ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Live from O-Lando

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Live from O-Lando
A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth with James and Juli
Seth with James and Juli


Hello! I am in my lovely two-bedroom condo in Florida facing the lake.

And by "my condo," I mean the one I have to vacate within 12 hours. I flew down to Orlando to perform at The Parliament House, and they housed me in an amazing time-share right next door to the theatre. It's literally two bedrooms, a balcony, three bathrooms and the master bathroom has an enormous shower and a Jacuzzi. Delicious. James and Juli came down with me, and we've had a great time. The one devastating thing is how nice Michael Wanzie is. He's the guy that booked me here, and when we got here, he left all these presents for Juli as well as romantic candles set up around the Jacuzzi for me and James and snacks for all of us. What's the devastating part? I literally ate all of the snacks within one hour (60 minutes). All except the healthy ones (dried cranberries). At twenty minutes I downed the trail mix (under the guise of it being "good for me" but frankly, it's essentially a bag of fat with dollops of M&M's) and by minute 59, I polished off a whole bag of Poppycock which, James informed me, has 1,700 calories. Luckily, it's the winter, and I can dress in layers to conceal my weight gain. What? Spring just began and Orlando's weather is in the high 70's? And I stupidly brought shorts and tank tops with me? Wow. Question: Can you purge in a Jacuzzi?

Speaking of Orlando, the tour of Song and Dance went through here in the late 80's, and Scott Wise once told me that he and Danny Herman were pulling pranks on the cast non-stop. At the top of the second act, the fabulous dancer Cynthia Onrubia would give a big shout-out to whatever city they were in. She'd stand center stage and yell "Hello, Spokane!" or "Hello, Detroit!" Well, when they got to Florida, Scott told Cynthia that Orlando isn't really pronounced "Orlando." He said that insiders always pronounce it "O-Lando" and that the people who lived here would think she's totally in-the-know if she pronounced it like a true native. Cynthia, remembering that he was a prankster, completely ignored him and the show went on without a hitch. Actually, that's what should have happened. Instead, she believed him (!) and in front of thousands of Orlando citizens, she stood centerstage and proudly yelled, "Hello, O-Lando!!!!" Silence. I'm obsessed with what the audience thought. Cynthia is Asian-American, so maybe they thought it was an accent they'd never before heard??? Or they simply recoiled in derision and confusion while the rest of the cast (and Melissa Manchester) cackled.

Anyhoo, on Friday James, Juli and I spent the day at SeaWorld where we got in for free because of Wanzie's finagling (Michael calls himself by his last name and it was hilarious to hear Juli say "Hi, Wanzie!"). A note about amusement parks: When I was a kid, I loved roller coasters, but once I went through puberty I got motion sickness. So, there was a lot of me standing and watching them go on the water flume ride (yes, even that makes me sick) and the terrifying Kracken roller coaster, which I renamed the Crack Who*e. The next day, I taught a four-hour master class while they went to the Magic Kingdom. The crazy thing about this trip was that when James and Juli went on the SeaWorld flume ride, the ride stopped right before the end, and they couldn't exit 'til it got fixed. It finally moved after around five minutes, I assumed it was a fluke and they then went on the Krak. As the roller coaster started climbing up the enormously high track before the first plunge, it stopped! I took a picture because it was bizarre looking (see sidebar). Then, that night we went to Epcot and as we rode the Space Ship Earth, the ride stopped! The next day they were at Magic Kingdom, and when they got on Splash Mountain, their car stopped right before the final plunge — for 20 minutes! And, I just got off the phone with James (they left a day before me) and on the train ride home from Newark, the train stopped and they had to get out. Apparently James/Juli and anything that rides on a track do not go together. They are forbidden from auditioning for Starlight Express. Not because the whole show is on tracks around the theatre, but because it always gives me a headache trying to figure out what Dinah is spelling when she sings "U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D." On Saturday night, I did my Deconstructing Broadway show. The good news is the audience was fantastic, and the show was sold-out! The bad news is that while I was rushing to the theatre, I neglected to close the door to our condo, and James and Juli got home to the apartment door ajar, which was followed by James creeping through the apartment tentatively saying "…Hello?" and slowly opening up closet doors and throwing the sheets off the bed to see if anyone was hiding underneath them. I got home to significant glaring and a severe talking to about safety. From Juli. The last part is a lie, but I thought it was a good button, comedy-wise.

The whole week began with a glamorous theatrical event. James and I got to go to the opening night of Rooms: A Rock Romance, which was great. I was really impressed with the writing because I think it's very difficult to tell a two-person story with mostly songs and although I first thought it was crazy that it was set in Scotland, I then thought it was the coolest idea in the world! The two leads, Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger, were spectacular! There were so many celebs in the audience including cutie Patrick Wilson, who was with his beautiful, pregnant wife Dagmara (they're expecting their second child), triple-threat Karen Ziemba, Tony Award winner Gary Beach and funny lady Jackie Hoffman, whom I just saw on an episode of "30 Rock." Speaking of Jackie, I had a party recently, and on the Evite it said, "Party begins at 6 PM so you can bring your kids!" Jackie responded in the "Maybe" section of the Evite with the qualification: "How many children will be there?"

Last Wednesday, I interviewed John Miller, who is one of the biggest Broadway contractors. A contractor is the person who hires the musicians in the pits, and he's done so many shows, it's mind-boggling. The Producers, Seussical, Jersey Boys, Thoroughly Modern Mille, The Drowsy Chaperone are just a smattering of the many shows for which he's put the orchestra together. He was there talking about his new CD called "Stage Door Johnny," which is available at www.psclassics.com/cd_miller.html. John began as a bass player and in the late 70's he was asked to audition for I Love My Wife, the musical that celebrated the 70's penchant for wife swapping. Quick trivia note: Who took over for the two male leads? Answer: The Smothers Brothers. Question Two: Who understudied them? Answer: Chicago director Walter Bobbie!

So, the show needed a bass player who could sing and act a little, and John was asked to try out for the part and, before he went, he asked his actor friend for audition tips. His friend said that if John got a call offering him the part, he should ask to look at the script and score. John auditioned… and was offered the part on the spot! He tried to act savvy and told the director that he'd like to look at the script. There was an awkward pause and they finally said, "OK…we could get you a script." Then John said, "…and I'd like to see the score." Well, the composer was sitting right there…. and it was Cy Coleman! He had written the scores to Sweet Charity and On The Twentieth Century. There was another awkward pause, but this time it was followed by "Thank you very much!" Usually if you're thanked, you're also ixnayed. John was mortified, called and apologized for acting like he didn't want the job and he got cast. And, he was the main singer who debuted that 70's classic "Hey, There Good Times," which was also featured on the Tony Awards… I then deconstructed the Tony Awards to point out the distinct lack of blinking from Lenny Baker (24 seconds without a blink…topped only by Liza Minnelli's 33 seconds staying wide-eyed during "I Don't Know How To Love Him" during a "Spiritual" medley on the Bell Telephone Hour).

Then I chatted with Howard McGillin, who's now officially the longest-running Phantom. I, of course, asked him about mishaps in that show, and he said that the boat the Phantom uses to take Christine to his lair is remote controlled. Sometimes if a cab goes by using its radio, the boat will suddenly start backing up. I'd love to hear those offstage singers during the title song when the boat starts coming at them: "He's there…the Phantom of the Opera… Beware, the Phantom of the—Beware! BEWARE!"

I asked Howard what it was like playing opposite Broadway beltress Betty Buckley in Drood. He recalled that he was always blown away by the power of her voice when they sang the duet, "Two Kinsmen." Howard said it was like standing next to a 747. If you haven't heard that recording, get thee to iTunes ASAP. He also did Anything Goes with Patti LuPone, Leslie Uggams and Elaine Paige in London. I asked about Leslie Uggams, and he remembered her opening night on Broadway. There was a moment where he was supposed to be avoiding the ship's pursers, so he grabs Reno Sweeney and dips her in a liplock. When he let go of Leslie, she literally began to laugh at him onstage. He didn't know what was up 'til he got offstage and realized that Leslie was sweating a little and had forgotten to powder her face. So, when he got out of the kiss, his face was covered in full black woman foundation! Next role for Howard: Julie in Show Boat. Howard then sang two songs and suffice it to say, he's still got it! You can get his solo CD at his website www.howardmcgillin.com.

At the beginning of the week, I saw the Actors Fund performance of Shrek. Let me again tell everybody that if they're going to see a Broadway show, go during an Actors Fund performance. The ticket money goes to a great charity (not just for actors, for anybody in "the business" — writers, directors, ushers, musicians, box office workers, stagehands, etc.) and the audience is full of Broadway folk who are there on their "dark night." And, because the audience is full of Broadway folk, the actors give an extra sassy performance because so many of their friends are there. In one scene, John Tartaglia, who's so funny as Pinocchio, says something annoying and the crowd reacts. I decided to watch my friend Jennifer Simard, who plays the Wicked Witch, to see what her ad lib would be and, of course, I thought it was hilarious. As everyone was expressing their frustration with Pinocchio, I watched her mouth and could make out her saying, "You exhaust me. I'm exhausted!" Speaking of her improvs, she called me a week ago, and I saw her name on the caller ID and answered with a "Can I help you?" She immediately went with it and said, "I don't know. Is this American Airlines?" Brava. "Yes, and" training.

OK…this week, I'm going to see Anne Steele in her held-over show at The Metropolitan Room (metropolitanroom.com) and former Elphaba Eden Espinosa's gonna belt it out at Joe's Pub (www.joespub.com). Then, this weekend, I fly down to Myrtle Beach, SC, to do another master class and my Deconstructing Broadway show at Coastal Carolina University. For deets, go to www.SethRudetsky.com. And, Happy spring! *

(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.)

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