ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Onstage, But No Backstage

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Onstage, But No Backstage
This was the week James and I saw a ton of shows because Juli was in Texas.
Linda Lavin
Linda Lavin

But let me first start with Juli getting to Texas. James booked her on a 7:15 AM flight (don't get me started on that craziness…he's a "morning person"). I was in charge of setting the alarm for 5:15 A.M because I just bought a new CD player/radio/alarm. I woke up around 4:30 in the morning and debated whether to stay up until I heard the overture to Shenandoah (that's the show I have in my CD alarm) and then decided to snooze a little more. The next thing I remember is James frantically saying, "The alarm didn't go off!" and me running downstairs to get Juli dressed and out of the house. I don't know how, but we jumped out of bed at 6:04 A.M and somehow got to LaGuardia Airport at 6:30! How did we wake up, get dressed, get in our rented ZipCar and get to Continental terminal three in less than a half hour? It's not like our apartment is in terminal two. I guess it's similar to those mothers who have to lift a car off of their toddler and suddenly have super-human strength. Perhaps when you're late for your kid's airplane, instead of super-human strength, you're able to bend the time/space continuum.

The plane debacle happened on Tuesday morning. Monday night was spent at a great benefit for marriage equality sponsored by the Jewish Alliance for Change. It was so cool to hear Linda Lavin sing "The Boy From…", the song by Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim that Linda originated in The Mad Show. I remembered the time many years ago when I was working on the reading of Michael John LaChiusa's Hello, Again and Linda was rehearsing The Sisters Rosensweig in another studio. We were in the Lincoln Center common area backstage, and we both made a beeline for the pay phone (it was before cell phones). When she saw we were both running for the same thing, she stopped, gestured towards the phone and graciously said, "You can use it." As I reached towards it, she suddenly said, "Actually, I'll only be a second," and picked up the receiver. I thought it was hilarious how quickly she changed her mind and I muttered sassily, "Passive aggressive" — not to mean "passive aggressive" with the real definition, but to mean two opposites being expressed… you know, "use it!" vs. "Don't use it!"….really just as a joke to myself. Unfortunately, my stage training backfired and my version of "muttering to myself" actually played to the second balcony. Linda turned with a curious expression and asked, curiously, "Did you just call me 'passive aggressive'?" What was I supposed to say? Kiss my grits? I was forced to respond and slowly nodded yes. There was silence. Then she made her phone call. I think she was so miffed by being called "passive aggressive" for the wrong reason that she chose to ignore it...and years later I chose to avoid her backstage for fear she would remember our early nineties rendezvous. If she's reading this, what I meant to say was: "Brava on It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman! I have it on my walkman."

My favorite moment from the Monday night benefit was when Phyllis Newman read a statement from Mildred Loving, who was half of the couple that went to the Supreme Court to finally allow interracial marriage. PS, it wasn't legal nationally until 1967! She and her husband married in the District of Columbia (where it was legal), but they were arrested in their home state of Virginia, in the middle of the night, in their bedroom. They had no choice but to plead guilty to miscegenation and the trial judge issued this statement: "Almighty God created the races… and placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with His arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix." Sound familiar? Watch Phyllis read the whole speech, which is so moving, at www.Jews4Change.com.

Wednesday was my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show with my good friend, Kristine Zbornik, who is also one of the most talented people I've ever met. We worked together for years in a piano bar and also had our own comedy show called Saturday At Rose's Turn. She told us that after she got Mamma Mia! in Las Vegas, she went to L.A. and did Forbidden Broadway as a benefit for their Reprise Series. It starred and was directed by Jason Alexander…and they rehearsed in his house! How cool is that? She said that he's a great dad and has a whole room just for doing magic. When you walk in, it looks like a den, but he has the furniture rigged on a turntable. With a flick of a switch, everything turns around and it suddenly becomes a magic theatre. There's a room like that in my mom's house now. It's not really a magic room…more like a room that hasn't been cleaned since the eighties. When you touch something, the "magic" part is finding a People Magazine from 1983 with a cover story on Kristy McNichol.

Zbornik also talked about how much she loved working with director John Doyle on A Catered Affair and Road Show. What I found so interesting is that he always starts rehearsal from the beginning of the show. So, instead of doing Act One, Scene 4, they'll start from the top of the act and stop when they get to the scene that needs staging. Kristine then regaled the audience with one of my favorite stories from her youth in Cleveland. There was a local TV station that showed movies and then had wacky little video interstitials between commercials. Kristine's father was asked to be in a pizza-eating contest, but because he was a prominent physician, he didn't want to be seen shoveling pizza in his gourd. So, naturally, 16-year-old Kristine volunteered. For the full effect, visualize her and the other contestant dressed as Keystone Cops (for reasons never fully explained to me). Then, note that the other contestant's name was Mush-Mouth Mariano Pachetti and had been the pizza-eating champion for years. He was a local trombone player who was able to puff out his cheeks incredibly wide, which also allowed for maximum pizza shoveling. Kristine's technique was to quickly eat one piece, then put all the other pieces in both cheeks and one in the center of her mouth. The contest began. She was doing much better than Mush Mouth expected, and she could see he was nervous. Note: The winner was the one who "ate" all of their pizza pie and closed his or her mouth first. Right before Kristine clamped her yap shut, Mush Mouth beat her to it. She was still proud of how well she did and invited all of the neighborhood kids over to watch her on TV the following Friday. Unfortunately, when she invited them over, she forgot that right after she shoved all those pizzas in her mouth…she threw them up. As she was watching the contest on TV with her friends, the TV screen was suddenly filled with the image of her throwing up the pizza in an instant replay loop. Kristine started laughing so hard that she peed in her pants…in the center of her living room…in the center of all the neighborhood kids...with her mother standing over her yelling, "What the hell are you doing? Get off the G.D floor!" Perhaps she should have listened to the camera man who berated her before the competition. He told her that it was not classy for a lady to do this contest. He said: "Mitzi Gaynor would never do it, and she's the classiest lady I ever met." He then told Kristine it would ruin her career. I asked Kristine if it did, indeed, ruin her career. She responded, "No…that's not what ruined it." In the middle of the Sirius/XM show we do a trivia game called "The Showtune Showdown." Kristine was competing against two audience members, including an 11-year-old kid named Eli Schildkraut from Sarasota. I sternly told Eli that Kristine is very competitive and she nodded and warned, "I'm gonna kick his a**." The game began and, turns out, Eli is a Broadway genius! He knew every answer. I asked Kristine if she was going to retract what she said. She refused and said, "He is going to win." Pause. "But I'm still going to kick his a**.

Kristine's doing her new show for the next three Sundays at Don't Tell Mama, and she is truly a comic genius. Go to KristineZbornik.com for deets.

Joanna Gleason

James and I saw Happiness on Wednesday night, and I'm obsessed with Joanna Gleason for having the most amazing comic timing ever. Every line was perfectly played and/or underplayed. Brava! James studied acting with her in L.A. and wanted to say hello after the show, but I wanted to get home to do one of my "Thirty Deconstructions in Thirty Days." James hadn't seen Joanna in years and really wanted to congratulate her and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to tell her how funny I thought she was. Finally, James convinced me to go to the stage door…just in time to see Joanna rush out, deep in conversation, with a cell phone glued to her ear. I guess it was worth the 15 minutes we spent deciding whether or not go to backstage. Thursday we saw my friend Lorin Latarro play Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, and she sassed it. I got so freaked out when I saw she got the last bow. I was so proud of her! On Friday we saw Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and I was happy to finally see my first August Wilson play. I know I'm busted…stop judging me via the internet! The cast was fantastic, and the audience went cra-za-zy during the curtain call. Saturday we hiked downtown and saw Why Torture is Wrong, And the People Who Love Themat The Public. I was obsessed with Audrie Neenan's running sight gag and would see the show again to watch those moments. I also love Laura Benanti and was so happy to finally see her in a comedy. I've known she was funny for so many years and have been waiting patiently for her to have a great comic role (besides her hilarious turn as the cow in Gypsy). Speaking of waiting, I emailed Laura and asked her if she wanted to know when we were coming to the show (some people don't like to know who's in the audience). She said not to tell her, but to see her afterwards. I was very cryptic and said we were coming in the next two weeks…and needed to get a babysitter for the night (to throw her off the fact we were seeing a matinee). Well, before the show, we went to the Union Square Farmer's Market and bought a lot of flowers for our garden and needed to pick them up before it closed. We were nervous we were going to get back to Union Square too late and couldn't decide whether to see Laura after the show or not (same argument as before but substitute Laura Benanti for Joanna Gleason). Finally, we decided we had to see her. I texted her a few minutes after the curtain came down. We waited another couple of minutes. Then Laura texted back that she was mortified because she already left! Brava on putting a new wrinkle on the Joanna Gleason technique of avoiding us.

Okay, this week I'm one of the judges of The Broadway Beauty Pageant which was so much fun last year (http://www.aliforneycenter.org/events.html). And, one of my best friends, Jack Plotnick, is visiting for a week and teaching his brilliant acting workshop (www.JackPlotnick.com). And speaking of workshops, I'm doing my Auditioning Master Class next Sunday morning. Go to SethRudetsky.com for details. And, of course, while you're at my website you can watch my continuing "Thirty Deconstructions in Thirty Days." You can also watch the dark circles under my eyes/in-need-of Botox-skin on my face during various deconstructions that were filmed at midnight due to the fact that it takes me an hour to prepare and, just like my old AP English papers, I start working on them an hour before they're due. They're fun to do/draining the life out of me. Peace out!


(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.)

Kristine Nielsen and Laura Benanti in <i>Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them</i>
Kristine Nielsen and Laura Benanti in Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them Joan Marcus
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