ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Home for the Holiday

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Home for the Holiday
A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth Rudetsky and Juli with Shrek star Brian d'Arcy James
Seth Rudetsky and Juli with Shrek star Brian d'Arcy James


Hello, everyone! This is my last post in 2008. Wah! Sad face. COL (crying out loud).

Anyhoo, I just got back from Houston, and here's my update. Let's see: Before I left, I went to see Shrek and must give a shout out to the terrific cast. Chris Sieber had so many fun-nee moments as Lord Farquaad that I have briefly forgiven him for appearing on the Olsen twin sitcom "Two of a Kind." Let me follow that with a. I don't have a sitcom credit for anyone to forgive me for and b. I'm sure Chris is accepting my forgiveness as he rows to his stunning accessible-only-by-boat manse he bought with his sitcom money. I spoke to him afterwards about the moment in Act Two when he pulls up on his horse and says, "Whoa, Xanadu." Apparently, he changes the name of his horse nightly, (recent names: Beyonce and Condoleeza). Hmm…perhaps "Rudetsky" could one day be an option? Are there Jewish horses? Holsteins? Are they just cows?

Speaking of Jewish cows, my sister (no, not her…wait for it) was visiting from Norfolk and went to a Jewish Steakhouse (aka Jewish cow) on Saturday with another couple and their rabbi (and his wife) from her shul. I told Nancy I would stop by "for drinks" (Manischewitz?) and as soon as I sat down Nancy commented on my inappropriate outfit. Not only was I wearing a T-shirt in a fancy restaurant, but the restaurant itself was Glatt Kosher and my shirt boasted an enormous lobster. She made me black the non-kosherness by holding a menu in front of me while we were at the table, but before I left I got a fabulous picture of us. PS, I've had it with her anyway. She called me last Monday and said that when she went to Playbill.com, she saw the picture on top of my column and got so excited that I had finally gotten a new headshot where I looked "stunning." She then took a closer look and saw that it was Raul Esparza.

I spent all day Saturday with her adorable daughters and need to write about one of my classic calamities. Both girls (Rachel Sarah and Eliana) go to Yeshiva and are constantly talking about things that they think I understand but have no idea about since I went to public school. A few years ago I was talking to Rachel Sarah and asked her if she was excited about going into fourth grade. Rachel Sarah said that she was, but this year was different because they have to "learn Neesach." I had a vague idea that neesach was maybe something to do with a prayer on Saturdays so I decided to give her some confidence and said, "You're so smart, you can do it!" Then Rachel Sarah randomly said, "My neighbor gave me a pear" and I thought, "That's so sweet! It's like those children from the 1920's who would get an orange for Christmas and think it was an amazing gift." I stayed on the fruit theme and replied, "You know, when I lived in Brooklyn, I used to have a peach tree!" She mumbled goodbye and handed the phone to my sister. Nancy heard the whole conversation and asked me what the H I was talking about. Huh? I haughtily said that I was being a supportive/fascinating uncle. No. Turns out, Rachel Sarah didn't say that this year she had to learn neesach, she said that this year she had to "wear kneesocks"! To which my incongruous reply was "You're smart! You can do it!" Huh? Rachel Sarah didn't then tell me about the new pear she got, instead continued talking about socks and said, "My neighbor gave me a pair." My non-sequitor reply was, "When I lived in Brooklyn, I used to have a peach tree." WHAT? I'm sure she was racking her nine-year-old brain trying to find a connection 'til she finally threw the phone in horror towards her mother. Back to Shrek. I must declare: Sutton Foster is a gift to Broadway. She literally can do anything. She's such a great actress, such a great comedian and a brilliant belt-ress. Plus, she's an actual dancer, not just a moves well-er (She was one of the dancers in the national tour of The Will Rogers Follies when she was a senior in high school.) Her career is like one of those Broadway stars from the fifties: a new leading role every two years. And, I love how she remains on Broadway and hasn't done the annoying "I'm moving to L.A. to do film and television." One of my favorite Sutton stories involves her famous family. Her actor/writer brother Hunter is married to dancer/comedienne Jen Cody (also in Shrek). When Sutton first came to visit Hunter in New York, Hunter and Jen (and I) were doing Grease on Broadway. There was an open call, and Sutton told Jen and Hunter that she was going to give it a shot, got her 16 bars in her hands and breezed out of the apartment. Jen remembers shaking her head and commenting to Hunter, with a know-it-all Broadway attitude, "Sutton needs to learn that you don't just show up at your first New York open call and immediately get cast" — and, essentially, before she was finished talking, Sutton ran back into the apartment screaming, "I got it!" Busted!

More lauding. Brian d'Arcy James was great as Shrek and sang up a storm on all of his songs. Speaking of singing up a storm, Brian told me that he was once at an audition, belting out his audition song. He hit a high note at the end and as soon as he did, he was mortified at how booming he sounded and how inappropriate it was for such a small room. So instead of holding the note for the full 16 counts, he cut himself off after 13 beats and sang (on the same pitch), "Too loud!" to make a joke and acknowledge that he was aware of how crazy he sounded. He finished with a big smile and was met by a sea of blank faces. Perhaps they didn't know he was joking and were judging him for having the nerve to change classic lyrics to "To rea-e-e-e-e-each…the unreacheable…sta-a-a-a-a-a-a-ars! Too Loud!!!!! He did not get the gig.

After Shrek I went backstage with Juli and as we were walking into Brian's dressing room, I heard someone on a speakerphone. We entered the room, and I realized that the person speaking was Brian and saw that the reason it sounded like he was on a speakerphone was because his head was underneath a towel! As he gets his mask/make-up off every night, a warm towel is put over his head every few minutes to help steam off the green make-up. It's annoying, but his skin looks amazing!

Oh! I forgot to mention this story in my column last week. In 1999 I was doing a monthly comedy show with Jack Plotnick at Caroline's here in Manhattan. At the time, I was a writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," and one of my fellow writers, Caissie St. Onge, came to see the show. Afterwards, she mentioned that she had a young friend who worked with her when she was at "Sesame Street," and he wanted to be on Broadway one day. I was very polite as I bestowed a nod his way with the subtext of "Many people want to work on Broadway, and most do not make it. Farewell, young lad." Of course, a few years later, I was clamoring to get him booked for my Chatterbox when he got his Tony nomination for Avenue Q. Yes, it was John Tartaglia, and yes, I acted like a male Jen Cody.

Misleading marquee
photo by James Wesley

I forgot to mention that when I was in Austin, TX, I was obsessed with the marquee above the local theatre. Look at the photo in the sidebar to see what I mean. It blatantly looks like Ain't Misbehavin' starring Carol Burnett. I'm all for non-traditional casting, but not if it's going to give me a traditional headache. I gained a massive amount of weight while in Houston and, upon returning, scheduled an emergency training session at my gym. I went two days after Christmas day, and right next to me was Donna McKechnie. Wow, I thought. It is "Turkey Lurkey Time"! She said that I was looking very built (I still got it!), and then she said that I was "ruining my image." I loved her comment 'til I began to think about what image I was ruining. Hmm…apparently, someone out of shape. She, of course, looked great and is about to star in Steppin' Out in Naples, Florida. I'm always asking her for Chorus Line info, and I loved finding out that while most of the dancers in that original cast were acting out their lives, her story was mostly given to the character of Maggie. Donna is the one who used to "dance around the living room with my arms up." Donna's family thought she was putting her arms up above her head to look like a ballet dancer (in high 5th position), but she told me that her arms were like that because she was imagining putting them all the way up on her partner's shoulders. Speaking of A Chorus Line, I just remembered a hilarious story that Kelly Bishop told me during a Chatterbox. She won the Tony Award for playing Sheila, and if you've ever listened to the cast album, you'd know that she's not what you'd call a "high belter." A few years after A Chorus Line, she had an audition and was very nervous about hitting the high notes in the song. She finally got her nerve up, walked into the audition room and sang. She finished the song, they thanked her and after she walked out of the room, she turned to her pianist and beamed saying, "Wow! That wasn't so high after all! I hardly had any trouble hitting the high notes." He looked at her and said, "Kelly. You sang the whole song down an octave." I love how, even one full octave down, she "hardly" had any trouble hitting the high notes.

And, finally, here's the update on James' mom. She began chemo last week… and had no side effects! She literally danced a jig when we came to pick her up. Juli is still down in Texas visiting with her, so James and I are going to see lots of shows this week because we don't have to hire a babysitter. Delicious! New Year's Eve will be a game night at my place, and then New Year's Day will be the traditional pancakes at Julia Murney's. Okay, everyone, as we said in elementary school and thought was hilarious: See you next year!


(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.)

Seth and sister Nancy
Seth and sister Nancy
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