Hello from some ocean near Asia! I am on the Playbill Cruise and am so geographically non-educated that I don't know if I'm in the South China Sea or the Indian Ocean. You'll also notice I'm too lazy to find out. Regardless, I flew to Vietnam last week to start the cruise, and it's so weird being 12 hours ahead of New York time that I actually forgot when it was Monday and didn't send in my column. So, here it is, a few days late. Anybody? Nobody. (Because I'm fired.)
The cruise began with Norm Lewis, Christine Ebersole, Lindsay Mendez, Hunter Foster, Jennifer Cody and Liz Callaway. Then two guest stars were added: director/choreographers Tommy Tune and Patricia Birch. They're both over 70 (I think Pat is over 80!) but have so much energy and sass, it's crazy. I'm sure they not only know what sea we're in, but also what latitude and longitude. A few days ago, when we docked in Cambodia, one group went out on a kayak. Well, it suddenly started to pour and they got completely drenched. Then their kayak broke so they had to hike all the way back to the ship. In the ensuing darkness with no flashlights. Through an actual jungle! For four miles! It sounds horrific. Cut to: I later found out Pat Birch was one of the people who was on that excursion. Cut to: I saw her the next day, and she never looked better. What the - ? All I do is sleep eight hours a night yet do non-stop complaining about how tired I am and that I haven't yet adjusted to the time zone yet. What the hell am I going to be like at 80? Certainly not smiling while I hike through a jungle.
All right, let me start at the beginning of the trip: We took Emirates Air to Vietnam, but first landed in Dubai. My big joke happened when I walked off the plane:
Flight Attendant: Goodbye.
Try it! They sound perfect together! Listen, when you've flown for ten hours, that is the extent of your humor. Then we boarded a plane to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Halfway through, James pointed to the flight map because it showed we were over Iran. Yikes! Scary. Well, Hunter Foster and Jen Cody also got nervous right around then, but it extended to a full panic because at that exact moment, Jen heard the captain say over the loudspeaker, "Please make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened because we're flying over warfare." Jen went into an anxiety attack and whispered to Hunter, "Warfare!?!?! I didn't sign up for this." He immediately silenced her by telling her that the captain had actually said, "We're flying over rough air." Hi-lar! And terrifying.
We landed in Vietnam (two days later…you miss a day in travel!) and stayed at the Intercontinental, which was great. The weirdest thing is, there are a crazy amount of motor bikes in Vietnam, and they are everywhere. Plus it seems there really aren't traffic lights. Dangerous? Sort of. Yet not at all. We all went on a tour and the tour guide told us to stick together as we cross the street and "just keep walking steadily." Bizarrely, it really works. You see these motor bikes and people and cars all merging, and it's fascinating. It looks like everyone is going to crash together but everyone kind of knows where to go and it just keeps moving. PS, the tour guide actually told us to stick together like "sticky rice." Liz Callaway has since dubbed all the performers on the ship as the "Sticky Rice Singers." Does anyone have a gig for us? Silence. Speaking of Liz, that night in Ho Chi Minh City, there was an enormous outdoor meal on a river and she and Lindsay Mendez sang "I Still Believe," and Norm Lewis sang "Bui Doi" from Miss Saigon. Not only did they sound fantastic, it was also amazing because Ho Chi Minh City was the city of Saigon! So cool to hear them singing about Saigon in Saigon. Liz was the original Ellen, and Norm played John on Broadway longer than anyone. Poor Liz was pregnant when she began rehearsals and took two weeks maternity leave when she gave birth. She came back, after having a Cesarean with complications, and it was the first day of tech at the theatre. Oy! She soon went to do her scene in the hotel in Act Two and the stagehands showed her a ladder and told her she needed to climb it to get to her hotel room. She loves a good joke and laughed up a storm. They told her they were serious. So, Liz, with a Cesarean section wound that was just beginning to heal, had to climb a ladder eight times a week to do her Act Two scene. She said she had to get there crazily early so she had time to slo-o-o-o-owly go up, rung by rung. Cut to: Pat Birch, who could have done that in five seconds flat.
The day after the Saigon concert, we got on the ship and Christine Ebersole did her show. Not surprisingly, it was beautiful. Especially her haunting rendition of "Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell. Tommy Tune loved it and said it was like a tone poem. I agreed but then had a flashback to studying tone poems in my 20th Century Music class at Oberlin. That class was so incredibly bizarre when we would get a lecture on the current contemporary music scene. One "song" was someone taking a tuba and filling up a spit valve with coffee and the other one with milk. Where's the song part? Anyhoo, the next day was a show by Lindsay Mendez, who always sounds amazing. She also joined Hunter Foster in his show with Jen Cody because Lindsay played Jan in the recent revival of Grease and Hunter played Roger in the 1994 revival. They did "Mooning" and sounded delicious. The '94 revival is where I met Hunter and Jen (she played Cha-Cha), but they both met doing Cats on tour. Jen said she'd tell us how their relationship began but was nervous she'd possibly sound "stalker-ish." Here's what happened: When Hunter joined the cast, she made it her mission to date him. How, you ask? Flirting backstage? Asking him out directly? No. Instead, she'd call ahead to the hotel in the next city they'd be in, find out his room number (!) and take the room right across the hall! Then she'd listen at the door for him to exit and immediately follow. Any worry she had about sounding stalker-ish was confirmed at this point.
During Christine Ebersole's show, she commented that she knew on the first date with her husband that he was the one for her when he uttered a magical four-word phrase to her while they were eating dinner: He looked at her in the middle of the meal and said, "Let's talk about you." As Christine pointed out, "My G spot!" Jen said she decided to bring out the big guns when the hotel they were in had a pool, so she laid on her stomach right near Hunter's chair, wearing a bikini top and a thong (!). She said he also uttered four words that cemented their relationship. He looked down at her exposed butt and uttered, "They're like two helmets." They've now been together 22 years.
Hunter recalled the myriad of stars we had during the run of Grease. Chubby Checker played the Teen Angel for a bit and one night at 7:30 before an 8 PM show, he saw Ty Taylor (current lead singer of "Vintage Trouble," who was playing Doody). This was the conversation:
Chubby: Ty! Can you run to the drugstore and get me some rubbers?
Ty: Uh, Chubby…it's 7:30.
Chubby: Then you better hurry!
And Ty got them. PS. Why did he need them during the show?
Jen also had a hilarious story about playing Cha-cha during Grease. She didn't enter til Act Two, so she'd come downstairs and get a mic on during intermission. Well, one night, there was a new sound guy. Jen came downstairs for her mic, turned her back to him as usual, lifted up her skirt so he'd have access to her mic pack and said, "OK! Just put it in." The new sound guy was immobile. She repeated, "Come on! Put it in!" Finally, he quietly lay the mic on her back and walked away. She then realized she hadn't yet put on underwear. And I'm out!
There's so much else to tell, but I'll put it in next week's column. And, of course, I have to eventually write about my big news; Disaster!, the show I wrote with Jack Plotnick that closed Off-Broadway last year, is coming to Broadway! We start previews Feb. 9 at the Nederlander Theatre! I'm completely overwhelmed and there's so much to write about but let me just list the cast: Me, Kerry Butler, Max Crumm, Jennifer Simard, Adam Pascal, Lacretta Nicole, Kevin Chamberlin, Roger Bart, Rachel York and Faith Prince! It's so crazily exciting! More next week. And now, I have to go play for Kerry Butler, who just got on the cruise in Bangkok (along with Rachel York!). 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.)