ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Poolside With Marissa Jaret Winokur in L.A.

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Poolside With Marissa Jaret Winokur in L.A.
A week in the life of actor, writer and music director Seth Rudetsky.

Marissa Jaret Winokur
Marissa Jaret Winokur


Hello from Sunny Los Angeles! Although, for the last Two days it's been cold and rainy Los Angeles. Literally arrived for the two days out of the year when it rains. And, because there was a massive inch of rain spread out over a 12-hour period, the streets flooded. Let's be honest — Los Angeles is a wimp. Regardless, now it's sunny and beautiful and all I want to do is move here. The week began in New York where I interviewed Ben Vereen for my Sirius/XM "Live On Broadway" show. He relayed to me an old piece of theatre lore: [AUDIO-LEFT]once there was a big snowstorm in New York and only one person showed up to see a certain show. Backstage, the lead actor made a big speech to the cast that even an audience of one deserved a good show and even more so on that night because he actually got himself to the theatre. After the performance, the actor broke the fourth wall and thanked the man for coming. He then asked him how far he traveled to be in the audience. "Traveled?" the man replied. "I work here! I'm just waiting for you guys to finish so I can clean up." It sounds like a made-up story, but I recall many a freezing night at the Sullivan Street Playhouse where I was playing piano for The Fantasticks and the cast onstage outnumbered the audience. "Try to remember, one audience member…"

Ben sang "Magic To Do" and he still sounds great. I had a flashback to The Ritz, where I sang part of that song. I had to wear a unitard and after the show one of my famous actor friends met me backstage and asked how they padded the unitard so it looked like I had a fat gut. There was an awkward silence and I then quietly replied that I didn't use any padding. I informed her, in actuality, it was my own fat. Then there was the pathetic backpedaling of "What? You don't have any fat on you!" as she poked me to prove it. However, her ruse was to completely avoid my stomach area and poke my ribs…the one area where fat cannot gather. I guess I fell for it because I'm still using tons of half and half in my coffee.

While I was in New York, I filmed a new "Obsessed" Playbill video with Varla Jean Merman. Varla's real name is Jeffrey Roberson, and he told me a crazy story that happened to him recently in L.A. He was there on tour with his show, The Loose Chanteuse, which is hilarious. (P.S., right now it's in New York at Ars Nova. For tix go to VarlaOnLine.com.) Anyhoo, he gets sponsored in part by Fleet Enemas (seriously) and does a hilarious number called "The Fleet's In." He also gives them out to the audience, so there was a ton of them in the trunk of his L.A. car. And his back seat was crammed with all of his drag costumes. One morning, he drove to the grocery store for some food but the parking lot was full so he drove home. As soon as he pulled up to his house, four (!) policemen surrounded his car and forced him to get out with his hands up.

SCARY POLICEMAN: Where were you just now?
JEFF: The grocery store…
SCARY POLICEMAN (checking back seat): There are no groceries in the car! You're coming with us!
JEFF: But — They put him in a police car and wouldn't tell him why he was being held. Then they searched his car and found numerous large women's outfits…and boxes of enemas.

SCARY POLICEMAN: Why do you have all these enemas?
JEFF: Well, I do a show…and there's a medical segment…

I guess that's a good excuse. Then they pulled him out of the cop car where he was being held (and handcuffed!), shined a light on him and another car pulled up. Jeff realized that there must have been a witness in the car who was looking at him and telling the police whether or not he was whomever they were looking for. Finally, they let Jeff go. Apparently, there had been an armed robbery in the neighborhood and Jeff fit the description. Cra-za-zy. Jeff and I both have the same manager (Mark Cortale) and Mark begged Jeff not to tell the story that night. Of course, Jeff thought it was hilarious and defiantly told it in the middle of the show. The audience was laughing up a storm…for a while. Then Jeff told me that the story simply got depressing…. and there was no actual punch line. And…fade out. The energy of the show was completely lost and Jeff saw Mark in the audience, staring smugly. For the Playbill video, I had Jeff sing one of my favorite parodies that he's written…to "Schoolhouse Rock." Brilliant!


When we got to L.A., James, Juli and I took the Warner Brothers studio tour. It's really great. Unlike Universal, which is pretty much a giant ride, you get to walk around the Warner Brothers soundstages and sets. The tour guide drove us a little crazy because she wouldn't stop busting us for "being gullible." It was literally, "Over here is what you think is a house...but it's not. It's fake, but you believe it's real because you're gullible. Then you'll see actors walk to the back of the house, but the whole house is really just a front. And yet, you think there's a back because you're gullible. Then you'll see an actor go to the second floor, but it's actually a staircase to nowhere! You all think there's a second floor because you're so gullible."

I finally yelled out, "I never thought there was a second floor!" Which isn't true, I've always completely fallen for every film illusion, but I couldn't take the accusations anymore.

On the way out of the tour, we ran into Ana Gasteyer, on the Warner Brothers lot, who was with her husband, Charlie. We were laughing about celebrity tweeting. She read one from a famous actress lauding another famous actress who just joined her Broadway show. She knew the lauding was because the new actress wasn't actually good in the role and the famous actress therefore felt comfortable praising her.

ANA: The tweet read "It's official; New Actress is fabulous in her role!" Hmph. More like "It's official; You aren't threatened by her."

Marissa Jaret Winokur invited us to stay with her in L.A. and we're loving it…ish. The actual bed for me and James is actually an enormous couch that forces my back to do Cirque Du Soleil contortions while I'm sleeping. The best part is her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Zev, who is adorable. He and Juli are now best friends. My best friend Jack Plotnick came to visit and, of course, we immediately snooped in Marissa's bedroom. We were so excited to see her Tony Award lying around. Then we looked closer and saw it wasn't a Tony, it was an Emmy. What the — ? Then we picked it up and saw it wasn't even for Marissa…it belonged to Adrian Zmed! I confronted Marissa when she got home (blaming the snooping on Jack) and she revealed that she stored some boxes for Adrian when his house flooded. They're still friends from the 1990s Grease national tour. However, she hasn't yet returned the Emmy. And she used it for her own hilarity. She took a picture of Zev holding the Emmy and then blew it up to the size of a door. Then, after her good friend Matt Morrison lost the Emmy Award this year, she literally drove to his house and put the picture on his front door with the caption: You lost? Ouch. Even Zev has one of these . Amazing!

My favorite Marissa story involves the original workshop of Hairspray where she was Tracy, and Jennifer Lewis was Motor Mouth. Jennifer is the height of sass and every time she would see Marissa, she'd point and say: "Marissa! You will never be as famous as Miss Jennifer Lewis! You will never have as much money as Miss Jennifer Lewis! You will never be as black as Miss Jennifer Lewis." The words always came so fast and furious that Marissa would be stymied and never have a comeback. Cut to, a few years after Hairspray opened, many of the original cast went to see the first high school production. They all took an enormous limo and Marissa got dressed up and brought a giant handbag. As soon as she got in the spacious back seat Jennifer started her signature "You will never be as rich as Miss Jennifer Lewis! You will never have as much soul as Miss Jennifer Lewis…" Marissa cut her off by reaching into her handbag and saying, "And, Miss Jennifer Lewis, you will never have one of these!" — and she pulled out her Tony Award! Silence. Then Jennifer looked at Marissa with admiration and said, "You have shut up Miss Jennifer Lewis!" Right now, I'm lounging next to the pool while Marissa, her husband Judah, Juli and Zev frolic in the hot tub. I'm the uptight New Yorker, sitting at the side of the pool, fully clothed and "freezing." I don't really fit in L.A., but this week there was a great feature about me in the L.A. Times. Take a gander here.

 They asked me what my influences were, and one of the shows I mentioned was Hair, which was the first show I ever saw when I was a toddler. I also happened to feature Hair this week in my Sony Masterworks Deconstruction. Watch the amazing belting!

All right, I have to get ready. I'm playing Betty Buckley's amazing show tonight, Broadway By Request at a benefit for Reprise. If you're in town, come on by!  And if not, I'll see you on the East Coast. 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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