ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Judy Kuhn Belts, Alan Menken Times Three, Disaster! Re-Casting

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Judy Kuhn Belts, Alan Menken Times Three, Disaster! Re-Casting
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Seth post-Disaster!
Seth post-Disaster! Photo by Jack Plotnick


Greetings from XNA! That's the airport code for the Northwest Arkansas airport. I flew down Friday to go to Fayetteville and the Walton Arts Center where I put on a show announcing their 2013 Broadway season. My manager, Orin Wolf, started booking me as a Broadway representative who goes from theatre to theatre to tell subscribers why they should sign up for the upcoming season. I deconstruct songs and video clips for each show and point out what I think it "amahzing" (yes, I'm still hauling out that word). Next up: Rochester and Sarasota. I'm so glad I have gigs, but it's actually a ton of effing work to put together each presentation. Who knew there were so many Broadway shows that could be booked around the country? Why can't every theatre stick to one universal season? So, this week, besides having to put together a show highlighting Stomp, American Idiot, Hair, Billy Elliot, Memphis, Shrek, Anything Goes, Catch Me If You Can and War Horse (!), I've also had to divide up my book for audio recording next week. Audible.com is going to do "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan" as an audio book. And instead of me reading the whole thing, I'm doing it like a radio play with all of the roles assigned to different people. I'm playing Justin; my meddling mother is Andrea Burns; the high school football player I'm "in love" with is Will Swenson; the school bully is Josh Gad; the girl I date as a beard is Megan Hilty; her obnoxious father is Marc Kudisch; and my best friend is Jesse Tyler Ferguson. So, I had to go through the entire book and find what each character says and then make a script for each person so we can record this week. You may think it's easy to do but you probably don't have adult ADD! Ah! So not fun.

But I'm excited about my cast. The other exciting news about the book is Random House just offered me a contract to write a sequel! Yay! Now, all I have to do is write it. *Silence.* And…immobilization. While I'm staring at a blank computer screen, why don't you buy the original book at amazon.com

Judy Kuhn
photo by Alexandra Silber

This week I interviewed the great Judy Kuhn. I was a classical piano major at Oberlin Conservatory and all throughout college I would listen to Judy, and I obsessed about the fact that she also went to Oberlin. She was a voice major, which means opera, and she said it wasn't until after college that she knew she could belt. Seriously. She was doing a summer stock show and her character was supposed to hit a B flat. She did it, Oberlin-style, and the music director asked her to belt it. He demonstrated and she tried it remembers thinking, "I've never sounded like that before." All I can say is, "Thank you, summer stock music director! Because of you, I've listened to the title song from Rags repeatedly for the last 20 years." Speaking of Rags, Judy was starring in that show when she auditioned for Les Miz. They called her back but she didn't go because Rags was about to open on Broadway. However, Rags opened on a Thursday and closed on Sunday, so the Les Miz people called her again and asked her to come in. She got the role of Cossette and hit my favorite high B flat on Broadway. Watch! Of course, I'm also obsessed with what a know-it-all Cossette is…always one-upping Marius. For instance, he sings, "Do I dream?," and she trumps him with, "I'm awake." Watch

Since Rags had such a short run, no one knew that she belted up a storm in that show. She was known as a soprano ingénue. Then Rags and Les Miz were both nominated as Best Musical. Teresa Stratas (the star of Rags) was going to sing on the Tony Awards but dropped out before the telecast. Judy was asked to sing instead so she wound up being the only actor to sing in two Best Musical nominee performances on the Tony Awards! Trevor Nunn knew her as a sweet high soprano but when he saw her belt out Rags, he was shocked that she could belt and suddenly considered her for his next Broadway show…Chess! So brava Teresa Stratas for dropping out because it allowed Judy to make a cast album I've also listened to obsessively for the past 20 years. Here's the song that was added to Broadway production of Chess for her

Kuhn in Rags.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Judy's Rags Tony Award performance has a great story attached that I must write about. She was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Les Miz and, luckily, her category was first. So she was able to dress up and sit in the audience. Frances Ruffelle wound up winning and Judy wanted to go backstage right afterwards to practice for her Rags appearance. It had been months since she did the show and, even more scary, they had shortened the song for the telecast. They dropped certain sections and then put them back in until finally they were satisfied, but Judy knew she had to review it to remember exactly what was out and what was in. The Tony Award people told her that someone would come get her from her seats and take her backstage to get ready. Well, the show kept going and no once came. She didn't know what to do because she didn't really know how long the awards ceremony was. Should she wait? Did she have plenty of time? Finally, she decided she was going to go backstage and prepare even if she was super early. She ran out during a commercial break, terrified the show would begin again and catch her scurrying through the aisles. When she walked backstage someone yelled, "Where have you been!?!?! You're about to be on!" What the — ? The next thing she knew, she was grabbed into a dressing room, thrown into a costume/wig and pushed onstage. She was completely frazzled and had no time to practice the new version of the song. She began it, but one third of the way through she thought, "The orchestra is off!" Then she thought, "Wait...the orchestra is on tape…I'm off!" Luckily, within four measures she was back on track. And if you watch it, you can't even tell. Unless you realize that she repeats the lyrics "Dreams…you gave me dreams…" twice. Take a gander! And, PS, she had to perform this song right afterwards.  On Thursday at the Chatterbox I interviewed Alan Menken. We discussed the original Little Shop of Horrors and I asked him if he remembered Rick Moranis auditioning for Seymour. He didn't, but he remembered another actor who wanted the role very badly…Tom Cruise! It's pretty amazing that Alan will have three Broadway shows running this Spring. And two of them could be up for Best Musical! Sister Act opened last year, but soon there'll be Newsies and Leap of Faith!

Felicia Finley

Disaster!, my musical at the Triad, was extended, which is amazing for the show but was hard for the creative staff. We had to put in two new leads: Annie Golden took over the role of Shirley and Felicia Finley took over the role of Jackie. We were all obsessed with how she was able to make her hair super Farrah Fawcett-Majors. Look at the photo! Annie and Felicia only had a week to learn the roles but they were both great. One of my favorite Felicia stories happened when she was a little girl. She's from down South and when she was very young they did a nationwide audition for Annie replacements. She auditioned and got cast! She was set to start on a Monday and told everyone in her school she wouldn't see them for a while because she was headed to Broadway. Of course, all the kids in her elementary school thought she was lying. Felicia was all set to fly to NYC when her Mom got a call that Annie had posted its closing notice. Ah! So devastating. But even more so considering she gave a lengthy and dramatic goodbye to everyone in her school on Friday…and then showed up for classes on Monday. Felicia told me everyone called her a big liar and subsequently beat her up. It's "fun" to have to deal with your Broadway dreams being taken away while getting kicked repeatedly by a 10-year-old girl.

Jack Plotnick (my Disaster! co-writer) came to NYC to help put in the new actors and after the performance, we went to a late-nite diner for some delicious pancakes. While we were sitting there, Fred Armisen (from "SNL") walked in. I've met him a few times (and we peripherally knew each other as kids because he grew up right near me). I'm also a huge fan. Anyhoo, I greeted him a big smile and he was friendly/wigged out. I chalked it up him being a TV star and me being a crazy fan who vaguely knows him. Then I got home to get ready for bed, and when I looked in the mirror, I saw that I hadn't fixed my crazy "I've just been in an earthquake/tidal wave etc…" hairstyle and make-up. And Jack let me go out in public without telling me to wash it the hell off! No wonder Fred was on the verge of calling 9-1-1. Look at the picture to see what I looked like when I called out "Hi, Fred!!!!"

OK, at the end of this month, I hit the Kravis and Broward centers in Florida. But this week, no traveling. Ahhh. And, we have two more performances of Disaster!, so get thee! Visit www.DisasterMusical.com. Peace out!

(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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