ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Kevin, Donna and a Unitard

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Kevin, Donna and a Unitard
First, a clarification. The show I'm doing is called The Ritz. Like the cracker. The reason I'm clarifying the name is because I've been congratulated on being cast in The Rink. Three times! Hopefully, people think I'm the young sassy Liza Minnelli role and not the older Chita Rivera track.
Kevin Chamberlin
Kevin Chamberlin

Anyhoo, rehearsals began last Monday. It's very exciting starring in my first Broadway play. And by "starring," I mean that on the morning we were scheduled to start dissecting the script, our illustrious director Joe Mantello walked into rehearsal, looked at me and asked, "What are you doing here?" Now that I'm an actor, I guess I can use that moment for a sense memory of "mortification." Yes, people, I showed up by mistake. Apparently, my two lines did not need dissecting. We all laughed…one of us only on the outside.

I actually have been doing non-stop laughing at rehearsal. Turns out, Joe Mantello is so much fun. I first figured that because he was such a bigwig, he would be distant and unfriendly (father issues, anyone?), but instead he's like your best friend at theatre camp. We all spend breaks huddled around a laptop while he shows us his favorite YouTube videos. (Please watch the amazing entrance at the beginning of Tandi Iman Dupree's drag act — unbelievable!)

On Tuesday I got a call from my agent telling me that I had a callback for a commercial. Yes, it was for a department store I never heard of; yes, only on cable; and yes, it was never to run in any big cities, but I wanted it! I asked when it filmed and turns out it was during the three days I was supposed to go on a vacation, so The Ritz wasn't planning on scheduling me at rehearsal! I could do it! Excellent. All I had to do was go in and nail that callback. The first annoying part was that since the role was a piano player in a department store, they told us to wear a tux (to the first audition and the callback). I guess that if we came in wearing a regular outfit, it would be impossible to imagine what we looked like dressed up. Who says TV people have no imagination? Yay! It's fun hauling around a big, hot tuxedo on a subway in August.

The next stressful part was that if I got the commercial, I'd have to leave Thursday night for L.A. and miss the Chatterbox. The callback was on a Tuesday, early afternoon, so I assumed I'd know by the end of the day. No. Now, you know when you go to a commercial callback, you're agreeing to be put "on hold," and you have to keep yourself available on the shoot days until you're told that you're released. Since I'd have to fly to the West Coast on Thursday night, I knew they would make a decision by Wednesday morning.

No. It was now Wednesday afternoon, and I didn't know whether to book my Chatterbox or not because I didn't want to have some Broadway star agree and then have to ixnay them to film a rickety-rackety cable commercial. My agent called the commercial people and told them my predicament. They said they understood and would notify us as soon as possible. Well, suddenly it's Wednesday at 6 PM, and I'm still on hold for Thursday night through Sunday. Since my agency would be closed overnight, I wouldn't know till Thursday morning. Dare I book someone that last minute? I finally placed an emergency phone call to Kevin Chamberlin late Wednesday night, and he said he'd do the Chatterbox and wouldn't care if I canceled.

Well, as I write this, it's Sunday night, and I still haven't been officially released, so I guess there's a chance I'll have to go back in time and film last Thursday through this morning. Yay. It's fun to be disrespected.

All right, speaking of Kevin, he was such a fun guest. He's one of the few actors who's done Chatterbox three times! He talked about his first Broadway show, which was also my first Broadway show as a piano sub. It was Lincoln Center's short-lived My Favorite Year, which I re-named My Favorite Week. I only got to play it three times, but it was a great piano part. Kevin said that he was so excited to be in it and could not wait for his parents to see him on Broadway. Unfortunately, on opening night he was a little too excited and forgot to put on his suspenders during the big "Manhattan" dance number. He literally spent the whole number knowing his parents were watching him dance with one hand while holding up his pants with the other. He also said that Lainie Kazan had so many electronic appliances in her dressing room that she blew the lights in a hallway of dressing rooms! I wanted to know what she had plugged in, and he speculated multiple curling irons and The Fry Daddy.

He then talked about doing Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Y-A-W-N! Doesn't that title imply the most boring show in the world? "Abe Lincoln" = I'm drowsy, "In Illinois" = and I'm out. It had an enormous cast, and he only appeared at 8:15 and then again at 11:15. He said that on some nights, he would do his first scene then hop on the subway at Lincoln Center and go down to the Village and hang. One night, his friend had a show at the Duplex on Christopher Street at 9 PM, and Kevin was able to do his first scene, take the subway from Lincoln Center to the Village, see his friend's act, congratulate him after, and easily make it back for his last scene. I asked if he was nervous about the subway breaking down, and he said he could have walked and made it back in time.

He also said he loved it when Rosie O'Donnell played The Cat in the Hat during Seussical. She would take questions from the audience, and one night a little kid asked how long Horton the Elephant's trunk was. Rosie told him, "He says it's seven feet but, actually, it's really five."

I also asked Kevin about the brilliant Dirty Blonde. He did a lot of Mae West research and told us one hilarious story about how quick she was. One night Mae was walking through a casino in Vegas, and a guy called out from the craps table, "Hey, Mae! I'll lay 'ya ten to one!" She, without missing a beat, replied, "It's an odd time, but I'll be there." Brava!!!!

Speaking of Dirty Blonde, that's where The Ritz began. Kevin said that one day after the show, Joe Mantello approached him and said that he wanted to do The Ritz with him and Rosie Perez. Kevin said he was totally interested and Joe got on it. And it only took seven years to happen. I guess I better plant the seed now for Joe to direct me in The Gin Game.

At Sirius, I interviewed Donna Murphy. She's so fun and, FYI, her hair looked amazing. I must find out what deep conditioner she uses. She talked about her first Broadway devastation. Hair was revived in the late seventies, and Donna auditioned because one of the understudies was leaving. They said they loved her, and she'd be hearing from them. Well, she was at NYU, and this was before cell phones. And, apparently, before room phones. She gave them the number to her dorm and waited anxiously for their call. She said she harassed the guy who ran the phone constantly to see if they called. They never did, and she was devastated. It wasn't until way later when she told someone the story that she found out that Hair closed right after her audition!

Her first Broadway show was They're Playing Our Song, and for her audition she sang that classic song "This World" from The Me Nobody Knows. Anybody? Actually, I know it because my sister did that show when she was in high school. There's nothing like seeing a 99% Jewish high school sing songs of kids in the 'hood. I recall a lot of torn jeans and guys wearing base.

We talked about her playing Fosca in the Passion workshop and how she worked all the time to create the character. It was great for the audience, but her husband was like "Honey, it's a reading. I don't want to have breakfast with Fosca. She's a downer!"

I brought up her absences in Wonderful Town because I wasn't sure if everyone knew what really happened. She said that she was backstage right before "One Hundred Easy Ways," and she coughed to clear her throat and wound up hemorrhaging a vocal chord! Her doctor said that she'd need months off from singing, but she didn't want to quit the show… She had waited so long to do it since she first did it at Encores! Finally, another doctor said that if she had a week of silence, she could heal it, so she didn't speak for a week and went back. Of course, it was preview time, so there were non-stop early morning publicity events, the recording, and finally opening night. Because her chord wasn't totally healed, it got damaged again. She said that this went on repeatedly: She'd come back to do the show, but the damage never got a chance to heal. For some reason, she made a deal with the producers to not discuss what was going on in public until way after the show closed! I still don't understand why, but unfortunately it led to a lot of dishy talk about her. She said she didn't care if people thought that she totally lost her voice, but she was devastated that they thought she didn't care about her fellow cast members or the audience. And the horrible part was that she couldn't say anything. Anyhoo, she's fine now and has a delish part in the new film, "The Nanny Diaires." And, judging by the Broadway of today, she could be playing the same part in the musical that's sure to open in two years. And then John Travolta will play it in the movie musical. Speaking of Travolta, Kevin Chamberlin once did summer stock where they jobbed in stars like Joey Travolta and Donna Pescow!

Okay, I'm off to bed early 'cause tomorrow is more rehearsal. The "good" news, I not only may be in a skimpy towel, but Joe Mantello informed me that Act Two will feature me in a unitard. Why?! What's happening? Am I being Punk'd? I do not look attractive in a unitard. I'm the only person who's going to have his debut on Broadway and immediately follow it with his boyfriend breaking up with him. Here I come, Equity Match.com.


(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com. His first novel, "Broadway Nights," is due in the fall.)

Kevin Chamberlin (l.) and Seth Rudetsky at <i>Seth's Broadway Chatterbox</i>.
Kevin Chamberlin (l.) and Seth Rudetsky at Seth's Broadway Chatterbox.
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