ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Still Out There in the Dark (and Light)

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Still Out There in the Dark (and Light)
A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth with Varla Jean Merman
Seth with Varla Jean Merman

Hello from beautiful Provincetown!

I'm here doing my Deconstructing Broadway. This is the best part for me about being in the business; getting to go to amazing places and have working vacations. I perform my show at night, which is so much fun to do, and then during the day I'm free to enjoy all the great things about P-town. But let me first talk about the wonderful trip up here. And by "wonderful," I mean there hasn't been such a headache-y trip since Tevye left Anatevka. My show began on Thursday, and since it's a five-hour drive up to the Cape, we had to leave Wednesday so I'd be there early enough on Thursday to make my tech rehearsal. But, I have my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show every Wednesday at noon, so we couldn't leave early Wednesday morning which would have been delicious. We decided to drive there starting about 2 PM. And by "we," I mean James. If you don't know, I hate driving. When I was a teenager, I loved it. But as every year passed, I got more and more nervous about driving. And since most of my fans think I'm in my late sixties, you can just imagine how many years of nervousness have added up. Oh, yeah. Speaking of which, I was just talking to my ex-boyfriend Aaron, and one of his friends asked him if he was looking for a "Daddy"-type of boyfriend. Aaron asked why. The friend told him that he assumed Aaron liked older men because I was Aaron's last boyfriend. Aaron asked him how old he thought I was. The guy replied he assumed that when Aaron was 35 I was....50! What the-? Aaron and I are the same age! Here's another doozy: When I was on the Rosie Cruise, the final show of the week was all eighties music. I hosted and music directed it, and since it was all about the eighties, I showed a devastating videotape of myself jazz dancing (in purple plastic jazz pants and leg warmers) to the disco version of "I Am What I Am." Even though I specifically said it was filmed in 1984 and that I was in high school at the time, someone came up to me after the show and said with full confidence, "I assume we're the same age...48." Didn't he remember he was two years out of college in 1984? When did I become a shoo-in for Hume Cronyn?

So, back to the trip. James was dreading driving all the way to P-town, so I suggested we take a train most of the way there and then rent a car. We saw that there was a train to Providence, RI, that left in an hour's time, so we hailed a cab and left for Penn Station. We hopped on an Amtrak train and relaxed. Juli asked for her DVD player and when we looked through our luggage, we discovered that it was left at home. "Oh, well," I said to her with a Zen-like calmness, "things happen." I had that peaceful attitude 'til we discovered that not only was Juli's DVD player left at home, but so was the suitcase with all of my performance clothes in it! When I realized that James had been the last one out of the apartment and should have seen the luggage sitting there, my "live and let live" attitude changed to a passive-aggressive berating of James that could be transcribed and turned into Act Three of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I finally calmed down and accepted that I should have checked if I had my own stuff and we all sat down in the cafe and started a game of RummiKub. James said we'd have to do a quick game because he had just heard an announcement that the train was about to pull into Providence. I told him that he was crazy because we had departed New York late and therefore the train couldn't get in early. I shook my head at his mishearing of the announcement and settled down for the game. We had RummiKub tiles spread all over a table we had nabbed in the snack bar and I was slowly deliberating my next move. Suddenly we heard "Providence. Pulling into Providence." AH!!!!! We had to put all the tiles back into the game box, run back into the train compartment where our luggage was, put everything we had taken out of bags back into our bags and get all of our luggage off the train all in the time it took Andrew Lloyd Webber to write the three chords that make up "Love Changes Everything" (one minute). Then we "only" had to take a cab to the airport (!), rent a car and drive two-and-a-half hours to Provincetown and arrive at 12:30 AM. The good news is, Counter Productions at the Provincetown Theater rented us an amazing apartment in the center of town with a beautiful view of the bay. The bad news is, James is discovering I'm not fun to travel with.

The show has been going great... except for my opening light cue. Normally, at the beginning of Deconstructing Broadway, a Barbra Streisand song starts playing in a blackout and over the music, in the dark, I say, "Get ready to deconstruct!" and suddenly the lights come up as Barbra starts singing and I start lip-synching. At the first show I said, "Get ready to deconstruct!" in total darkness as usual and then I began lip-synching...also in total darkness. Eventually, the lights came up... as did my annoyance. That was counteracted during the second show, when the blackout switched to full onstage lighting...as I was approaching the stage. That's right. Instead of me standing in the dark saying, "Get ready to deconstruct!," the audience had a clear view of me standing awkwardly in my opening position and saying it while I was simultaneously trying to pretend I wasn't there. I've never said that line in full view of the audience, and I had a feeling akin to when someone opens the door to the bathroom as you're using it. But the audience didn't say "Sorry" and immediately close the door. They sat there and stared. I, however, did close the door...emotionally. I shut down and pretended it wasn't happening. That technique worked perfectly just like it did during tenth grade gym class.

Margaret Cho, whom I love, performed here but her show was the same time as mine so I couldn't go. But Aaron is up here visiting, and he went to the show. He said that there were tech problems at that show, too! The opening act was a comedienne name Selene Luna, and in the middle of her set, her microphone totally went out. She told the audience that the whole sound system was going to be re-set and after it was, she'd start again. Selene went backstage, the sound was re-set and she came back on and started her set again, which was going great. Then, as she was telling a story that was building to a climax, she got to the part right before the hilarious denouncement, and all the lights went out! Aaron said there was total darkness onstage… and then just the sound of her voice was heard saying "Punch line."

Margaret Cho then came out and set up a computer. The computer had a voice that spoke, and as it did, Margaret "acted" along with it. Turns out, she had lost her voice! She didn't want to cancel the shows, so she brought her comic friends to P-town to perform for the bulk of the show and programmed all of her new jokes into the computer. The computer said them as she mimed them. Aaron said it actually went over great. It was hilarious to hear Margaret Cho-style jokes in the voice of a computer. Unfortunately, the computer also started having tech problems and began telling all the jokes in a row without any pausing. Margaret finally hauled it off the stage. But the craziest part that happened was when a heckler kept yelling at one of the comics, "Take off your shirt!" Margaret's tolerance was low because of the tech issues and the heckler pushed her over the edge. She ran to the front of the stage and told the heckler to "Shut the **** up!" And if he didn't, she'd "kick him the **** out of there!" But, because she had literally lost her voice, she gave him that sass completely silently and all the audience could hear was air coming out of her mouth. They had to read her lips to get the message. It was essentially a performance art combination of Patti LuPone and Marcel Marceau.

Mrs. Danvers and Mrs. Danvers

The one show I was able to see was the brilliant Varla Jean Merman, who did a "children's show" called Varla Jean and the Mushroom Heads. There were so many great moments. At one point she showed a picture of her doggie whose name (in real life) is "Mrs. Danvers." Mrs. Danvers was the evil housekeeper in the film "Rebecca," and as I was sitting up proudly because I knew exactly where the doggie's name came from, Varla said, "If you know that reference, you're gay…and old." Her honesty was not refreshing. Speaking of obscure references, she asked an audience member his name, and he said, "Garrett." Varla clarified it with, "Garrett? As in Edna?" Brava call-back to "The Facts of Life"! Then, because the show was supposedly for kids, she did a Schoolhouse Rock-type segment. Varla said that Schoolhouse Rock taught her nouns and adjectives, but for this show, she wanted to focus on gerunds. I couldn't figure out where she was going with the joke. She said that adding "-ing" to something makes it a gerund, and if it's not followed by a verb, it's a "single gerund." Then, Beyonce-style, she started calling to "All the single gerunds, all the single gerunds." Then she and the Mushroom Heads began doing the moves from the Beyonce video while singing, If you like it, then you oughta put an "ing" on it! Make a gerund with a verb by adding "ing" on it. I loved it. Varla's about to go on tour doing a hilarious live movie parody called Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte. Go to www.VarlaOnLine.com to get tour dates and see great Varla videos. All right. Sadly, have to leave P-town behind but I hope I get to come back next summer. James and Juli had to leave on the train a day early because Juli's school is about to begin, and I wanted to fly fabulous Cape Air back to New York, which leaves directly from here, but the flights I wanted are sold-out. So I have to get a lift at 7:30 in the morning to Hyannis, and there I'll board a bus to Boston. When I finally get there, I'll take a plane back to New York. All in all, the trip will "only" take me six hours. It sounds just as much fun as the way up. 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" and the novel "Broadway Nights." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals and hosts the BC/EFA benefit weekly interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama every Thursday at 6 PM. He can be contacted by visiting www.sethrudetsky.com.

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