ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Kelli, Sondra, Pam and Jason

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Kelli, Sondra, Pam and Jason
A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Kelli O'Hara
Kelli O'Hara

Ahhh. I just had a delicious massage, and now I'm sitting in my backyard. The massage place I go to is great and phenomenally cheap — so cheap that they don't have an actual receptionist, and as I was getting a massage, the phone rang and was answered by my massage therapist. He kept one hand on my back and one on the cordless phone. I therefore got to hear this embarrassing conversation.

MASSAGE GUY: Hello? (pause) Yes, sir. $55 an hour. (Pause). Well, there are three girls and also three guys. (Pause). This is a legitimate massage. (Sound of other person hanging up).

[AUDIO-LEFT] Anyhoo, the week began with a commercial audition. Those are always fun to help you "keep it real." I walked into the hallway and saw everyone else who was being considered for my part and therefore my "type." Here's a smattering of others similar to me: Someone morbidly obese, a white man with an afro larger than Gene Shalit's and an 80-year-old with a walker. It's the one audition I didn't want a callback for. This was followed by something fun: I had my one-year anniversary for the Sirius XM/Live On Broadway show. This is the show I do every Wednesday at noon at the Times Square Information Center. This week I had Jason Michael Snow come because I wanted him to sing his amazing rendition of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat" that I first heard at the "Leading Men" benefit for BC/EFA. On a side note, the DVD of this year's concert is now available (featuring sassters like Jonathan Groff and Norm Lewis) and will be sold at this coming Sunday's Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market in Shubert Alley. Back to the show: I asked Jason to tell the audience why he was Jason Michael Snow, and he said it's because there's another Jason Snow in Equity. If you don't know, the union requires that every actor has a different name so there are no mix-ups. That's why Stephanie J. Block has a J and why Billy Porter had to do his first Broadway show as W. Ellis Porter (that one was crazy). I told the audience how I learned that lesson the hard way; last year I was so excited to see that Jason got cast in The Little Mermaid that I sent him a text with a big, "Congratulations on your Broadway debut! Brava!" only to get back a direct but ultimately devastating text: "That's a different Jason Snow. I'm not doing a Broadway show." The good news is he's making his Broadway debut in South Pacific and loving it. Here's a clip of him, Paul Castree and Jose Llana singing the title song from Dreamgirls at my fundraiser for the Gay/Lesbian Synagogue. http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/.

Speaking of South Pacific, Kelli O'Hara was my main guest and despite the fact that she gave birth a few months ago, she's back to her ultra-petiteness. She's one of those naturally thin girls and thankfully she didn't pull out the line that makes me crazy: Interviewer: "Wow! How do you stay so thin?" Movie star: "From chasing my toddler around!" Argh!!! Here's the follow-up question that never seems to be asked. Really? That's odd, because I know plenty of women who have toddlers and yet aren't the size of Kate Moss. I guess running around to pick up your toddler is the reason you're a size zero and not that fact that you eat 1,000 calories a day and have a personal trainer. I interviewed Sondra Lee (the original Tiger Lily in Peter Pan and Minnie Fae from Hello, Dolly!) at my Chatterbox. I just read her book "I've Slept With Everybody" and loved it. The title has a double meaning, which you find out later on in the book, but in terms of dish, she does reveal a love affair with a very young Marlon Brando! And she quotes all of his romantic letters to her. Maybe when I write my autobiography, I can quote all the great things my first boyfriend said to me. The first one being "That will never happen again." FYI, that was also said by my college boyfriend after our first encounter. Ahh… the classics. They can be used again and again and they still make you feel horrible. Sondra talked about crashing an audition in 1947(!) for Jerome Robbins. She got a callback, and while she was standing onstage, heard him arguing with George Abbott, the director. Apparently, Jerome Robbins wanted her, but Mr. Abbott didn't. Finally, she crept closer and heard Robbins say defiantly, "I want her and that's final. I want the girl with the fat legs!" From what I hear, that was typical Robbins. Even while receiving positive news from him, you're devastated. She was not devastated, however, and wound up working very closely with him. The show she crashed and got cast in was Billion Dollar Baby, and Sondra was featured as the littlest crook in the famous Charleston number that was later a highlight in Jerome Robbins Broadway. She was still a teenager and told us that she was incredibly green. She remembers that when she did something to make the audience laugh, she'd start laughing, too! I guess that's a combination of the sayings "Make 'em laugh" and "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." She also talked about being in Peter Pan and a beautiful song she loved that Mary Martin sang about why she couldn't go home (she goes home but finds another little boy sleeping in her bed). Sondra was devastated when the song was cut and asked Mary why. She replied that "No one applauded." Sondra couldn't understand why Mary Martin didn't realize that the audience wasn't applauding because they were so moved. She was so annoyed she retorted with an amazing comparison ("No one applauded after the Gettysburg Address either!") but Mary was nonplussed. Speaking of nonplussed, when Sondra was doing Hello, Dolly!, Carol Channing asked for everyone's initials right before Christmas. The cast was so excited, waiting for their personalized jewelry from Tiffany's. At the end of December, they all ripped open their gifts and saw their initials…on a pair of olde-time bloomers. Silence. Sondra said Bibi Osterwald's sported an enormous "B.O." Maybe she should have gone by W. Ellis Osterwald?

I also interviewed Pam Myers and asked her about doing the original Company. Pam had just graduated from The Cincinnati Conservatory of Music when she got her first audition, which happened to be for Company. She didn't know what to sing, so she sang the pop tune "Little Green Apples." Sondheim loved her…especially because he had never heard the song before and thought she wrote it! She got cast as Marta who didn't have a song. One day at rehearsal, Sondheim came and told her that he wrote a song...specifically for her! He sang it for her… but she was devastated. Not because she didn't like it, but because he sang it in his key…four steps up! Pam can hit some high notes, but she's not (fill in the name of an opera diva…I don't have the energy to do research). Thankfully, they brought it down it for her and it worked great…after they cut it from the show. That's right. They couldn't find the right place for the song and kept moving it around. The last straw was when they moved it after "The Ladies Who Lunch." Imagine having to follow "Rise! Rise! Rise RI-I-I-I-ISE!?!?!" It reminds me of this year's Easter Bonnet opening number. At one point, Liza Minnelli was going to enter in the middle of the song, sing up a storm…and then they were going to introduce Norm Lewis. We were all like "And cut! You can't make someone follow Liza!" It's also similar to what Julie James (the fabulous announcer on the Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show) has been doing 'til I busted her this week. She's been announcing our big star guest first and then the "special guest." So it's been, "This week we have multiple Tony nominee, Kelli O'Hara!" Wild applause!!!! "And, currently making his Broadway debut, Jason Michael Snow!" *Silence*. Then smattering of applause…from me. I finally begged her to reverse it to spare the special guest a soul-destroying ego plummet. Back to Company. Pam and Elaine Stritch have remained friends, and Pam was visiting recently and showed Stritch a picture of her son and her mom. Stritch, who wasn't wearing her glasses, looked at the picture and said, "Your son is adorable. But Pam…not your best shot." Pam was like, "Elaine! That's my mother! She's 93!!!!"

This week I'm gearing up for the fabulous Broadway Flea Market on Sunday. Christie Ford, who makes all my DVD copies and sends out the ones ordered from my website for BC/EFA, has compiled an amazing compilation DVD with 40 song performances from the Broadway stars at the Chatterbox. Plus, the Flea Market will be auctioning off a chance to co-host with me on my Sirius/XM show. Brava! Okay, L'Shana Tovah (Feldshuh) everyone!


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.

Sondra Lee, Seth Rudetsky and Pamela Myers
Sondra Lee, Seth Rudetsky and Pamela Myers Photo by Robb Johnston
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