ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth-tions & Answers

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth-tions & Answers
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.

Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky Lauren Kennedy

I'm going to Springfield, OH, this weekend to play for Betty Buckley on Friday night and then do Seth's Big Fat Broadway on Saturday night (tickets at http://www.springfieldartscouncil.org/2010-11_bway_season.htm#SETH). I've been doing a lot of interviews (to promote the shows), which have been fun, but I've found that I'm answering a lot of the same questions. Plus I get emails at my website that also seem to ask the same questions often. So, I thought I'd do a column dedicated to the questions I get asked in order to [AUDIO-LEFT]form a clearinghouse where I can direct people when they haul out "Where did you grow up?"

1. Childhood: I was born in Jamaica. Not tropical Jamaica. (718) area code Jamaica, Queens. Moved to Long Island when I was four. Got the hell out of Long Island when I was 17.

2. First Broadway show: My parents took me to see Hair right before it closed when I was four. I don't remember much except my mom's hands being over my eyes during the nude scene. That hand position was hauled out many times in the future due to the fact that my parents never hired a babysitter on movie nights, they just took me along. So, my eyes were shaded many times during those great 1970's children's films: "Death Wish," "Taxi Driver" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

3. First Broadway obsession: The show that I first became obsessed with was The Pajama Game. I saw the revival when I was seven years old and listened to the cast album over and over again. Yes, I had to put up with Janis Paige not belting above a B flat, but as Fran Drescher once said on the "Nanny," "Before you get to 'People,' you gotta listen to 'Henry Street.'".

Shani Wallis

4. First professional performing job: Oliver! at the Northstage Dinner Theater. I was one of the workhouse orphans who sang "Food Glorious Food," which was appropriate since that's what I focused on in my free time. Suffice it to say, that was the period in which my jeans said "husky" but my behind said "fat." The whole Oliver! experience gave me a complete idea of professional theatre. I had the thrill of working with a real celebrity (Shani Wallis, who played Nancy in the film version), I learned what it was like to do eight shows a week (amazing!) and I learned how to perform even though you're devastated. We previewed for a week and right before opening night, the director/choreographer decided he didn't want an uneven amount of kids in "Be Back Soon," and I was unceremoniously cut from the number. I was devastated and called my parents after rehearsal while crying hysterically… but I went on that night and did the show. I learned the lesson that in the theatre, the show comes first and people's feelings come second. Perhaps it would have been an easier lesson to learn at 15 years old instead of 12, but I got through it. And it didn't hurt that I was the only kid with a delicious solo in "Who Will Buy?" Yes, my character's name was "The Milkmaid" but we changed it to "The Milkboy." 5. College: I went to the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and majored in piano performance. Classical piano performance. To this day, I don't know what I was thinking. I think I was so shocked that I got into the conservatory that I felt I had no choice but to go. Plus I visited the campus after I was accepted and developed a huge crush on a sophomore. PS we never dated. PPS Still not 100 percent over it.

6. First music director job: Surflight Summer Theater on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. We did a different show ever week for 12 weeks. That's where I met Peter Flynn, who later directed my Actors Fund concerts, Rhapsody in Seth and now runs the Hangar Theater in Ithaca. Peter was the male romantic lead for the summer, so he played Captain Von Trapp, Billy Lawlor, Nicky Arnstein and Uncle Jocko (!) in Gypsy. Surflight was a great learning experience for me. Because we had such limited rehearsal time, I was able to learn exactly what I needed to do to teach an entire show. My first big job out of college was playing in the band for Singin' in the Rain at the Darien Dinner Theater. I was there for around three weeks in December, and then my mother "forbid" me from playing New Year's Eve because she didn't want me in a car "on an expressway with those drunken lunatics." The conductor told me not to worry about missing the show. He got the boyfriend of the girl who played Lena Lamont to sit next to my keyboard so it looked like we had a full band that night (PS why didn't he tell me to get a sub?). The producer found out about the scam, and he was fired. Oh, I'm sorry, I was fired even though he perpetuated the whole hoax! Yes, still angry!

Jack Plotnick

7. How did I get into comedy? People had always told me I should be a stand-up comedian. My friend Jack Plotnick moved to LA, started doing stand-up and told me I had to try it. I went to "The Stars of Tomorrow" contest at The Duplex and did a three-minute set, which consisted of a true story of me being startled by a water bug in my bathroom, at 2 AM in the morning. I put my underwear on and chased it through my apartment with a sneaker. It ran into the hallway of my building, and I followed closely …and my apartment door closed behind me and locked. I had to walk on the streets of Brooklyn in underwear and a sneaker. I told this story and immediately made it into the semi-finals of the contest. I went back the next week and B-O-M-B-E-D. I've never seen that much staring except watching Barbra Streisand react to her tribute at the Kennedy Center Honors. I was mortified but knew the only way I'd learn how to be good was to go back each week. I kept going (it was every Friday at midnight) and eventually made it back into the semi-finals, and then the finals…and then I won the Grand Prize! I think the prize was an opportunity to do my own show at the Duplex, and I have not yet collected. The contest was in 1996.

8. How did I start doing my deconstructing show? I began doing stand-up by telling real stories that happened to me, but then I began adding music clips like Patti LuPone's Evita versus Madonna's (AKA good versus evil). I was asked by BC/EFA to do a piece in the 2004 Gypsy of the Year contest, and I performed a bit about Barbra Streisand's crazy changing of consonants and combined it with the mind-boggling version of "Don't Rain On My Parade" as sung by Bea Arthur. Rosie O'Donnell was in the audience and told me I should do a whole show of just "that" (later to be known as deconstructing) and she would produce it. I then put together a whole show of "that" and called it Deconstructing Broadway. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsMpdRXEB-M I'm still waiting for her to produce it. Anybody? Apparently, nobody.

9. The most annoying question: What do I think about Spider-Man ? I can't exactly tell you why this question annoys me. It's a combination of so many things. Why the sudden interest in Broadway from so many news sources? Is it because the show is so expensive to produce? That's so not interesting to me. Is it because people have gotten injured? People are always being injured in Broadway shows. Why the sudden interest now? What about raked stages? That means the stage is tilted (to make the back of the stage more visible to the audience), and it's been known to injure many people. I just interviewed Chris Jackson (In The Heights ), and when he played Simba in The Lion King, he had three knee surgeries. In his 20's! I was doing an Easter Bonnet Competition rehearsal on the stage of Miss Saigon, which had a six-foot rake and the assistant choreographer was just walking across and ripped his Achilles tendon! One of my friends in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown got adult onset asthma because of the smoke used in the show. I feel if people are going to be concerned about injuries in shows, be concerned with all Broadway shows, not just the one making headlines now.

Now let's focus on last week. I just put up my newest deconstruction: "Another Hundred People" from Company. So obsessed with the lyrics, singing and brilliant orchestration!

On Sunday, my niece, my sister, her husband and I all went to see Mandy Gonzales in Wicked. She was fabulous and after the show, she told us about seeing the last performance of In the Heights. Turns out, it was the first time she had ever seen the show! I can't imagine how overwhelming it was to be at the show after not doing it for a year, see all the brilliant staging for the first time, see so many people still in it that she had done the show with and to know it was the final performance. All right, I'm exhausted from going through my history and must now reward myself with my low-calorie chocolate chip cookies. Delish… 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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