Greetings from Poland! I'm at the tail end of the Playbill Cruise in the Baltic and it's been fabulous! I wrote last time that Norm Lewis arrived in Stockholm, sailed with us for one day and then hightailed it back to the USA because he had to film an episode of "Scandal." He told me it was a day and night shoot so he shot the first scene at 8 AM and was finished by 8:15 AM. Then he had to wait 12 hours to shoot the second scene. That's a long intermission!
Anyhoo, he was supposed to fly from LA to NYC to Helsinki and then meet us in Estonia. Unfortunately, his plane from LA was an hour late and that meant his missed his connection. He wound up flying to Frankfort and then meeting us the following day at our next port, Lithuania. It wasn't that big of a deal because his big concert isn't until tonight, but he was scheduled to do a "Chatterbox" with me and there was no way to makes sure all the passengers knew it was cancelled. Patti LuPone's "Chatterbox" was scheduled for a few days later but when she heard Norm wasn't able to do his, she volunteered to do two! She said, "Seth and I are so funny together and we've plenty to talk about." So, even though their "types" are different, Patti LuPone was finally Norm Lewis' understudy. Brava non-traditional casting. Not since Carousel.
The cruise spent three days in St. Petersburg, and I was very torn about what to do. Putin has passed very anti-gay laws that really violate human rights, and I didn't want to go there and support the economy or go there and be blithely enjoying myself while so many people are suffering. First, I decided to boycott the entire three days and stay on the boat, but then James and I thought that it was a protest that would essentially make no impression. Then I decided I would take a photo of myself in Russia holding a sign that said, "I'm a gay, Jewish Russian" (my grandfather was born in Russia).
Patti LuPone did the first show on the boat and was, not surprisingly amazing! Every song was belted. And every song had crazy high notes. And she had a ton of songs. Throughout the show, Howard McGillin and Norm Lewis kept throwing each other terrified glances with the subtext of, "Do we also have to sing 8,000 songs and hit non-stop notes at the top of our ranges?" The show she did was called Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda and it features songs from roles she could have/would have or should have played. One of the highlights was her rendition of "Trouble" from The Music Man. Everything about it was thrilling...including the fact that she knew so many lyrics. Who knew she could rap? I told her we have to do it at our upcoming Provincetown show Labor Day weekend (for tix, get thee to PtownArtHouse.com). For an encore, she talked about the joy of doing Anything Goes and walked into the audience and found Howard McGillin. Then she sang all of "I Get A Kick out of You" while sitting next to him. It was amazing!
Howard was such a fun Chatterbox guest. He's done the role of the Phantom more than anyone else, and he told us that one night, he was greeted by a fan backstage: Donald Trump. That's right, "the Donald" told Howard he loved him in the show and he wanted him to perform at his luxurious Palm Beach estate in Florida. This estate has weekly gatherings of crazily wealthy people who have dinner and see a performance. Well, suddenly Howard and his partner Richard were on a private plane with Donald. Howard said Donald was very gracious and offered them snacks and drinks, walking around the plane. As the plane took off. Terrifying. Howard and Richard tightened their seatbelts and declined.
They were then picked up by a Rolls Royce limousine (seriously) and brought to the Trump estate. Donald told Howard, "Everyone in the audience is loaded. One guy lost $80 million to Madoff and he's still incredibly rich." Howard stood backstage, waiting to go on as Donald made his introduction. First he told the audience, "Next week we're going to have...world-famous singer, Andrea Bocelli!" Howard was mortified in the wings. He then told the audience that this week, they had the lead from Phantom Of The Opera. He added that, out of all the Phantoms, "this guy was rated number one." Before Howard could try to figure where and/or how he was rated number one, Donald went on to explain, "They rate these guys. Like golf courses." They do? "And he was rated...number one over Michael Crawford!" Interesting. Then, Donald proudly announced, "So here he is." Pause for effect. "Harold McKellam!" And then Howard/Harold entered. That's where the expression "Take the money and run" comes from.
Joe Thalken is also on this cruise (he played for Patti and Howard's show) and we were reminiscing about our early years. Joe is now also known as a composer (Harold and Maude and Was) but when I met him, he was a pit pianist. As a matter of fact, he got me my very first subbing job for My Favorite Year. I was his sub and got to play for him until the show closed. Unfortunately, it wasn't a very long run and that's why I nicknamed it My Favorite Week. I was also Joe's sub in Victor/Victoria and we were laughing about the time I took a lot of time off and then came back to sub. Julie Andrews was having vocal problems in the middle of the run, so Anne Runnolfsson took over for a while and the keys were changed for her. I played throughout that time and then became a full-time pianist for Grease.
On that note, I have to go get ready for Norm Lewis' big show tonight. Before I go, let me remind you to watch my latest "Obsessed," with Donna Vivino, the first Young Cosette on Broadway who now belts up a storm in Wicked. I get back on Wednesday afternoon and immediately go to the SiriusXM Studios to record "Seth Speaks" followed by a special talk show called "Town Hall" with Rita Moreno! I'm sure I'll be fine even though it begins midnight Polish time (!). Then on Thursday at 7 PM, I'm going to see Unbroken Circle again right after my "Chatterbox." I can't wait to see Jennifer Simard, who just took over the role of Edna. Come join me! UnbrokenCircleThePlay.com. And we'll also see if Juli remembers her lines after 10 days away from the show.
Soon, by the way, I'm going to have big news about Disaster, the musical I co-wrote based on those amazing 1970's disaster movies. Until then, let me end with whatever the Polish is for "Peace Out!"
(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)