ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Straight Talk | Playbill

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Seth Rudetsky ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Straight Talk Hi, everyone! Just got back from a church retreat I went on with my boyfriend and his daughter. Yes, a church retreat.
Dolly Parton's Nine to Five is looking toward Broadway. Photo by Chris Barnes/DollyOn-Line.com

It was sponsored by a Unitarian Universalist Church, whose super-liberal services essentially consist of a smorgasbord of all religions, philosophy and ethical thinking. I felt that I could go and still feel comfortable playing Tevye in Fiddler one day.

Anyhoo, there are two things I forgot to write about last week. First, I played an audition for my friend Andrea Burns, who’s sassing it up in my new favorite show, In the Heights. She was trying out for the Jane Fonda part in the workshop of the new Nine to Five musical. It’s being directed by Joe Mantello and has music and lyrics by Dolly Parton.

Well, Andrea and I were waiting in the Bernie Telsey lounge with all the other actors trying out for various commercials and the Drowsy tour when everyone started to look toward the elevator. I turned and suddenly saw that Southern sasstress, Dolly Parton! She walked across the lobby, and everyone was in a star struck state of shock. I don’t really remember what she was wearing, but I have a vision of a snakeskin one-piece. It was something amazing like that, and it closely framed her size zero figure. I couldn’t believe she was going to be at the audition! I did harken back to the time I was staying home because I was sick in the early nineties and I asked my roommate, Tim Cross, to go out and rent me a movie. Well, instead of bringing me home a classic from the forties I had never seen or a new release I had been salivating for ("The Crying Game," "Single White Female," etc…), he proudly brought me "Straight Talk"! Remember? That was the movie where a small-town woman, played by Dolly, becomes a radio therapist by giving the people "straight talk" instead of supposed psycho babble. Suffice it to say, it lasted ten minutes in my VCR. Has anyone ever sat through that entire movie?

But I decided to forgive her that atrocity and walked into the audition room willing to make peace. Apparently so was she, because her friendliness was mind boggling! She was all a twitter because Andrea had brought her own accompanist (me). She said something to the effect of "Sakes alive!" or "I’ll be a horny toad!" Andrea sang and as soon as she finished, Dolly full out applauded. Literally applauded! It was so down home and friendly. I left Andrea in there to do her scene and felt so good walking out that I strongly considered putting "Straight Talk" on my Netflix queue. That feeling lasted the entire elevator ride down to the first floor of Telsey Casting and was quickly replaced by a hankering for an iced latte.

Update: Bad news for Andrea, she did not get the Jane Fonda part, but good news for her, In the Heights is moving to Broadway. And although Stephanie J. Block didn’t get a Tony nomination, she did get the Jane Fonda part in the workshop. Brava! Secondly, I forgot to mention the baby shower I went to for Jessie Stone and Chris Fitzgerald. I’ve known Jessie since right before we did the ‘94 revival of Grease! (I started as a piano sub), and it was so weird for me to see her eight months pregnant. Rizzo’s the one whose preggers, not Frenchie. Jessie used to make me laugh so hard when she’d tell me the story about going to a Broadway audition in her early twenties, but by accident, using her very first resume that had only high school credits. The auditioners were like, "Wow, I see you’ve played Mama Rose…interesting."

The whole party was hosted by Andrea Martin, who has one of the most gorgeous Manhattan apartments that she got in the seventies and still costs like $10 a month because, as people always say to my chagrin, "Nobody wanted to live on (insert Central Park West, Columbus Avenue, the West 70’s, etc.) back then." One of Jessie’s friends came up to me and told me that she listened to me on Sirius radio a lot and heard me ask what the meaning was when Evita sang "Although she’s dressed up to the nines, at sixes and sevens with you." She knew the answer because it’s a British expression and her sister studied in England. She got my cell number from a friend and called me, but I was on the subway, so it kept cutting off and then she’d call me back or vice versa. This went on an awkward amount of times until we both gave up. Anyway, she never identified herself on the phone, only saying that she was a friend of Sam Pancake, and turns out she was "Gilmore Girls" star Lauren Graham. She was mortified to tell me about her stalker-ish phone call, but Jessie forced her. She’s really funny and we somehow started discussing pronunciation, and she said that "err" as in "to err is human" is pronounced "uhr," as in purr. She told me about arguing for the proper pronunciation when it was in a "Gilmore Girls" script, which essentially ended with the line being cut. Lauren said that she obsesses over minutiae like that and once had a boyfriend yell that he hated when she "con-den-scended" to him. She faced an incredible moral quandary about whether to correct him or not. The whole thing sounded like a real life version of Maltby and Shire’s "Crossword Puzzle." Loni Ackerman? Anybody?

Anyhoo, this week featured a big birthday party for Kelli O’Donnell (Rosie’s wife) that I played for. Kelli requested her favorite singers, and they all showed up to belt up a storm. It was held at the fabulous Ars Nova, and the show opened with Julia Murney singing "Raise the Roof." How dare she do eight shows a week and still be able to belt Ds on her night off? One of my favorite singers, Darius de Haas, did "I Am Changing," and even though I heard he had just flown in from Japan, sounded amazing. The highlight of the evening was Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald singing "Wheels of a Dream." Audra was also on her night off and used the sound of the audience applause to mask her warming up. My boyfriend was standing right next to her and said every time the audience clapped, he heard "Mee-ah, Mee-ah, Mee-ah." Norm had the nerve to hold the D right before the "And he will ride" and take it up to an A. Is there anything he can’t do? The most gorgeous baritone in the world, yet high As as well?

Speaking of Audra, I saw 110 in the Shade. I loved it! She is so likeable onstage and adds so much humor to something that could be played very drab and depressingly. As I watched her I thought, "I am watching a musical theatre star in the prime of her career. How cool!" I thought about that and wondered if she’d be on Broadway in 20 years. Then I looked to the left and saw John Cullum who’s been performing on Broadway since the 1960’s! Forty years on Broadway! I’m gonna have him on my radio show soon, and I can’t wait to grill him about Barbara Harris, Madeline Kahn and Judy Kaye.

Speaking of Audra and buried babies (Ragtime, scene two anybody?), I saw Coram Boy. It was so exciting, original and thrilling! My question is, why would a show like that not be able to find an audience? My next question is, what did the woman next to me have in a plastic bag that she had to retrieve several times during the show? I had a mini-breakdown. When they search your bag upon entering the theatre, they should confiscate weapons, recording devices and all plastic bags. Unfortunately, that means my mother will never be able to come to the theatre again. Everything she carries is in multiple plastic bags. She’ll literally put a bottled water in a plastic bag . . . and then put that plastic bag in a bigger plastic bag. It’s like one of those Russian dolls.

All right, I’m off to give "Straight Talk" another chance. Talk to you in ten minutes.


(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.)

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