ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Popping Into Anything Goes and Wonderland

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Popping Into Anything Goes and Wonderland
A week in the life of actor, writer and music director Seth Rudetsky.

Tony winner Betty Buckley will perform in concert at Town Hall.
Tony winner Betty Buckley will perform in concert at Town Hall.


So tired. I'm on the 7 AM flight to Phoenix to go play for Betty Buckley in Scottsdale, AZ! It's so early! The last time I remember having to do things at 7 AM was when I took "driver's ed" in high school. Despite the time of day, I actually enjoyed the class and passed my driver's test on the first try…and pretty much never drove again. I admit I totally have a driving phobia. The thought of merging onto an expressway is scarier to me than (insert Spider-Man flying/injury joke here). The only time I drove consistently was when I was writing for "The Rosie [AUDIO-LEFT]O'Donnell Show" and we spent six weeks in L.A. That's right…from never driving to driving in L.A. traffic. That was "fun."

Speaking of that time period, the most bizarre thing that happened to me in L.A. took place in Universal City, which is where we were housed. My friend Jack Plotnick and I went to get sushi at a place called "Sushi on Tap." I assumed it was called that because it was probably a sushi place with lots of special beers. Jack and I ordered and I noticed there wasn't any beer around. Hmm…I then assumed it was called that because the sushi itself was "on tap" and flowed freely. Well, around ten minutes into our meal, I finally found out the reason; I looked up from my California roll and saw a waitress put a large, flat piece of wood on the floor. Strange. Then I heard an bouncy, uptempo song start to play throughout the restaurant. Stranger. And then the waitstaff did a full tap dance. Completely blank-faced. Seriously! It was crazy and amazing!

Jessica Walter on "Arrested Development."
photo courtesy FOX

Speaking of tap, my mom and I saw the Wednesday matinee of Anything Goes and loved it. I'm obsessed with "Arrested Development" so I got an extra kick out of seeing Jessica Walter (who played Lucille Bluth on TV) as Evangeline. Plus, at the end she sang part of a song and I was shocked to hear she had a good voice. It's always weird when you know a celeb solely as a straight actor and you suddenly hear that they have a good singing voice. Those of you who grew up watching "The Andy Griffith Show," I dare you to listen to Destry Rides Again. Andy Griffith has a full, sassy vibrato! Who knew? Anyhoo, Sutton Foster has the nerve to be a full triple threat — and she's great at all three. As I mentioned, I was there with my mother, who never fails to live up to her reputation; halfway through Act One, Joel Grey was in the middle of his fourth scene when my mom leaned over to me and whispered, "Joel Grey is wonderful." Actually, no. That's what a normal person would have done. Instead, she leaned over and whispered, "Isn't that the Joel Grey part? Why isn't he on today?" I didn't know what to do besides hiss, "That is Joel Grey!," and then I had to let her spend five minutes registering shock while I went back to watching the show. She pulled another typical moment a few weeks ago when she randomly said, with annoyance in her voice: "So! I guess you've already seen Kiss of the Spider Woman!" Huh? Yes, I played keyboard for that show in the mid-'90s but I had no idea why she was referencing it. Was it being revived and she knew before I did? No, I finally realized she was trying to make me guilty for not taking her to enough Broadway shows and had meant to say, "I guess you've already seen Spider-Man." You literally need a Berlitz course to understand what she means. On a related note, I had the commercial audition with my mother I had mentioned last week. The two different roles were an "Albert Brooks type" and a "Nag." We both went in together and it was a little mortifying to stand before the camera and slate our name. "Seth Rudetsky." Pause. "Sally Rudetsky." Of course, when I first got to the waiting area with the sign-in sheet and the script, I saw that my mother wasn't reviewing her lines for the audition. Instead, she was holding court with a casting director intern and telling a story that happened to her in the '50s. Why go over lines for an audition happening in ten minutes when you can instead tell someone about an anti-Semitic event that happened to you 60 years ago? Anyhoo, the audition actually went well, but suffice it to say they're filming it today in Los Angeles and my mother and I are firmly ensconced in New York.

Jackie Hoffman
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

This was a week of seeing lots of stuff. Juli was on vacation but was being babysat by her grandmother, so James and I could go out at night. Monday night I saw the hilarious Jackie Hoffman in her Joe's Pub show, Jackie 5-0. I sat with my manager Mark Cortale and Jeff Roberson (who plays Varla Jean Merman) and we all loved it. Jackie told us that during the first few months of a Broadway show, the audiences are all savvy theatre insiders… and then come tourists. She lamented that The Addams Family managed to skip the insiders and go right to tourists. She then added, "I'm in the only musical on Broadway that doesn't appeal to gay people!" Her act also has a hilarious section about people from her old Long Island neighborhood who don't really understand what she does and always make her feel horrible. (Note, in the following, when you read the word "second," make sure you elongate it as much as possible and make it incredibly nasal and Long Island-sounding.) "Jackie! I saw you on TV last night…I think. You were on for like a se-cond. I think it was you, but who knows, because it was like a se-cond. Your mother told me to watch but I don't know why because you were on for like a se-cond." The audience on Monday night was "lucky" enough to catch her right after her most recent TV devastation. She told us that she just booked a great role on "The Good Wife" and they offered her a great salary. She then informed us that, right before she came onstage, she found out that The Addams Family won't let her take off a show to film it! The filming date happens to be right during a publicity event when they're claiming it's "Grandma's Birthday." "So, I have to miss a great role on TV so I can take a photo backstage with some theatre party ladies." I told James and he said, "I wanna see that picture!" Speaking of Grandma, Jackie mentioned that she's the only character in the show who doesn't have a song. "Even Lurch has a song and he doesn't even speak!" During previews a year ago, she took matters into her own hands and actually wrote a song for her character (which she sang for us) and asked if it could be put in. She then gave us some "advice": "If you want to ingratiate yourself to a creative team working on a new show, write a song for yourself and give it to them." Ouch. She's told us that she's still "waiting to hear" if the song is going in. Catch her next hilarious performance at Joe's Pub on April 4

Blake Daniel and Jonathan Hammond in Hello Again
photo by Carol Rosegg

The next night, James and I caught the Transport's Group revival of Hello Again. We're lucky we didn't catch anything else, if you get my drift. The partially clothed actors are very close to you throughout the show. The good news is, there's no audience participation. When I see a show, I'm hoping to love it, not actually make love. Regardless, it was a great production. The sound balance in the room was great (it's performed in an enormous downtown loft) and the thrilling part is, there are no mics! I've said it before and I'll say it again: Seeing an Off-Broadway show is sometimes so much more theatrical than seeing a Broadway show. How amazing to hear acoustic instruments and be that close to a group of great actors as we hear their voices simply as they sound when they come out of their mouths. Delicious! Listening to the music was also very nostalgic for me because I was the assistant music director on the workshop at Lincoln Center back in 1993! So many memories! Donna Murphy (who always wore a rehearsal skirt…I was obsessed) played Leocadia and I remember her talking about auditioning for Passion. Who knew that she'd win her first Tony from that? I also remember meeting Michael John LaChiusa for the first time in those rehearsal rooms. Who knew that he'd call me Zeth for the next year and a half? And one of the guys in the cast was doing his own show, and I remember getting an invite from him that was an unclear Xerox of himself in a crazy wig. It listed the performance location in a club downtown. Club? Downtown? So not my style. Cut to: It was John Cameron Mitchell developing Hedwig! To this day I'm devastated I didn't go.

James and I also went to see Wonderland and, holy nodes, the singers in that show are amazing. Let me sum it up by saying that I went backstage to laud everyone and when I got to Kate Shindle I complimented her on the amazing last note she sings at the top of Act Two. Her response was, "it's just an E." Nuff said.

My new Sony Masterworks Deconstruction is one of my favorite opening numbers ever (even though it's actually the second song in the show)… "It's Today" from Mame. It's so joyous, the Don Pippin vocal arrangement is amazing and I love Angela Lansbury's singing. Watch here!

Speaking of Angela Lansbury, James and I are going to a huge event tonight (March 28) honoring Terrence McNally. It starts with a performance featuring Emily Skinner, Audra McDonald, Jason Danieley and tons of other Broadway stars, and ends with dinner at Blue Fin. So excited! Come join us!  Details next week. Peace out and stay warm!!

(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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