Onstage & Backstage: How Did Neil Patrick Harris Pre-Screen David Burtka Before They Began Dating?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: How Did Neil Patrick Harris Pre-Screen David Burtka Before They Began Dating?
Learn about the quick change that almost didn't happen when Neil Patrick Harris hosted the Tony Awards in this week's look into Seth Rudetsky's life.

Hello from lovely Provincetown! James was able to come with me this weekend because Juli has started French Woods camp. She's 14, so naturally she and her peers are doing You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Just kidding, they're doing Sunset Boulevard! Hilarious! We're going to see it in a few weeks, and I can't wait to see a teen with a bald cap playing Max.

This week began with me doing a show with Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka. Or, as someone on my Facebook posted, "I loved your show with Neil Patrick Harris and Nate Burkus." Hm. I don't know if their iPhone auto corrected the name or if they literally thought Oprah decorator Nate Burkus married Neil Patrick Harris. I'm just glad she didn't think I was Dr. Phil. Anyhoo, we did two sold-out shows at Town Hall and the crowd loved it. David sang "All I Need Is The Girl," which was his song when he played Tulsa in the Bernadette Peters Gypsy, the role he was playing when he met Neil. He told us that one night after the show, he was walking down 9th Ave. in the West 40's with Kate Reinders, his Dainty June, when they ran into Neil. Kate had met Neil in L.A. when she was doing Into The Woods and they became friends. When Neil saw David he gestured towards David and whispered, "Nice job!" to Kate who responded, "David? Oh, he's totally gay." She introduced Neil to David who didn't want Neil to think he was impressed by his celebrity so he squinted his eyes and said (in what Neil calls David "90210" voice) "What's up?…" then looked away.

"Pre-show, pretending we're confident"
"Pre-show, pretending we're confident"

Regardless, the hard-to-get act worked for Neil who began a secret recon mission with Kate; every time Kate knew where she and David were going to hang out after Gyspy, she would call Neil and suddenly, at whatever bar they were in, Neil would casually and by chance just happen to run into David. Daivd couldn't understand why Neil always seemed to be wherever he was, but finally, they went out to dinner and the rest is his&history. PS, before they started officially dating, Neil went to the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library and watched Edward Albee's The Play About The Baby. Not because he's a huge Albee fan, but because David did most of that show totally nude and Neil wanted to check out the merchandise. I guess he passed inspection because they've been together 11 years!

Neil told some great stories about hosting the Tony Awards. His 2011 opening was written by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger and called "It's Not Just For Gays Anymore." They didn't want any columnists writing about the lyrics and ruining the jokes before the show aired, so they worked really hard to keep it hush-hush. They had to record an orchestra track which would play in case the live orchestra had a problem during the broadcast and Neil said he recorded it with totally fake lyrics in case someone blabbed. So, "It's Not Just For Gays Anymore" was changed to the bland "It's Time for The Tony Awards." Neil told us that there was a lyric that went "Come in and be inspired, there's no sodomy required!" Well, the people who look out for bad words on the network told Neil he could not say "sodomy." He thought it was so bizarre because he wasn't saying a slang term; he was actually using the clinical word. Still, they told him to change it to:

"Come in and be inspired
There's no same-sex love required…" Snooze. So, Neil investigated what would happen if he said sodomy "by accident" and when he found out he wouldn't be beeped and the network probably wouldn't be fined, he made a "mistake" during the live broadcast. Watch!

"Pre-show, displaying our actual anxiety"
"Pre-show, displaying our actual anxiety"

Then during another opening number, "Bigger," written by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, he first told us the near mishap that almost happened: When the number began, he was dressed in a Once costume. During the short instrumental break, he was supposed to run offstage and do a very quick change into a full tuxedo. Well, the number began, and there was no tuxedo offstage! His assistant, Zoe Chapin and the assistant choreographer, Spencer Liff, were offstage and freaking out. Spencer quickly took off his suit jacket, thinking Neil could put it on to sass up his outfit. Of course, it would have looked crazy because Neil would have remained dressed in Once khaki pants and shirt with a stunning suit jacket on top for no reason. Zoe realized it was up to her and went sprinting to Neil's dressing room to get his tux. His dressing room on the fourth floor. While she was wearing a gown and crazy high heels! She ran like a lunatic, there and back, and if you watch the number, you'll see the quick change worked perfectly. She literally saved the day, and it's no surprise that she went from being his assistant to now running his production company!

Neil also said that the magic trick during "Magic to Do" section never worked during any rehearsal. The very first time it worked was during the actual number! So terrifying! The other thing to watch for is after he got his "Tom Hooper 'Les Miz' close-up" he was so incredibly happy to get applause when he made the statement, "See, on Broadway, we don't need extreme close-ups to prove we're singing live." Not because he desperately craves applause (which we all do) but because it gave him an unexpected chance to breathe. Watch him happily take in some unexpected delicious O2 while the audience clapped. And, PS, during the really fast rap section before the end, before you're 100 percent impressed that he memorized all of that, just know that he was looking directly into a camera with all the lyrics scrolling. Why can't we have that on Broadway?

I had Tim Federle, former Broadway dancer and young adult author of "Better Nate Than Ever" and "5, 6, 7, Nate" on my "Chatterbox" last week. Partly because I love young adult books and mostly to promote my young adult book! Yes, "The Rise and Fall Of A Theater Geek" is avail everywhere and on Amazon. Andrea Martin just read it and sent me the most amazing email ever. I asked her to post a review on Amazon and then realized her computer skills don't even include the ability to copy and paste. I've taken the liberty to post some highlights:


Dear Seth, I just finished "The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek." You might have written this fabulous book for young readers, or adolescent readers or whatever the market is, but this lady of a certain age devoured it. I laughed out loud SO many times that I actually need to go back and underline and then report back to you the many inspired and hilarious sentences.

And I cried at the end. Your characters are so alive.

I was totally absorbed in your story telling, full of suspense, plus humor, plus passion, You are such a talented writer, and I could tell while I was reading it how you must have loved writing it. It was so joyful, I didn't want it to end! And how about the mystery you created? We were with you all the way. Such intricate revelations. Not since Sherlock Holmes.

Congratulations Seth. Pretty amazing email to get from someone whom I would have freaked out just to meet when I was obsessively watching "SCTV" in high school! And, yes, you can order it here.

OK, back to Tim Federle. He grew up in Pittsburgh and he remembers his first musical audition for a local production of Oliver when he was just a little kid. He came home and told his mother he had good news and bad news: "The bad news is I didn't get it. (pause) The good news I'm lying!" And thus a sassy writer was born.

Tim Federle
Tim Federle

But before he wrote, one of his teachers realized his dance ability and told him he was a dancer and needed to focus on that. He trained up a storm but when he auditioned for the musical theatre program at Carnegie Mellon, he wasn't accepted. He decided to move right to NYC and felt that he had four years to get a good job because everyone else he knew that was his age was still in school. Eventually, he got the Radio City Music Hall Spectacular and was then cast in the Bernadette Peters Gyspy. Coincidentally, as David Burtka's understudy! However, he only did the dances in Gypsy; he was not part of the scenes with the other boys. Even though he was living his dream of being on Broadway, he was disappointed.

He now loves being a writer because he once heard Nora Ephron talk about disappointment: For most people, it can bring you down, but for a writer, it's all material. He remembers seeing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and thinking Jan Maxwell was amazing (she was!). He auditioned to be a replacement dancer and they told him that they wanted to give him the job but...they tentatively asked if he would mind doing one non-dancer thing; the role required him to stand in back of the set at one point and zip up the dress of Jan Maxwell. Tim said that before they got to the "Max" in "Maxwell" he was like "I'LL TAKE IT!" He was so happy to have any moment with her.

He also had a hilarious ritual with the other dancers about pull quotes. Sometimes shows get great reviews like "This show is amazing!" and the quote is put in an ad and sometimes publicists have to be creative and take an odd word or sentence and make it sound like it's amazing. He and the other dancers would clip out show ads with bizarre pull quotes and leave them at the dressing stations of each other with no comment. His absolute favorite was a crazy pull quote from the ad for All Shook Up. It's a picture of the gorgeous and talented Cheyenne Jackson and the quote is, "He could bring down a fullback in the open field." Huh? We were laughing so hard because we don't know why that was considered incentive to see the show. PS I absolutely loved All Shook Up. Watch my deconstruction of some of the amazing singing.

PS, Tim is also the author of two cocktail cookbooks! One with literary themes, "Tequila Mockingbird" and one that's upcoming related to movie titles: "Gone With The Gin." You can get all of his books on his website TimFederle.com.

OK, I have to go rehearse for Matthew and SJP! This coming Saturday in Ptown I'll be with my SiriusXM co-host, Christine Pedi and next Monday I have a show with Audra McDonald and Will Swenson. Come visit the Cape 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.)

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