ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Lights Out on Washington Heights

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Lights Out on Washington Heights
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and company at the final In the Heights curtain call
Lin-Manuel Miranda and company at the final In the Heights curtain call Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In the Heights has closed. I feel like Cheryl Freeman when she told Tyler Maynard that she "birthed and buried" Tommy. I was at one of the first workshops of In the Heights and I remember storming up to Kevin McCollum right after and telling him it was going to be "the next Rent." I don't know when I became so cigar-chomping mogul-esque. It was very "Plastics, my boy!" a la "The Graduate." However, it did go on to win the Tony Award for Best musical, so I guess I am a psychic. Regardless, I'm so upset that it's no longer on Broadway, but any time I [AUDIO-LEFT]think it didn't last long enough (1,185 performances) I think back to some of favorite musicals like West Side Story (732 performances) and Gypsy (702 performances) and shut my trap. I will discuss seeing the final matinee later on, but first let me go back to the beginning of the week.

Firstly, I love being back in my old 'hood. I'm back living right near my good friends Paul Castree, Jessie Stone and Chris Fitzgerald. Leaving the gym last week I ran into Chris two days in a row with his youngest son, who is so adorable and tiny. Chris said that his other son is also small. Then he added that he himself is short. He finally decided that if you took both of his sons and stood them one on top of the other on top of his head, they'd be the height of a regular person. I was so excited when he told me that his wife, Jessica, is playing Erma in the Anything Goes revival. This is how long I've known Jessie; I became good friends with her good friend Paul Castree when we were both doing Forever Plaid. They met doing the Bye Bye Birdie tour when he was Harvey Johnson and she was Ursula. He was constantly talking about her, but I had never actually met her. Until one day at 890 Studios (blast from the past, anyone?), I was rehearsing A Chorus Line directed/choreographed by Bobby Longbottom. I was outside my audition room and I heard, "Seth?" There was Jessie, who recognized me and we wound up becoming friends. And now, to show how long ago it was, she was waiting to try out for…Belle! That's right. It was the initial Beauty and the Beast auditions.

Chris Fitzgerald and son

Suffice it to say, she didn't get it. But, lest you judge her for not being up to snuff, just know that one of my other friends was trying out at the same time. And also didn't get it. And she wasn't even going for one of the leads. That's right, my other rejected friend was… Audra McDonald! She got called back, but did not get cast in the ensemble of Beauty and the Beast. I'm sure the first two Tony Awards she subsequently won made up for not being in the original Beauty and the Beast cast, and numbers three and four soothed hurt feelings about not being offered the bus and truck tour. Speaking of which, I texted Audra late Saturday and asked if she and her daughter Zoe just tried to Skype me. She wrote that they hadn't. I didn't understand because I had gotten a message that Audra and Zoe wanted to talk to me on Skype. I forwarded her the message, and she wrote back "My name isn't Audrey." That's right, ADD style, I saw the essence of the message, but not the whole thing. It actually said, "Audrey, Bill and Zoe Ledbetter want to speak to you on Skype." I had tuned out the Bill and the Ledbetter part and, quite frankly, the "ey" at the end of Audr. I forgot that I have a friend named Bill Ledbetter from college. PS, Audra's full message to me was "My name isn't Audrey. Love, Andrea McArdle." Brava! Speaking of "Brava" and messages, I just got a new phone, which is doing non-stop auto correcting of every text/email I send, and it's driving me cra-za-zy! I wrote to my friend Tim, "Do you want to brave the snow and walk over?" It literally auto-corrected it to "Do you want to brava the snow?" He then wrote to me Wait, are you using "brava" as a catchall word now? It's not even a verb. Or have you used the word "brava" so much that your phone auto-corrected when you typed "brave the snow"? Either option depresses me. . Well said.

Santino Fontana in The Importance of Being Ernest
photo by Joan Marcus

James and I saw The Importance of Being Ernest on Saturday and lo-o-o-o-o-oved it. When we saw the revival of Sunday in the Park With George, James mentioned that he thought the guy playing the soldier was great. Well, his name is Santino Fontana, and he's now playing the lead in The Importance of Being Ernest, and he's perfect in the part. It was so great seeing someone who is not well-known completely win over an audience by inhabiting a character and being completely charming and funny. And, PS, I totally thought he was British. Brava on the accent! (Brave on the accent?) Then I found out I've been listening to him on my Fantasticks recording because he also played Matt in the recent 2006 revival. You're not allowed to be a incredible actor in classic plays and have a great voice, too. When I see someone that talented, I get completely overwhelmed. I now need ten minutes for a hefty dose of self-hatred.

And, I'm back. This week at my Sirius/XM show, I interviewed Olga Merediz, Arielle Jacobs and Chris Jackson from In the Heights. As usual, I asked about on-stage mishaps and turns out, recently Chris forgot to come on for his final scene with Nina's father, Rick Negron. The scene is just the two of them, so Rick "solved" the problem by having the conversation on his cell phone. "What's that you say? You left your uniform and keys inside the dispatch office?" I'm sure that was very satisfying to the audience. I'm not saying that's why the show closed, but… Also! Chris has a new CD that's sassy! Go to http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?pid=8258157 and listen to it obsessively like my niece, Eliana.

Chris Jackson

Speaking of my 13-year-old niece, you know that both she and my aging sister Nancy have a crush on Chris. I took a picture of him holding a sign that said, "Hi, Eliana" and sent it to her. She wrote back how excited she was and that she was going to hang it on her locker at school. Nancy then wrote me: "Picture is amazing! Please tell Chris, though, that I spell my name 'N-A-N-C-Y' and not the old fashioned way of 'E-L-I-A-N-A.' Other than that, I simply love it and it's going on my locker also!!!" She's still got it. And by "it" I mean a delusional cougar-like crush.

Well, I saw the final matinee of In the Heights, and it was wonderful. There are so many brilliant and satisfying and pure-theatre moments in that show. I was in tears for so much of it. Afterwards, I met up backstage with my friends in the show and took a picture of Priscilla Lopez collecting the photos from inside the dispatch booth. They were family portraits of her, her "husband" and the different girls who played Nina. Wah. As Sonny says, this is the end of an era.

Priscilla Lopez cleans out the dispatch booth

Then I saw Andrea Burns who gave a hilarious and amazing-sounding performance but, I found out afterwards, spent the whole show in crazy pain because she was doing it all with a broken toe! She had broken it a while ago executing some of the rigorous Andy Blankenbuehler choreography. And cut. She actually broke it on her night off, walking casually around her apartment. Did she then switch her footwear to flats to let it heal? Of course not. She refused to sacrifice glamour and has been doing the show, eight times a week, in Daniela's signature crazy high heels. And by "Daniela's signature" crazy high heels," I also mean Andrea's signature. When I went to her baby shower six years ago, I remember being horrified/impressed that she showed up with a nine months pregnant upper half sassing her lower half in full-out high heels. You can take the girl out of Miami, etc…. I ended the week on a delicious note: I got into the "Bullseye" in Entertainment Weekly. If you don't know what the bullseye is, it's on the last page of the magazine and it's headlined as "a look at the pop culture news that was right on target this week- and the events that missed the mark." Of course, I was nervous I'd be in the "miss the mark" section… perhaps based on the jazz dance I did to "I Am What I Am" in high school for a cable TV program, but thankfully I was in the center! And by "in the center" I mean right next to it. Someone following me on Twitter figured out a way to post it, click here- http://twitpic.com/3o0dkb And, finally, the video section. My new Obsessed video is up with the origins of "Youtube sensation" Miranda Sings (the hi-lar Colleen Ballinger) and my new Sony Masterworks deconstruction is up highlighting my love of Ain't Misbehavin'. Watch the sass, belting and harmonies here and 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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