? Dennis' friends refused to come for a long time, and he said he would constantly berate them with "I am in a legitimate Off-Broadway show!". When they finally showed up, he saw them in the audience with their Playbills literally over their faces. They occasionally peeked around the side of it, but were too mortified to full-out look. I had the same reaction from my friends when I played Susan Lucci's choreographer on "All My Children"…and it wasn't because I was naked.

Bobby Daye was at the Chatterbox as well. I've also known him around as long as Jeff Blumenkrantz! We did Pageant together back in the early nineties when I took over as conductor and he took over as Miss Industrial Northeast. Bobby told us that he first moved to New York in the eighties and was working in a piano bar. The late Vinnie Liff (wonderful casting director) came in, and after listening to Bobby, asked him to audition for Dreamgirls. He also told Bobby to bring an 8x10. Bobby agreed…but didn't know what it meant. When he got there, he found out that 8x10 meant headshot, which he didn't have. So, he thought fast and walked into the audition with a picture. A picture that he drew! He literally gave them a hand-drawn picture of his face and then sang for them. They liked him and kept asking him to sing something else. He didn't have any music, but he knew a lot of songs from working in piano bars, so he just kept running out into the lobby and writing chord charts. He finally got cast in the show and loved it. However, one day, after two years, Michael Peters (the choreographer) came to do a brush-up rehearsal. Michael Peters also choreographed the Michael Jackson "Thriller" videos that became world famous. But, Bobby remembered, on the day of the brush-up rehearsal, he was cranky. He made Bobby do a high kick over and over again… and finally said, in front of the whole cast, "We're paying him to do this?" Ouch! On Broadway, you get a letter if you've done something wrong, and if you get three letters, you can get fired. Bobby knew he was going to get a letter that night. He showed up to the show and the stage manager said, "Michael Peters left a letter for you." And Bobby said, "And here's a letter for you. My resignation!" Sassy! Bobby gave his notice, but wanted Michael Bennett to know why he was leaving. He made an appointment and showed up at his office. Bobby told him that he was hired as a singer, not a dancer, and felt he was being used as a scapegoat because Michael Peters was in a bad mood. Michael Bennett said, "Well, I can't give you your job back." Bobby said he knew that, but he just wanted to explain himself. He left the show…and one month later, Michael Bennett called and gave him his job back. Brava! The whole story is a big version of "You can't fire me, I quit" on Bobby's side, and on Michael Bennett's side it's retooled as "I can't hire you back, you're re-hired."

Okay, I'm rushing over to Feinstein's for the final dress rehearsal of Betty Buckley's show. Come see us…and request something from Carrie! *

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway" and the novel "Broadway Nights." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and hosts the BC/EFA benefit weekly interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama every Thursday at 6 PM. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethrudetsky.com.)

Dennis Stowe, Jennifer Simard, Seth Rudetsky and Bobby Daye
Dennis Stowe, Jennifer Simard, Seth Rudetsky and Bobby Daye
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