ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Ritz, Rent and Worley

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Ritz, Rent and Worley
A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.

I want to get a real seventies outfit to keep it apropos, but from where? I guess I could raid my old closet in my mom's house, but all the clothes I wore in the seventies won't work now. Not because I was a kid back then and the clothes won't fit my adult body…au contraire, I was sporting a waist similar to the one I have now. The words "pants" and "husky" went hand in hand back then. I just don't think any of my old clothes were hip enough to make a splash today. I specifically remember one pair of pants I had in fourth grade…on each leg was a lion and underneath, it said, "Your den or mine?" Now that I think about it, why was a nine-year-old wearing such suggestive outfits, Mother? "Pretty Baby"? Teri Shields? Anybody?

Anyhoo, if you know of a place where I can get some great seventies clothes, email me! I wish I could wear my actual costume, but you can't take it out of the theatre. Hmm. . . Will there be a Bloomingdale's "The Ritz" shop like that headache-y Rent boutique that cropped up in the late nineties? Maybe I could buy my Sally Jessie pants suit there.

Speaking of Rent, I went on Monday night! First, I had dinner with the gang who puts together the rFamily Vacations cruise. We went to the delicious restaurant 44th and 10th and discussed the upcoming March cruise. It's leaving from San Diego and going to Mexico. On the last cruise, we ended the week with Annie (starring Andrea McArdle), and we were trying to figure out what show to do this time. Gavin Creel is finishing up his run in London's Mary Poppins and is coming on the cruise, so we thought maybe we could do a mini-version of that show with him as Bert. But it would be a big letdown because the boat doesn't have the technical capabilities to re-create the signature upside-down dancing-on-the-ceiling that Bert does in Mary Poppins unless we pulled a Poseidon Adventure, which is awkward at best.

Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp were great in Rent. Typical me, I spent a chunk of the show obsessing over the fact that Anthony is in full winter gear for most of the show. Did he have a fit during tech rehearsals? "Hello! I'm performing on a stage under 1,000 lights! Why are you making me wear a scarf? And why must it be wool?" Doesn't he long to do the finale in just a bikini? Revival of Good Vibrations? Anybody?

Adam Pascal's voice is so amazing as per usual. It always has that signature rasp but then he'll shockingly go up to a crazy high note with no effort. He played Freddie in the Actors Fund concert of Chess I did, and quite frankly my face was more strained while I was conducting than his was while hitting high Cs. My only complaint about Rent was that there were some moments where the band sounded louder than the singers. It made me recall that classic Carol Channing story. Apparently, after she saw Rent, she came backstage and "complimented" the cast by saying (read this with the Carol Channing accent/enormous smile), "I didn't understand a word you said, but the energy…!"

Oh, wait, I have one more Carol Channing story that Rosie O'Donnell loves to tell. While I was doing Grease with Rosie, she had a chubby Irish dresser named Bobby. Well, cut to Carol coming to visit backstage after the show and waiting with Bobby in the outer dressing room while Rosie is in the shower. Carol was telling him how wonderful the show was, and finally Rosie came into the room. Carol noticed her and said, "Oh! Wasn't Rosie won-der-ful!" This comment seems appropriate, unfortunately when she said "Rosie," she was gesturing towards Bobby! She had literally spent ten minutes talking to Bobby thinking he was Rosie! I don't know who this story is more insulting towards: Carol Channing, Bobby, Rosie or me because not only do I share my dressing room with five other people and there's no shower in it, there isn't even a shower near it. It's upstairs in the men's bathroom. Not cool.

I was walking down the street and ran into Jerry Mitchell who said the Legally Blonde taping for MTV went great. He said they filmed it with eight cameras! That's gonna look fabulous. Please let this be the new trend for Broadway. I want every Broadway show filmed and shown on TV. But don't film The Ritz until I actually start doing crunches. Speaking of The Ritz, I recently watched a video of a backstage tour led by Brooks Ashmanskas. Brooks is hilarious, and it's so cool to watch. He shows what it looks like for us being onstage and takes you to all the stars' dressing rooms. I was loving the video until I walked on. I'm the only one in the whole video whose hair looks crazy! I told my boyfriend I thought I looked awful, and he didn't immediately launch into "Your hair looks great." Instead, I got a measured "Well, it looks good when it's styled for the show…." The dot dot dot stands for "But it looks crazy for the other 22 hours of the day." I can't believe I take the subway looking like that. Have I become that crazy person you avoid on the 1 train?

More Ritz drama: Right now non-stop-working Joe Mantello is also directing a brilliant show by Adam Bock called The Receptionist. I saw it in its first inception at the Perry-Mansfield Camp in Colorado last year and thought it was fantastic on so many different levels. Anyhoo, Joe is doing double duty but still finding time to sass me. After every show, a "performance report" is sent out to the artistic and theatre staff that chronicles what happened at that particular performance. Joe told me that it said I was late on one of my lines…which essentially meant I was late on 50% of my lines. Rude! Factual, but rude!

On Thursday, I interviewed JoAnne Worley at the Chatterbox. She told me that she grew up on a farm in the Midwest but made extra money working as a waitress at a truck stop. She said she never told anyone she wanted to go into performing. She was engaged at 17 and told everyone she wanted to be a nurse. Cut to — she took her truck stop money, high tailed it to Nyack, NY, to work as an apprentice in summer stock, and told her fiancé she'd be back right after the summer. Essentially, he's still waiting. She talked about her first professional foray into singing, which was playing the role of Katisha in The Mikado. She said she got a great laugh because while the Mikado was singing, she would take out a tomato, put a ton of salt on it, bite into it and then offer it to the audience. Apparently, it was also her first foray into upstaging. Brava!

She made her Broadway debut in a revue of Billie Barnes novelty songs, and Walter Kerr of New York Times went crazy for her. He spent two paragraphs describing the mouth contortions she did while parodying an opera singer. Unfortunately, the show lasted a weekend. But then she got to be the standby for Carol Channing when Hello, Dolly! was doing it's out-of-town tryout. I wonder if Carol knew it was JoAnne standing by for her or did she think it was Rosie. Regardless, JoAnne/Rosie never went on.

Her big break came when she got an audition for a TV show in L.A. but didn't have a way to get there because she didn't drive. Her friend also had an audition and said, "Why don't we go together? I'll drive!" Yes, the show was "Laugh-In," and JoAnne got it and her friend didn't. How many times do I have to warn my readers that the whole "come along with me to my audition" always leads to the "Fame" LeRoy opening scene?!

JoAnne then talked about her foray back onto Broadway in the late eighties. She said the producer of Prince of Central Park called her and said that they wanted to replace the leading lady and was she available? Was she?! Yes! Of course, at the time she was doing Mame in Los Angeles, but this was Broadway calling! They'd have to let her go.


The producer said she signed a contract and had to finish out the run. JoAnne said that she was friends with Angela Lansbury, and she'd ask her to do it. The producer said, "I advertised JoAnne Worley, and that's who will be playing Mame."

She finished out her run in L.A., rushed to N.Y., learned the part in four days and went on. However, the show didn't. Essentially, the length of time it took for her to learn the part is the same amount of days it ran. It's that old equation we had in freshman year algebra: Length of rehearsal = Run of show = Flop. I mentioned the fact that I heard she wasn't available for the Encores! production of 70, Girls, 70. She said she wasn't available and would never be available. "Don't ever ask me to be in a show called 70, Girls, 70!" Sassy! Right now she's doing Drowsy Chaperone, which she got after doing the Encores! Follies with director Casey Nicholaw. He totally re-did the role for her, and she's loving the show. I can't wait to go see it again!

The highlight of my week was doing a photo shoot with the other Ritz patrons for the gay magazine called Genre. First, we did a group shot, and then four of us did a shot on one of the beds. Click, click click. Pout, stare, glare. I totally felt like Naima from "America's Next Top Model." However, whenever my bathrobe slightly opened up near my gut, the art director frantically ran onstage and tightly closed it asap. That was the part where I felt less Naima, more Shamu.

And, finally, the old-school Broadway sasstress Alice Playten came to see The Ritz this week. She is so cool. She was literally a replacement Baby Louise in Gypsy opposite the Merm as well as the original Bet in Oliver! and Ermengarde in Hello, Dolly! Get thee to bluegobo.com asap, and check out her Ed Sullivan clip from Henry, Sweet, Henry. Watch the part where she asks the audience to donate money into her hat. She checks inside the hat, sees that there's nothing and gives the most amazing face ever! Also, check out the ensemble. Baayork Lee, Pia Zadora (!) and coming in for the last section of the song and standing in the back row, Priscilla Lopez!

Okay, one more week before opening! If you buy tickets, don't forget my awkward discount code, RISETH. 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." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com. His first novel, "Broadway Nights," is due in the fall.)

JoAnne Worley and Seth Rudetsky at the <i>Chatterbox</i>.
JoAnne Worley and Seth Rudetsky at the Chatterbox. Photo by Christie Ford
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