ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Shut Your Mouth, Susan Blackwell!; Take Your Shirt Off, David Turner!

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Shut Your Mouth, Susan Blackwell!; Take Your Shirt Off, David Turner!
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Joshua Henry
Joshua Henry

Attention! I'm doing a big shindig here in New York during the weekend of the Tony Awards, and I can finally talk about it. It's for people who wanna visit New York and have an intensive Broadway weekend. It's called the "Broadway Spectacular," and it includes airfare and hotel plus three Broadway shows that will probably all be up for Tony Awards (Porgy and Bess, Spider-Man and Evita). I'm hosting the whole weekend and will be doing my Deconstructing Broadway show as well as putting on a show with four of my fave Broadway singers. Plus, I'm doing a Chatterbox with Tony nominee Josh Henry, who's in Porgy and Bess, and Tony winner Michael Cerveris who's in Evita. On the night of the Tony Awards, we're all going to watch it together on a big screen at Caroline's Comedy Club in midtown while I host and make non-stop side comments/give inside scoop/complain I'm not nominated. You can sign up at www.BroadwaySpectacular.com.

I just came from a delish dinner with fellow vegetarian, Kerry Butler. James and I were walking up Ninth Avenue when we saw someone who looked like Kerry wearing more makeup than Tammy Faye Bakker. Then I realized that it was between shows on a Saturday, and Broadway girls don't want to have to reapply their makeup for the evening show, so they walk around with their faces proudly sporting the make-up scheme of a contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race. The three of us decided to have an impromptu dinner at Zen Palate, and I asked Kerry about her new role in The Best Man. First of all, this is her first play on Broadway.

Kerry Butler

She's done lots of musicals but never a play, and she's thrilled because she's starring opposite so many fantastic actors, including two titans of the theatre: Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones! She said Angela is so much fun to work with and will break into impromptu dances (as will Eric McCormack). And, she heard a great story about James Earl Jones' dedication to acting that took place during Driving Miss Daisy. He was going through the script and noticed a new moment he wanted to explore, so he scheduled a rehearsal with Vanessa Redgrave. When did this happen, you ask? During the last week of the show! That's right, he only had a few performances left but he was still mining the material. He says that an actor is constantly striving to find the humanity of the character. Really? I'm constantly just trying to get a laugh. This week I interviewed the whole cast of Now. Here. This., which also happens to be the whole cast of [title of show]. Their new show features a lot of material from their various childhoods, but one story that used to be in the show is now out! I first saw a version of the show on the rFamily Cruise, and I was obsessed with Susan Blackwell's childhood trickery, so I must write it for you. Susan remembered that when she was a kid, she never wanted to go to school or, quite frankly, leave her mother's side. One morning when she was around eight, she slipped on the ice and when she got up, her parents asked her if she was hurt and, for some reason, she didn't go with the "I sprained my ankle" or "Ow! My back!" routine. Instead, she looked at her parents, and because her mouth happened to be open, she proclaimed, "I can't shut my mouth!" That's right, she pretended the fall had somehow hurt her jaw and made it impossible for her to close her mouth. So, actually, her "I can't shut my mouth" sounded more like "I cahn shu m' mou!" Both of her parents went with her to the hospital (!) and Susan remembers sitting in the ER wondering, "How is this going to play out?" Finally, the doctor called her in his office. He touched her chin, then he touched the outside of her jaw. Finally, he said calmly, "Susan? Can you try shutting your mouth for me?" And… she did. Yes, the jig was up that quickly. She's so mortified thinking back on it because her parents didn't have much money, and they both took off from work and took her to a hospital even though they had no health insurance. A horrifically expensive attention-getting device. Yet, the story is still hilarious.

Jeff Bowen, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff and Hunter Bell

Everyone in the cast had his or her own stories of trying to get attention with injuries. As a matter of fact, Hunter Bell told us that he was always so jealous of people having casts on their broken bones in school because people always flocked to them and everyone would sign their casts. So…he would repeatedly try to close the door on his foot to break it. It didn't work, but the door slamming gave him excellent practice for any future farces he might appear in. I myself had a bout of severe "stomach aches" that lasted all through sixth grade with no known cause ever discovered. Why did we all have to concoct these elaborate ruses instead of simply saying, "I want attention"? The ruses have stopped but the need hasn't, so let me say that Now. Here. This. is currently playing at the Vineyard Theater, and you can get info at http://www.vineyardtheatre.org/show-now-here-this.html. And, my need for attention only has one performance left! Disaster! is playing this coming Sunday at 9 PM at the Triad. www.DisasterMusical.com

I also interviewed Kate Clinton, who is right now going around the country with her All Fracked Up tour. Turns out, she began as a teacher, and her friend got tired of her talking about doing stand-up comedy and signed Kate up for an open-mic night and thus started her career. I asked Kate how her friend knew she was funny, and she told me some antics she pulled while teaching. Apparently, one day her pantyhose were bunched up near her ankles, and she knew her whole class was looking down there and not concentrating on the lesson, so to prevent them from staring at her lumpy l'Eggs, she got into a wastepaper basket and moved around in it for the remainder of the class. She also said that one spring day the whole class was ignoring her and looking out the window at the grass being mown. So, she left the classroom and literally got on the electric mower and rode it around, waving. Hmph, I never had a teacher with a good sense of humor. I did, however, have a social studies teacher whom I thought was a "pal," so I let him in on the secret that I wasn't really sick for all the days of school I missed. He then told me he was going to give me an incomplete for the school year because I admitted I was absent illegally. Yay. And, I learned never to trust again…

Turner in On a Clear Day.
photo by Paul Kolnik

At Seth's Broadway Chatterbox I interviewed two of the leads from the now-defunct On A Clear Day… revival: David Turner and Jessie Mueller. I asked David for an onstage debacle, and he talked about a mortifying performance of On a Clear Day…. Normally, the scene is supposed to begin with Harry Connick Jr. as a psychiatrist giving a lecture about hypnosis. David, in the lecture hall, comments that he'd never be susceptible to hypnosis and, of course, as soon as Harry Connick snaps while demonstrating, David falls asleep. Harry then tells the class once a patient is asleep, they can add some post-hypnotic suggestion like "When I say the word Wednesday, you'll take off your shirt." He then snaps his fingers and David wakes up. At the end of the scene, Harry tells the class, "See you next Wednesday," and David immediately starts taking off his shirt. Audience laughs and end of scene. There are then two more Wednesday references throughout the show. Cut to, one night, Harry got mixed up on lines and forgot to say the part about Wednesday and taking off the shirt. David didn't know what to do but felt he had to play the scene as directed. So, when Harry told the class, "See you next Wednesday," David stood onstage and started taking off his shirt. The audience was silent, horrified and mystified. Why did a main character randomly start taking off his shirt? David was mortified and ran backstage to plan how they could cut all of the future Wednesday references. Unfortunately, he was never offstage when Harry was offstage, but he assumed someone would tell Harry how they were going to change the script. Well, when you assume…AKA David came out for the next scene, now as Harry's patient, Harry put him to sleep and right before he woke up, Harry added this line: "And, uh, just for kicks, when I say the word Wednesday, take off your shirt." He then said "Wednesday," and David was forced yet again to take off his shirt for an audience that was once again silent, horrified, mystified and now not just turned against David, but completely judged the psychiatrist character for shockingly unethical behavior. "Just for kicks" you're making your patient take off his shirt? See you in court, Dr.

This week I head up to Rochester to announce the upcoming season at the Auditorium Theater and the following week, I leave for Florida to perform at the Kravis Center and the Broward Center. Details at http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/see-me-live/. I record Seth Speaks on Wednesday and you can sign up by going to the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Seth-Speaks-on-SiriusXM-Stars-107/270352846332685. Peace and enjoy the beginning of Spring!

(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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