Onstage & Backstage: How We Performed an Impromptu Les Miz Finale in the Middle of the Ocean!

News   Onstage & Backstage: How We Performed an Impromptu Les Miz Finale in the Middle of the Ocean!
This week's look into the life of Seth Rudetsky uncovers new details on Disaster! coming to Broadway, why the Playbill cruise to Asia had to host an impromptu cabaret and what you never knew about Lindsay Mendez.
Jennifer Simard in <i>Disaster!</i>
Jennifer Simard in Disaster! Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Hello from my JetBlue NYC to LAX flight. I was supposed to fly last Friday and spend a relaxing weekend in Los Angeles leading up to my show at Largo, but I have so much to do because Disaster! is coming to Broadway that I decided to fly on the morning of my show and fly back the next morning. Flying back and forth in 24 hours was supposed to allow me to do more work before I left, but all I think it's going to do is make me incredibly exhausted — not only for my show but for the rest of the week. Yay? OK! Let me start with Disaster! news: Time Out New York came out with a list of the best New York theatre shows to see this winter…and Disaster! is on it with a delicious shout-out to Jennifer Simard who plays the nun! Yay! The other exciting news: Tickets just went on sale. James immediately went to check the site at 10 AM Thursday and it wasn't working. We were thrilled because we decided that the mad rush for tickets broke Ticketmaster. We're sure it had nothing to do with the Mariah Carey concert that just went on sale.

I'm gearing up for next week when the whole cast meets up for a photo shoot. It's going to be the first time we've all been together since finding out we're coming to Broadway. Roger Bart, Kevin Chamberlin and Faith Prince all live in LA, so they're flying in to be here. So exciting!! For the last few weeks, there's been marketing and advertising meetings, orchestrating and vocal arranging and band organizing, audition "sides" (sections of the script to be read) selection, set design meetings, costume consultations and so much more. Every day I marvel that this show I began on my laptop now has so many people working on it. It's really thrilling! Come see me (and Adam Pascal, Max Crumm, Kerry Butler, Lacretta Nicole, Kevin Chamberlin, Rachel York, Jennifer Simard, Faith Prince and Roger Bart) on Broadway (!) starting Feb. 9, 2016. DisasterMusical.com

OK! Here's part two to the Playbill cruise recap: A few days before the cruise ended, a bunch of the performers took a tour around Ko Samui, Thailand. First, my sweet husband James (who loves animals as much as I do) asked the tour guide if we could stop at the animal shelter. It was so great! Turns out, up until 15 years ago, there was never a vet on the island and every dog would simply die on the side of the road sometimes from banal things like a small wound. It sounds horrific. Then in 2000, a vet opened up this wonderful dog rescue center and clinic and now it's thriving! They spay and neuter, give medical help and get dogs (and cats!) adopted. And it's all free! They survive on donations. Of course, James is now obsessed about adopting a doggie to join our family. Take a look at the website and see all the cute animals and — even if you don't want to adopt — you can sponsor a dog or cat. It's such a great place doing fantastic work. 


The group of us then went to a monkey show where you line up and a monkey jumps on your shoulder for a photo op. It was very cute slash frightening having a wild animal on your shoulder. But that was just one of the many fun slash verging on terrifying experiences we had there. While we were walking to a temple, a street performer placed something around Juli's neck…a python! How fun…until you're squeezed to death. Then Juli insisted we go to the outdoor beauty salon where you put your feet in water and tons of little fish eat off the dead skin. Why don't you take a moment and imagine what it feels like to tons of fish biting your feet? It's basically relentless tiny, tiny mouths swarming around you. Again, I say relentless. The good news is: I can now say I know what it feels like to be electrocuted under my ankles.

"My new best friend..."
"My new best friend..."

We then went to an elephant reserve where, instead of a python, an elephant wrapped his trunk around Juli. Then we all took an actual ride on an elephant. Let me just say that there isn't the kind of safety obsession we have in the U.S. in foreign countries. We were all so high up and could have easily fallen onto the hard ground. Even so, there was apparently no need for a helmet. Or a seat belt. It was basically like riding in my parents' station wagon in the mid-70s. Back then, no one knew anything about safety, nor were they willing to put out their cigarettes to find out. Liz Callaway and I were on the same elephant and the thing we most enjoyed was turning around and seeing Lindsay Mendez on hers. If you think my mother is a nervous wreck about everything (“Don't join a gym! They're bad for you!”) you've not met Lindsay. She came on the cruise prepared for every possible ailment you could get, not only overseas, but simply from leaving your house. Suffice it to say she was the only one on daily preventative malaria pills. Anyhoo, we never ever thought she'd get on an elephant, but suddenly she did, and I spent most of my time taking pictures of her face in a state of shock.


(On a side note: Lindsay is obsessed with medleys of songs where they have to horrifically change a part of the melody to segue to the next song. We were laughing non-stop recreating some of them. If you don't know what I mean, watch Les Miz on the Olivier awards and listen to Patti LuPone singing "…as they turn your dream to shame." It is so shockingly hilarious!) 

The day before we got to Singapore, the last full day on the boat, we docked at a beautiful island. We had the whole beach reserved just for us plus access to a stunning resort where we'd get massages and various pamperings. That was the plan. What happened was: The ship docked and the cruise director got off around 7 AM to make sure all the facilities were ready for us. He knocked on the island resort door…and no one was home. What the— ? Further investigation found that, three days before, the resort had gone bankrupt. For reals! And everyone simply left. So we were docked on an island where we could all take a tender (small boat) to the beach and hang out there for the day… How about we go to Singapore a day early? Yay! Well, driving a boat is like driving a car in NYC…it’s a headache to get a parking spot. Singapore informed us they had no space for us to dock early. We were essentially a luxury Broadway-themed "Voyage of the Damned." Well, the amazing news is all the performers decided to put on a variety show for the passengers so there'd be some entertainment. And, the show was so fantastic! Hunter Foster sang his song from The Bridges of Madison County and told us that his direction was to swig from a glass of brandy at the end of the song. Of course, it was just dyed water. Then, on the last day, the crew played a prank on him and replaced his dyed water with actual brandy. AKA song ended, liquid swigged…throat burned, range lowered. Next role: Joanne in Company, or any from the Elaine Stritch oeuvre. While putting the show together, we realized we sang tons of Les Miz songs throughout the week (Hunter, Rachel, Kerry and I had all done it on Broadway), so we ended the variety show with the Les Miz finale. Rachel York reprised her part as Fantine, which she did in the 90s, Kerry Butler played Eponine again, which she did 15 years ago, and they both sang the beautiful "Take my hand…I’ll lead you to salvation…" which ended with all the performers singing "Do You Hear The People Sing." It sounded great with everybody!

Afterwards, we had some hours to kill, so James suggested they open the back of the boat so passengers could jump off and swim in the South China Sea. It was so fun! Nota bene: to watch, that is. I was not about to get into a bathing suit after two weeks of buffet-eating. After everyone frolicked in the open sea, we noticed that Pam (one of the fabulous travel agents on the boat) wasn't swimming. Why? Well, because she was on the top of the boat on lookout duty. Lookout for what, you ask? Why, for sharks. AH! Stop with the wildlife already!


That evening was Liz's final show. Her singing is amazing and her patter is so funny. After her opening number ("Cockeyed Optimist") she sang an aggressive "You Don’t Own Me." Throughout it, there was a lot of belting, glaring and pointing at the audience. Right after the number she stated, in her sweet speaking voice, "I always feel the second song in a cabaret act should be warm and welcoming." She did so many great songs (many of which are featured on her excellent new CD "The Essential Liz Callaway")  and closed with "The Story Goes On" from Baby. The ending of that song goes, "Our story goes on! And on! And on! And on! And OOOOOOOONNNNNNN!" and the last note is held for a really long time. Liz said that during one performance on Broadway, her voice was shot and she knew she couldn't hold the last note forever, so she imitated what she did for me:

"Our story goes on!

And on!

And on!

And on!

(silent acting, acting, acting, acting )…. and on." Blackout.

Here's an amazing video of her on Broadway doing the song. So good! 

All right, it's almost time to land! I fly home on Tuesday, have delish Thanksgiving on Thursday and then on Friday, I'm with Andrea McArdle in Toronto doing a benefit for Fife House! Come see us and watch me deconstruct how brilliant she is. 

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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