ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Mormon's Boys, Priscilla's Passion

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Mormon's Boys, Priscilla's Passion
A week in the life of actor, writer and music director Seth Rudetsky.

Varla Jean Merman and Leslie Jordan
Varla Jean Merman and Leslie Jordan Photo by Michael Lamont Photography


I spent last weekend in Palm Springs, got back Sunday evening, and on Monday morning I had a ticket to fly to New Orleans on an 8 AM flight. The night before, James and I went to sleep at 11 (old lady-style). I set my alarm for 6:15 so I could eat, walk the dog and get to the airport by 7 AM. Well, the next I know was waking up to the sound of James' voice saying, "Seth! It's 10 after 7!" That's right. I woke up ten minutes after I wanted to actually be at the airport. Because it was so outrageously late, I didn't even jump up and start rushing around. I just rolled my eyes and [AUDIO-LEFT]said, "Well, I missed the plane." James told me that I might as well try to make it so I got up and went to my suitcase. Not to grab it and run for a cab, but to actually pack it. That's right, my suitcase wasn't even packed. I finally got everything inside and left the apartment. Right when I got to my corner, a cab sped by. Oh, well, I'll get the next one. And, then — no cab for the next five minutes. I hauled it over to 72nd Street and hailed one…going up Central Park West. That's right, we didn't even go up Amsterdam where the lights stay green the whole time, we went up Central Park West and had a red light every three blocks. James texted me asking where I was and, at 7:44, I was still in a cab. I finally got to the airport and, typical-style, couldn't find my gate number, at first. I figured it out and went over to the security line. A nice lady let me go to the front, but at the x-ray machine there were three people in front of me. I waited a while and the nice lady walked over and told me to cut them. I got through, grabbed my stuff and ran to my gate area. There weren't any passengers around and all the doors leading to jetways were closed so I couldn't even figure out which one was mine. An employee asked me where I was going and when I said New Orleans, he opened the door to the jetway and let me on! That's right…I made the flight! And there were two girls in back of me running on, so I wasn't even the last one to make it! I still don't quite understand how I did it. Was I able to stop time? That's what I wasted my superpowers for? An 8 AM flight? When I could have just waited for the noon flight? Hmph. I haven't seen superpowers wasted like that since (insert tired/unfunny Spider-Man joke here).

But speaking of shocking Airport exploits, my trainer at the gym told me about his friend who booked his plane tickets on Expedia. When he showed up at the airport, he found out he wasn't booked on the plane. He showed the airline his Expedia confirmation but they assured him he had no ticket. He finally called Expedia and they told him that, unfortunately, they had re-booked him. When he asked when his flight was going to be they informed him it was last Thursday! That's right, they re-booked him for a week earlier! Did they include a time-traveling ticket as well? He had to buy two new tickets for an additional $2,000. Is Expedia a Latin word for "empty bank account"?

Anyhoo, New Orleans was beautiful and I spent that night watching a benefit screening of "Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads," the feature film I did with Varla (Jeff Roberson). The next day I flew back to NYC and so did Jeff because he's about to start rehearsals for the musical, Lucky Guy, where he plays a country music lady. The show stars Leslie Jordan, who is 4-feet-11-inches, and Jeff, who's way over 6 feet in heels, so seeing them side-by-side is enough of an incentive for me to see the show.

Andrew Rannells

This week I saw The Book Of Mormon and, not surprisingly, it's fantastic. So funny, tuneful, smart, well-performed and, despite it's salty language (salty meaning shockingly foul) it has plenty of heart. It's one of those shows I could see numerous times, and hopefully, I will! I wound up interviewing a few of the stars of the show on Sirius/XM. I asked Andrew Rannells, who plays the clean-cut missionary Elder Price, what his audition was like and he told me that after he auditioned in New York, he was asked to fly out to L.A .to read with Josh Gad, who was already cast. I am always fascinated by the awkward social protocol of seeing people you're competing against in the waiting area, and I asked him what that was like. He told me that right before he went in, he saw a well-known TV star go in. Andrew heard him sing and do the scene — that's the "fun" part about auditioning in rickety-rackety audition studios; the walls are made out of balsa wood — and he couldn't help but notice that it didn't go too well. On the way out, the TV star looked at Andrew and said, "Man…singing is hard." What a general, yet specific, comment. I asked Josh Gad who plays the hapless Elder Cunningham what his big role was in high school and turns out, unlike me — who played the cameo role of the Rabbi in his high school production of Fiddler on the Rood — Josh scored a coup and got the role of Tevye. As a sophomore! He told me that after that triumph, his head swelled and when he was cast as Charlemagne in his junior-year production of Pippin, he pulled a Julie Andrews and turned down the Tony nomination (a.k.a. role). It made no sense to me. Charlemagne is a great part for him and I asked what part he had wanted instead. No answer. Pippin? Fastrada? Silence. The next year, he realized the errors of his ways and accepted the supporting role of Nicely Nicely in his senior-year musical, Guys and Dolls. P.S., after my junior-year triumph in Whose Life Is It Anyway?, I was boycotted by my high school theatre teacher. I'm almost rid of my blood-boiling anger and vengeful thoughts. Back to Josh: he was first offered the part in Book of Mormon because Bobby Lopez (who co-wrote this score, as well as Avenue Q's) saw him in the film "Twenty One." At that time, Josh was in Spelling Bee on Broadway, so Bobby called the music director, Vadim Feichtner, and asked if he had any kind of recording of Josh singing. Vadim sent over a recording from the BC/EFA fundraiser CD "Carols for a Cure," Bobby listened and thought Josh had a fantastic voice. He therefore asked Josh to do the first workshop but soon noticed that Josh's voice sounded different than what he had heard. Turns out, the song Bobby had listened to on the CD was a group number and the voice he thought was "fantastic" actually belonged to Barrett Foa! That's right, ye olde bait and switch. Regardless, Josh has a great voice and kept getting asked to do each subsequent workshop and now, based on what I saw, he brings down the house with his brilliant performance. And it worked out for Barrett, too who's doing great on the TV show, "NCIS: L.A." And he's blond and blue-eyed so he's basically set for life.

This week I also did a new deconstruction for Sony Music of "I Got Love" from Purlie. Melba Moore's voice is amazing! Check it out:

Then I did my "Obsessed!" Playbill Video feature starring funny lady Julie Halston. I asked her to do a bit from her old comedy show where she read a letter to Ann Landers that I actually remember reading in the paper. You'd think that it's made up, but it's totally true. It's cra-za-zy!

Tony Sheldon in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
photo by Joan Marcus

As this goes to print, I'm preparing to go to a commercial audition. The commercial features a funny guy and older lady who is known in the script simply as "Nag." Naturally, my agent got me an audition along with… my mother. Life imitates art? Are we the new Shirley Jones/David Cassidy but without Mr. Kincaid? Speaking of my mom, I took her to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert because I knew she'd love it, which she did. If you recall, I was asked to audition for that show. Not for the young hottie played by Nick Adams, nor the cute bisexual dad played by Will Swenson. No, I went in for the aging transsexual played by Tony Sheldon who mentions in his bio that he's been in the business for 40 years. That's apparently my age range. I recall that the audition was actually amazing, but me and the other guys auditioning were stressing about having to sing the word "We" in the song "We Belong." It's on a horrible E vowel and the song was in a key that placed the word on a note that falls right on a normal person's break. They were insisting at the audition that we sing it in that key and I assumed that was because it's an amazing solo in the show, where the singer has to nail the high note. Well, I saw the Wednesday matinee and, turns out, it's a group number in harmony and there's no way to tell who's actually hitting the A flat! Why did I have to a.) stress about it; b.) give myself pre-vocal damage trying to hit it; and c.) make them endure hearing me hit an A flat with an emphasis on the word "flat"?

Regardless, after the show, I was texting with Will Swenson who is so loveable as the dad and I wrote, "Stop having a good body. It's shame-inducing." He texted back: "Shut it. I have to stand next to Nick Adams all day. Talk about shame." Hmm…I guess the word "shame" uses a sliding scale.

OK. I have more travel in my future; this weekend I'm in Scottsdale, AZ, with Betty Buckley, and then on April 2 we hit Kansas City! Details at www.BettyBuckley.com. Happy Spring…stay warm and dry! (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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