ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: In the Desert With Dionne, Diahann and Audra

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: In the Desert With Dionne, Diahann and Audra
A week in the life of actor, writer and music director Seth Rudetsky.

Seth and his father, Ed.
Seth and his father, Ed.


Is anybody else exhausted? Since when does Daylight Savings Time begin in March? Is every time-honored event now arbitrary and subject to convenience? It's like when Washington's birthday and Lincoln's birthday got combined into President's Day. I'm sure their spirits want their individual birthdays celebrated on their actual birthdays! I wouldn't want to celebrate mine on a generic "Pianist's Day." Anyhoo, despite losing an hour, I actually got up on time to make it downstairs to meet my car by 6:30 AM, [AUDIO-LEFT]which was really 5:30 AM. Of course, I was in California at the time, so it was really just 8:30 New York time. But that still is sort of early…ish. Right now I'm at LAX, heading home. I was here to play in a benefit for Desert AIDS Project, which is wonderful organization that's been around for 30 years. During the event, they told everyone that when they first started working with AIDS patients, there was no real treatment and a long-time survivor meant 18 months. Nowadays, they have clients who were infected years ago, but are still going strong. Desert AIDS has built amazing medical facilities and housing units for clients, and provides educational outreach, HIV testing, legal assistance and much more. They also deliver food to low-income clients and one of the deliverymen is… my Dad! He lives in Palm Desert and has been volunteering at the food bank for years. And, P.S., he's about to turn 80 next week. He's still got it!

My friend Jack Plotnick drove me from L.A. to Palm Springs and we met my Dad and his wife, Gloria, for brunch. Jack was asking my father about being in the Korean War and I found out a story I didn't know. Turns out, he was stationed in Germany when the war ended but still had a few weeks left in the army. He was thrilled when he found out that he was approved for a month's leave before his final discharge. He was excited because he was able to use the army plane for free and he flew immediately to Paris. He was all set for a delicious month of museum-going, wine-drinking and dame-dating. His first afternoon there, he was sitting in an outdoor café, drinking espresso. Suddenly, two army men came up and told him he had to come back to the base. He had no idea what he had done but he had no choice but to go with them. When he got back, he found out the "good" news; a few weeks before, he had told his mother that even though the war had ended, he couldn't get an early leave. Well, she made tons of phone calls and finally convinced the army to let him end his service early. Yay? He got to curtail his 30 days in Paris to leave Europe immediately — for Brooklyn. It was 55 years ago. Still devastated.

Audra McDonald and Diahann Carroll

The Desert AIDS event began with a fancy dinner on the night before and it was star-studded. Jack and I showed up at the restaurant and when we walked to the entrance, I saw a group of smokers. I'm always passive/aggressive when I pass by a group of people with cigarettes, so as I walked in, I glared and loudly intoned, "C'mon Jack. Let's walk quickly past all of this smoke!" Of course, as soon as I got indoors, Jack said that the smoker nearest to my hostile comment was Dionne Warwick. Yowtch! Well…shouldn't she have been able to psychically predict that I'd be rude? (Psychic Friends Network? Anyone?) Anyhoo, once we got inside the restaurant we were seated at the same table as Joan Collins and George Hamilton! I've never felt less glamorous. My next star-spotting refers back to what I did before I got to Palm Springs; At Sirius/XM, I interviewed Anne Garefino who is one of the producers of The Book of Mormon. She's been with "South Park" since it began on television, but she's always loved theatre so this is a dream come true for her. I asked her about one of the shocking moments in the show I've heard about, in which a bunch of people spend a whole song cursing God. She told me that the song has gotten a great response because the audience seems to understand where it's coming from. It's sung by a group of people who truly feel that God has deserted them and they're simply singing their feelings. The reality is, many people have that feeling at some point in their lives and this song is giving voice to it. She feels that theatre has always been able to go much further than film or TV and has always paved the way for breaking taboos. Ann mentioned shows like Next to Normal and La Cage Aux Folles, which were ground-breaking, and I brought up No Strings which was on Broadway in the early '60s and had an interracial relationship as the main love story. The leading man was Richard Kiley and the leading lady was Diahann Carroll. Cut to backstage at Desert AIDS, I walked into Audra McDonald's dressing room and I saw that she was sharing it with…Diahann Carroll! I asked Diahann how scandalous No Strings was. She said that even though it was on Broadway and Civil Rights were still being fought for around the country (interracial marriage wasn't legal in all of the U.S. until 1967!), it didn't cause that much of a stir on Broadway because the story wasn't focused on the fact that it was an interracial relationship — it was about an American woman with a European man. I loved talking to Audra and Diahann while they were looking into their dressing room mirror, so I took a photo of them. They tried to hold very serious diva expressions, but I told them to "work it" and they immediately broke up and I got a great shot of them laughing.

Ann-Margret is a big supporter of Desert AIDS and before she went on, she was introduced to Audra backstage. Audra expected a polite "hello," but the first thing Ann-Margret said to her was, "So, will Naomi get back together with Sam?" Turns out, even Kim McAfee watches "Private Practice"!

Seth and Jack Plotnick, all dressed up.

The event was black tie and I had to haul out the tux I had bought when I played for Audra for the Leading Ladies event at Carnegie Hall…in 1998! Suffice it to say, I'm not quite the same weight. I took it to a tailor and instead of telling me she needed to let it out an inch or two she told me she was going to simply let the entire waist out as much as possible. Sadly, it was still unbearably snug. Of course, I didn't start getting dressed until 15 minutes before the event and I suddenly realized that my tuxedo shirt needed buttons and cufflinks and I had neither! Jack let me borrow his shirt which was crazily small on me and therefore wouldn't completely close in the middle. We literally had to safety pin it. He then had to wear his tux jacket with a black shirt (!) he had worn the night before and not washed. Also, I couldn't find my shoes before I left NYC so I had to bring James', which were too big. Check out the photo to see our crazy/uncomfortable outfits.

Audra and I were talking about our dogs and she told met that her new doggie sleeps at the foot of the bed and snores up a storm. The laundry basket in the bedroom is on Audra's side of the bed and in the morning she'll look toward the bottom the bed and notice that her dog is covered in socks and random bras. Even though Audra doesn't remember because she's only half awake, she obviously gets woken up in the middle of the night by the snoring, reaches over the side of the bed and flings various underthings to quiet that mutt! It's either that, or her dog is a drag queen. Speaking of dogs, I was chatting with my sister, Nancy, who told me that everybody seems to have one in Virginia Beach (where she lives). She always forgets how much of a dog culture she's in and is constantly misunderstanding things. For instance, someone posted on Facebook that they almost "lost their baby" and Nancy was devastated thinking there was a pregnancy mishap, but it turned out that the woman's dog almost got off its leash. Nancy is now trying to remember that most things pertain to dogs in her part of the state and she told me about a conversation she recently had with a friend. When you read it, make sure you do it sing-song style, a la Alexi Darling in Rent. "Nancy!" the woman trilled. "Our family's about to get a new addition!" The last word was sustained with vibrato. "Details!" Nancy sang back. "Terry is moving in!" The woman continued, with the same melody. "That's a-dorable!" Nancy sing-song'd. Then silence. Finally, the woman glared and said, "Uh…I guess it's 'adorable' that my 17-year-old stepson is moving in with us." Nancy thought quickly and said, "Well, it's adorable because of all that youthful energy!" Huh? First of all, her cover-up makes no sense. But more importantly, Nancy asked me, "Why would the woman add vibrato to the word 'addition' if it wasn't about a dog?" Valid point. Everyone in music conservatory teaches: Dog = vibrato, stepson = straight tone.

Speaking of Virginia, I just got booked in a Southern state. I'm going to be doing Deconstructing Broadway and a master class at the Kennedy Theater in North Carolina! Get ticket info and sign up here. And this week for Sony, I deconstructed the unbelievable voice of Lillias White. This is a brilliant Ted Sperling arrangement of "Brotherhood of Man" from How To Succeed….

On my flight out to L.A., I got to be in First Class! It wasn't that fake first class I had to endure before, it was delicious! It had a fabulous meal, direct TV, enormous seats and non-stop coffee. Then, at the very end, I smelled something yummy. That's right, they brought out the signature, First Class warm cookie! I was thrilled beyond belief. Finally, a First Class that meets my expectations. As I was served the cookie, I asked the flight attendant for some milk because, while I like cookies, my favorite snack in the world is cookies and milk. She looked at me and stated, "Sorry, sir. We don't serve milk." What? Unbelievable. I've said it before and I'll say it again: "My personal shopper is the worst!" (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.)

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