ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: My Disaster! Sings

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: My Disaster! Sings
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.



Hello from Logan Airport. I'm in Boston after doing my The '70s Deconstruction Show which is basically my "Brady Bunch Variety Hour" show with some other variety shows thrown in for shock value. I must say, the SpeakEasy Stage audience up here is amazing! I had heard Boston audiences can be hard, but the people that show up for my shows are so responsive. Essentially, if they had been in Boston in the early '70s, Prettybelle would have been a smash. Now I'm flying up to Canada to do two shows with Andrea Martin. I'm obsessed with the new Edith [AUDIO-LEFT]Prickley rap that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote. Fave part? "I'm Prickley and I'm loud! (What?) I'm Prickley and I'm proud! (What?) I'm wearing leopard print so you can pick me in a crowd!"

Seth and Jack at Disaster!
(note '70s-style middle part in Seth's hair)
photo by Lauren Kennedy

May 23 was the first performance ever of Disaster! If you don't know, for around 15 years I've been wanting to write a jukebox musical based on 1970s disaster movies. My friend Drew Geraci and I were doing Forever Plaid back in the '90s, and we wanted the show to be called Blackout '77. It was going to be about the big New York City blackout that happened during that summer. We would talk about it but always faded out when it came to writing it. Then Dena Hammerstein and Pam Pariseau, who run the not-for-profit Only Make Believe, asked me to do a benefit. They helm a great organization that brings theatre to hospitalized kids, and I work with them every year on their big gala benefit. They told me that their donors are big fans of mine and would love to see me do a show. I decided to strike! I picked a date and knew that would force me to write the show. It turned from a musical about the 1977 blackout into a show where every disaster-movie disaster took place: earthquake, tidal wave, fire, rats, killer bees, etc. Dena Hammerstein's son owns The Box and donated it for the night so we could do our show. I am thoroughly un-hip and I wasn't quite familiar with what The Box is famous for. Let's just say, they have very "unique" acts. My friend went to a show there and told me that he saw a reverse striptease. Meaning? A woman came out totally nude and got dressed using clothes she had on her person. What's that, you ask? Where did she get her clothes from if she was completely nude? Think it through. That's correct.

Michael Longoria getting Lauren Kennedy's hair extensions
photo by Lauren Kennedy

While we were rehearsing, some of the ladies went to the toilet downstairs. What then followed was a slew of pictures taken of each of them in the stall. Why? Because the toilet had stirrups on either side of it…with a mirror angled down from the ceiling. I guess if you're going to "do it," you might as well watch it. And I'm out. Regardless, the club is so cool-looking inside and was perfect for our show. Literally like a luxurious cruise ship. We teched it all day on Monday and suddenly it was 7 PM. The place was filled with supporters of Only Make Believe, and from the get-go they were completely on board. They totally got all of the jokes, and because they all knew me from the previous benefits, I got full entrance applause. I felt like Angela Lansbury coming out at the beginning of "It's Today." The most moving part for me was watching Will Reynolds sing "Alone Again, Naturally." I love that song so much, and when I started thinking of '70s songs for the show, I was obsessed with getting that song in. When I was in Palm Springs, I was driving around with Jack Plotnick and we kept brainstorming how to make the song work. We were blasting it on his CD player in the car and after listening again and again, we finally came up with an idea that we thought would make the song make sense in the show. On the night of the show, I was watching from the back as Will started singing and I got tears in my eyes because I remembered us struggling to get the song into the show and suddenly it was happening in front of me. So exciting! One problem we had during the tech was getting a good look for Michael Longoria. He played ten-year-old twins, Ben and Lisa. As Ben, he just wore a baseball cap, but for Lisa they gave him a baseball cap with braids the color of his hair. The problem was the braids were far back in the cap and so dark that they didn't really change his face enough to make us able to differentiate him as Lisa. Thankfully, Lauren Kennedy (who is in the show) is new-school (AKA when she wants to grow her hair longer, she simply attaches extensions). She had a ton of extra extensions that she wasn't planning on using and, right before the show, Michael had long plaits of Lauren-colored hair attached to his baseball cap. And...ten-year-old girl!

The cast was so great and I filmed a little bit of rehearsal for my Playbill.com Obsessed! series. In the second act, Ben (played by Michael) passes out because he's diabetic and Lisa (played by Michael) has to carry him to get his insulin. In the show, Michael carried a dummy dressed exactly like Ben and sang this:

While I was rehearsing Disaster!, Juli was rehearsing The Secret Garden: Spring Version. It was a 70-minute edition put on by The Broadway Workshop that will soon be available for schools to do. Marc Tuminelli directed it amazingly. I couldn't believe the focus of those kids! Everyone in the ensemble had to stay onstage throughout the entire show and sit on chairs that were lined up on the perimeter of the stage. But they weren't allowed to sit like I do (legs splayed, upper body hunched), they had to sit at the edge of their seats, hands clasped in their laps and back completely straight. For the whole show! How do I get Juli to do that at home? The kids were also fully costumed, mic'd and either had their hair done up 1800s style, or they were wigged. They also had cool giant set pieces (see photo). Where was The Broadway Workshop when I was a kid? Why was I forced to hole up for hours in my den choreographing a solo version of "Magic To Do" that never got performed? Go to www.TheBroadwayWorkshop.com for info on their next workshop/class.

Gavin Creel
photo by Robert Mannis

On Saturday night, James and I went to see "Bridesmaids" starring Kristen Wiig. First of all, I thought it was so incredibly funny. I was laughing with crazy heaving noises. Secondly, on the way out we ran into Gavin Creel, who also loved it. He got a super short haircut and looks great. He told us he's going to London to record some of his stuff and then to Williamstown to work with some writing partners on creating some kind of show. He doesn't even know what it's going to be. He's just going to be with them all day for seven days and see what happens. He's such a great writer, I'd love there to be a theatre show with his music. He usually gets what he sets his sights on. I remember he told me that when he was in college, he dreamed of doing a new Sondheim show that wasn't a revival, and premiering a part and getting his own song. Cut to: just a few years after college he debuted an original part and song in Sondheim's Bounce! As Oprah says, "Secret!!!!" 

Speaking of funny women from "SNL," I loved "Bossypants," the comic memoir by Tina Fey. I was reading it on a plane and I know the guy next to me thought I was crazy. Why? Because every minute I was laughing full volume, and there was no "Wow! What are you reading?" or, "Must be a funny book." He literally just stared straight ahead as I broke into loud guffaws. He was employing my patented technique of "If I don't acknowledge the craziness next to me, I can't be sucked into it." Here is one of my favorite sections. Tina Fey writes about the rules of doing a magazine cover shoot. This is the part where she discusses what to do when they ask you what kind of music you want to have played throughout the shoot.

Cover art for bestseller "Bossypants"

She writes, "Remember that whatever you choose will be blasted through the loft and heard by an entire crew of people who are all so cool that the Board of Ed. officially closed. Just murmur 'Hip-hop,' or make up the name of a hipster-sounding band and then act superior when they've never heard of it. 'Do you guys have any Asphalt of Pinking? [disappointed] Really? [shrug] Whatever you want then.' Sometimes they ask if you want to hook up your iPod for background music. Do not do this. It's a trap. They'll put it on shuffle, and no matter how much Beastie Boys or Velvet Underground you have on there, the following four tracks will play in a row: 'We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover' (from Annie), 'Hold On' by Wilson Phillips, 'That's What Friends Are For' and "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover.'"

Speaking of Annie (and Gavin), not only am I going to be doing my own show three days a week in Provincetown at The Art House, but I'm also heading a Broadway series there. I booked some of my favorite performers to come up and do their show with me playing. The line-up is: Jackie Hoffman, Charles Busch, Ana Gasteyer, Marilyn Maye, Adam Pascal, Andrea McArdle and Gavin Creel. Yowza! Check out the dates and info

This week I'm seeing Lysistrata Jones, which is being put on by the Transport Group (whose See Rock City & Other Destinations just won a Drama Desk Award for Best Book of a Musical for Adam Mathias). I cannot believe I wasn't at Lysistrata Jones the night Penny Marshall came! Hopefully Lenny and/or Squiggy will be there Friday night. 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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