Onstage & Backstage: Performing Les Misérables with a Tootsie Roll and Becoming "Friends" with Lisa Kudrow

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Performing Les Misérables with a Tootsie Roll and Becoming "Friends" with Lisa Kudrow
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Seth and Chita
Seth and Chita


I'm backstage in my dressing room at the lovely Berman Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit. Tonight is a fancy-shmancy dinner with the supporters of the theatre, and I'll be eating with my producer Mark Cortale and the star with whom I'm performing tomorrow, Conchita Del Rivero, AKA Chita Rivera !

Let's first go back to the start of the week. I saw On the Town with my Mom and we had a great time. The dancing is delicious, and it's a joy to hear that big, fat orchestra. My Mom is 82 and On the Town first played on Broadway when she was 12 years old. 70 years ago! Yet, that writing is still so amazing. Alysha Umphress and Jay Armstrong Johnson (who are coming on my "Chatterbox" this Thursday at 5!) are great as Hildy and Chip, and they sing one of my favorite songs, "Come Up To My Place." Chip is a very green tourist who wants to see the sights, and Hildy is a sexually aggressive cab driver. All of the tourist attractions he wants to see no longer exist, and every time Hildy hears him name one, she slams the brakes.

After he mentions the Hippodrome, she brings the cab to a screeching halt. He asks, "Hey, what did you stop for?" She responds, "It ain't there anymore!" Then, when he asks about Tobacco Road, she hits the brakes, and here's what I'm obsessed with: Comden and Green have Chip question her with the same words he used the first time, but they rearrange the order. Instead of "Hey, what did you stop for?" he asks "Hey, what for did you stop?" "That show has closed up shop!"

Jay Armstrong Johnson and Alysha Umphress
Jay Armstrong Johnson and Alysha Umphress Photo by Joan Marcus

Then, when he asks about the defunct Aquarium and she immediately stops the car, Comden and Green manage to change the words around again. They form a bizarre question, yet it makes sense: "Did you stop for what hey?" "The fish have flown away." Finally, he wants to see the highest place in New York: the Woolworth tower. She again comes to an abrupt stop, and the lyrics are rearranged one more time: "Did you stop for hey what?" "It ain't the highest spot!" I love it! It's not really noticeable to the audience, but it just shows how creative and fun-loving Comden and Green were. Here's Lea Delaria and Jesse Tyler Ferguson doing the song during the 1998 revival!

On "Seth Speaks," I had J. Mark McVey. He told me that he always wanted to play Jean Valjean, but every time he'd audition, he'd get typed out. What does that mean? Well, he'd show up to a cattle call, they'd line everyone up in groups and point to the people they wanted to stay. Because he was young and has blond hair/blue eyes, he was never asked to stay. I understand the young part, but aren't there blond French people? And isn't he wigged throughout most of the show? Regardless, he was finally able to bypass the open call and get an audition with the resident director. As soon as he sang, they asked, "Where have you been?" I guess the answer was, "Being asked to leave." The good news is, he got the part back in the '90's, when I was playing in the Les Misérables orchestra on Broadway. Mark was my absolute favorite Valjean. His voice has the strength you need to sing that role, but he doesn't sound like an opera singer. Listen to him sing "Bring Him Home."

McVey as Valjean
McVey as Valjean

I asked him for one of his favorite Les Miz mistakes and he remembered the time Eponine (played by the great Jennifer Naimo) arrived to do the scene where she hands Valjean a note that Marius wrote. The scene began and she suddenly realized, she forgot the note! She reached into her pocket and handed him whatever she had in it... a Tootsie Roll wrapper. Seriously. Was that supposed to be a note from Marius? Should Mark just skip it? Well, since Les Miz is totally sung, there's no way to skip anything, plus Mark knew he had to say the information in the letter because it's an incredibly important plot point. So, he took the Tootsie Roll wrapper and "read" what Marius wrote. Yes, somehow, even though a Tootsie Roll wrapper is about ¼ inch big, Marius was able to get all of this inscribed upon it:

"Dearest Cosette, you have entered my soul
And soon you will be gone.
Can it be only a day since we met
And the world was reborn?"

There's more.

"If I should fall in the battle to come
Let this be my goodbye..."

There's actually more.

"Now that I know that you love me as well
It is harder to die...
I pray that God will bring me home
To be with you.
Pray for your Marius. He prays for you!"

I guess the audience thought Marius was one of those people who can write the Declaration of Independence on a piece of rice.

This week I got to interview someone I have watched obsessively on television: Lisa Kudrow! Of course, I loved her on "Friends," but I became more obsessed when I saw the fantastic film "The Opposite of Sex," and my stalker status began with "The Comeback." I loved that show so much and watched it numerous times. HBO cancelled it after one season, but miraculously, it's coming back after ten years! The original series focused on Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow), a sitcom actress who comes back to TV on a headache-y sitcom. As she films the sitcom, she also films a reality series called "The Comeback."

Seth and Lisa Kudrow
Seth and Lisa Kudrow

I asked her how she came up with Valerie, and she told me it happened when she was doing The Groundlings, the L.A. improv group. She used to do a monologue called "Your Favorite Actress on a Talk Show" that was the basis of Valerie. Lisa remembers it ended with her asking the audience, "And come on, everybody, can you help save the planet? For me?" Lisa loved her inflated sense of self and that turned into Valerie Cherish.

She told me that one of "The Comeback" scenes was loosely based on costume fittings for "Friends." Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox would be put in these tiny, sexy outfits, and Lisa's character would not. She lost weight but then walked around not feeling well. Then the costume people would try to make her feel better but overcompensate: "Oh, Jennifer and Courtney are ridiculously skinny." That whole scenario turned into a scene where the costumer (played by the hi-lar Nathan Lee Graham) is putting the other actresses in sexy, skimpy outfits and then puts Valerie in a track suit. It's so hilariously unflattering.

I also asked her about Valerie's signature line on the sitcom. They wanted to give Valerie what she would think is her catchphrase. First, it was going to the unfunny old chestnut, "Get a room!" Then they turned it into, "Note to self! After a long day at work... I don't wanna see that!" The night before she films, she practices the line over and over again, trying to decide which word to accent. I asked her why and she said because nothing Valerie does is spontaneous. Watch! She said the new season is about Valerie putting together a reel to try to get Andy Cohen to give her a TV show. She thinks she has a chance because she's been communicating with Andy. Lisa then told me Valerie's version of "communicating" is he tweeted something, she tweeted "Funny tweet, Andy" and he replied, "Thanks, Val." AKA they're communicating. I took a photo with Lisa doing the signature "time out" gesture Valerie does whenever she wants the reality show to stop filming. Look!

I'm now back in NYC and if you're wondering if I had my signature travel drama, I can say yes. I flew to Detroit without a hitch and flew back perfectly as well. I got a cab right away and there was no traffic on the way back to New York. I had brought a lot of copies of "Seth's Broadway Diary" to sell. I sold out of them (and you can continue the trend by buying them here!). And since the suitcase I used to transport the books to Detroit was now empty, I filled it with new clothes I had bought at the mall. Around ten minutes before I got to my apartment, I realized that I had my carry-on suitcase, but I forgot that I checked the other suitcase and it was still on the luggage carousel. Giving new meaning to this song.

Come see me this Friday in New Orleans with Cheyenne Jackson, Saturday in San Antonio with Ana Gasteyer and Sunday in New York at the Humane Society Benefit with Sutton Foster and many others! All info here. And now, 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.)

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