ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Surprises at the Only Make Believe Gala

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Surprises at the Only Make Believe Gala
A week in the life of music director, musician, actor, writer and talk-show host Seth Rudetsky.


I'm writing this at 1:40 in the A.M. Partay! I've been boogeying and grooving the night and decided to briefly break away from the A-list crowd I'm boozing with to get some air and jot down this little column. What up, dogs????? Actually, I'm sitting in an industrially lit Emergency Room because Juli had a big asthma attack tonight. Don't worry, the worst is over and she's recuperating. She's getting a delicious combination of steroids and oxygen and watching the 1998 movie remake of "Pippi Longstocking"…with a special appearance by Dick Van Patten. You know Pippi Longstocking, right? She's the feisty tyke with horizontal pigtails who lives in Sweden. Yes, Sweden. Anybody? Nichten-body.

OK, the week began with an amazing event; The Only Make Believe 10th Anniversary Gala at the Shubert Theater. First let me write about the one mortifying thing [AUDIO-LEFT] that happened near the end of the show. I wanted to go to the bathroom before the final number I had to play ("Let the Sunshine In" from Hair which sounded SO good!) and the stage manager told me to use the crossover to go stage left and use the bathroom. There was a scrim hanging on the back of the stage that was one of those "you can see through the back of it, but the audience themselves can't look through it and see you"-types of scrims. I had time because there was an award ceremony happening onstage so I double-tasked and started undoing my belt while walking in back of the scrim. I got stage left and Adam Fleming from Wicked (who was dancing in the benefit) asked me, "Did you just literally walk across the stage?" I said, "Yeah." He looked at me and asked why I didn't use the crossover. I looked at him and told him I did. Then I figured it out. There was a crossover…but it's under the stage. The scrim I thought you can't see through was, in actuality, completely see-through! So, while an incredibly moving award ceremony was happening near the footlights, I was clankily walking across the whole stage undoing my belt. I'm glad the Shubert got to see that. That was the headache-y part of the night, let me tell the fabulous part.

It all began oddly during the first number of the show: I was downstairs in the dressing room and wanted to watch some numbers from the wings. One of the volunteers backstage saw me about to walk upstairs and muttered something to me while shaking his head "no." Huh? I asked him to repeat himself and he finally, uncomfortably said, "Um…you need to stay down here and not watch from the wings." What the — ? One of the best parts of doing a benefit is watching what's onstage. Hmph. But I figured that the first group performing (The Lion King) had lots of entrances and exits and needed to keep the wings clear. However, then I noticed dancers from my number filing upstairs to watch from the wings. What the — ! Why was I being boycotted? Well, I decided not to have a fit and got ready to go on. Around 15 minutes later, I went upstairs, got onstage and performed a section from Broadway 101 with a full chorus; they were amazing….but had all been watching the previous numbers in the wings. Rude. It went great. Pam Pariseau, who produced the event, and Dena Hammerstein, who founded "Only Make Believe" told me beforehand that after my performance, they were going to honor me with the Volunteer Award because of all the charity work I've done over the years. I was super-psyched after my number ended to receive the award from the host, Sir Ian McKellen, when suddenly things didn't go as I expected. Sir Ian brought out a stool and told me to sit center stage. I didn't know why or what was happening. Then, I heard an off-stage female ensemble start singing my name to the "Nicky Arnstein" melody from the Funny Girl overture. "Seth Rudetsky, Seth Rudetsky." It was hilarious how well all the syllables fit…yet the more I heard it, the more I realized what a clunker my name is. I don't know which is more annoying: The "Seth," The "Ru," The "det," or the "sky." Regardless, the cumulative effect is all four syllables adding up to a character name as headache-y as Mayim Bialik.

Anyhoo, after the "overture," Kate Shindle came out and started singing "Every Day a Little Death" changed to "Every Day a Little Seth." Brava! THEN Julia Murney came out and sang a funny/scathing version of "Broadway Baby" about me as a kid: He was a Broadway maybe,
Dreaming dreams of Broadway shows,
Wearing his capezios,
Leg warmers and 'fro…..NO!

So specific! And horrifyingly accurate. THEN — there was more! — Shoshana Bean came out singing about my belting obsession to "If I Were A Bell."

Ask Seth how does he feel,
Ask him what makes his eardrums start ringing
Well, folks, all Seth would say is,
"A weak little head voice ain't singing."
And there's only one sound that makes Sassy Seth melt
It's the sound of a Broadway broad belter's
Loud, high belt!

The number kept going: the brilliant Ann Harada had a belting face-off with Kate Shindle singing "Anything You Can Belt (I Can Belt Higher)." It ended with Kate Shindle belting an E…and then sliding up to a sustained A! OK. First of all, the expression on Ann Harada's face when Kate hit that note was such a perfect combination of shock/conceding defeat and blank-faced devastation. After the show, Kate told me that it was the closest she came to fainting onstage and she literally almost blacked out sustaining that A. Now that's commitment! And a dose of low blood sugar.

The whole medley ended with Julia Murney belting out a section from "A New Argentina" and doing a tip o' the hat to the my deconstruction (click here) and then everyone singing "Tomorrow"…with the title word changed to my old chestnut "A-mahzing." The whole thing had amazing lyrics written by Scott Logsdon and my favorite music director-composer, Steve Marzullo, and was so incredible. Everyone looked gorgeous, sounded amazing and actually had it memorized! I couldn't believe how much work they all put into it. THEN, Sir Ian came out and said my award would be presented to me by…Andrea Martin. I was so blown away. Andrea was one of my comedy idols when I was a teenager. And being on a Broadway stage having an award presented by her to me was so incredibly exciting and moving to me.

After the show, I got the whole backstory on the event. There was an incredible cloak of secrecy leading up to it that was more complex than the Manhattan Project. First of all, the poor intern downstairs that told me I couldn't watch from the wings ran up to me afterwards and apologized after the award presentation. He was told to keep me away from the stage area in case I saw some of the female presenters. I'm so glad I didn't pull a diva fit and announce "I'll watch what I want where I want!" It's the first time I didn't challenge authority. All the women hid across the street at Sardi's until I was downstairs and then were staked out in the stage manager's office. The only thing that went a little wrong was right after I sat on the stool, Sir Ian gave away all the names of who was to be singing in the medley. Ann Harada said she was in the wings with the other ladies and went into a RAGE. They had worked so hard to keep everything a secret and wanted to surprise me one-by-one as they entered. She said to me later, "I've never been so angry at a Knight of the British Empire." Really? I guess she never saw Lestat.

The other crazy thing that happened was around three weeks ago when I randomly ran into Dena Hammerstein on the subway. I've never seen her there before and I used the opportunity to introduce her to James and we all chatted. Turns out, they had just had an full, hour-long meeting the day before! They later told me that when they saw each other on the subway they both went into a wide-eyed panic…but went back to blank-face and pretended like they didn't know each other when I introduced them. The meeting they had just had was the one where James told them that Andrea Martin should present the award to me.

Coincidentally, a few nights before the benefit, I made James sit down and showed him some hilarious Andrea footage from youtube and kept telling him again and again how obsessed I was with her, when I was growing up. He told me later that it was so hard not to blurt out, "I know!!!! She's going to present you with an award on Monday!!!!" Please watch this brilliant Andrea sketch here.

On another note, I had a ton of auditions for acting jobs recently. Around ten days ago, I had a call-back for a national FedEx commercial. It was during the one time I had to rehearse the Broadway 101 section for the benefit and I rushed in and out. I thought I clanked at the call-back because I was in such a hurry and, as opposed to the auditions where you leave thinking, "I think I nailed it," I knew I didn't get it as soon as I left. I then did the benefit on Monday and two days later had a great audition for my favorite TV show, "30 Rock." The casting people are always so nice to me and I'm dying to be on the show. Then I went in for the Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles. I had a final call-back to play Francis and cover the lead role of Albin. Very exciting. I was anxiously waiting to hear and was constantly checking my cell phone. So, Friday night rolls around and at around 7:30, I look at my cell phone and see I have a voicemail. YES! It's from my agents. I was freaking out! As I was waiting for the message to play I kept thinking La Cage or "30 Rock"? "30 Rock" or La Cage? Finally the message plays: "Hey, Seth. It's Will from Abrams. Just calling to tell you that you didn't get the FedEX commercial. Sorry." AH!!!! I know I didn't get it! It was ten days before and I had completely forgotten about it! That's like my ex-boyfriend from college calling me to remind me he broke up with me. I know!!!!

Finally, here are the updates for the week: Marc Kudisch and Jeffrey Denman are my guests at Thursday's Chatterbox. And on Sunday, I'll be doing my Auditioning Master Class here in NYC at 10:30 AM. Go to sethrudetsky.com to sign up and, as the kids say, 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.

Ann Harada, Andrea Martin, Julia Murney, Kate Shindle and Shoshana Bean
Ann Harada, Andrea Martin, Julia Murney, Kate Shindle and Shoshana Bean
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