ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Texts, Tweets and Michael Urie's Secret to Booking a Job

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Texts, Tweets and Michael Urie's Secret to Booking a Job
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Seth and Peter Flynn outside Seth's dressing room
Seth and Peter Flynn outside Seth's dressing room


Hello from backstage at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY. I'm about to do Rhapsody in Seth, the play I wrote about my childhood, which I did at the Actors Playhouse back in 2003. It was directed by Peter Flynn, and now he runs the Hangar Theatre, so he asked me to come up here and put it up again. The nice part is, I was given a large dressing room backstage. The odd part? It's literally the ladies dressing room — and they left the men's dressing room vacant. Passive/aggressive. Anyhoo, it's very weird to do a show again that you haven't done in a while. I started "rehearsing" it last Monday, and I put rehearsing in quotes because the show is an hour and half of me talking, and I had to have 40 percent of the lines literally fed to me. Not just the first few words of the lines, the whole line. Then, the next day I ran it again, and I suddenly knew almost all of it by heart. It's as if the words were behind a door in my head, and even though I needed help opening it, once I did, they all just came out. I wonder if that's the case for every show I've ever done. Are they all in my head somewhere? If so, does that mean that the horrific Broadway revue I did in summer camp entitled Broadway Rainbow is lurking in my cranium? Is that why I keep getting vertigo attacks? Speaking of which, I finally went to an ear, nose and throat doctor because I wanted to know why the H I keep getting random vertigo attacks every six months. She checked me out (including a hearing test) and finally told me that I have "Benign Positional Vertigo." Yay! A diagnosis! She said it can be brought on by various things like airplane trips (just took a ten-hour trip from Europe) and, here's the kicker, sodium. Devastating. Why? Because James has been telling me for years that I can't keep ordering in Chinese food every night of the week because the sodium is terrible for me. I couldn't believe I had to tell him he was right. The doctor told me I could look up more info online about "Benign Positional Vertigo" and the more I read about (i.e. nothing definite brings it on, nothing definite stops it, it lasts for indefinite periods of time), I finally realized I have what used to be referred to in Victorian times as "the vapors." Maybe now I can finally be cast in a Merchant/Ivory film.

Kerry Butler
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

While I was at the Hangar, my friend Ana Gasteyer was doing a big benefit in L.A. for the Motion Picture and Television Fund with Kerry Butler, Matt Morrison, Angela Lansbury and more. We were texting back and forth about how great it was to have Broadway singers in Los Angeles and how audiences today across the world are so used to the horrid sound of auto-tuning. She agreed and texted: "My biggest beef! And one that has brought me full circle back to becoming the 2011 version of my mother." This referred to the fact that her mother only likes classical music and, when Ana was a kid, wouldn't allow her to belt. Ana was also a violinist back then and was sent to chamber music camp…which she says was as much fun as it sounds. I got one more text from Ana describing her morph into her mother: "It's true! At a certain point last night I think people were avoiding me just to get away from my incessant remarks about 'how rich the live orchestra sounded.'"

Michael Urie
photo by Robb Johnston

Speaking of films, I interviewed Michael Urie for "Seth Speaks" this week. He just produced a film called "Thank You For Judging," which is about to be featured at the Austin Film Festival. It's all about Texas high school forensics competitions. Forensics includes things like the debate team and extemporaneous speaking, but there are also theatre competitions. There are categories like "humorous interpretation" and "dramatic interpretation," or, as we in the business call them, "H.I." and "D.I." Anybody? Michael said that he saw that amazing documentary about the National Spelling Bee ("Spellbound") and knew that a docu about forensics would have the same dramatic highs and lows. I must agree because I, myself, was a fierce competitor in high school in the field of humorous interpretation (H.I. for peeps in the business). I did various monologues from Feiffer's People and made it to the state level where I was ranked first (!) in all the preliminary rounds. Then, in the semi-finals, I wound up having a slew of certain judges who didn't appreciate my comedic sass. Just so you know, the judges are actually teachers from other schools, some public and some private. Like Catholic schools. I'm not saying that perhaps I wasn't fully up to snuff during the semi-finals, but let's please acknowledge that a slew of nuns aren't known for their amazing senses of humor. The top eight made it to the finals and I missed making it by one point. Yes, I was ranked ninth, one away from being in the finals. Of course, it hardly had any effect on me and I let it go right away. Just like I'm sure Priscilla Lopez is at peace with her experience at The High School of Performing Arts.

When Michael Urie was in a Texas community college, he visited NYC. His teacher recommended that he try out for Juilliard and he got in! While he was on that first trip to NYC, he saw tons of shows. One of them was Ragtime, and afterwards there was a talkback with various members of the cast. The little girl in the show had a very frank talk with the college students about what it was like doing eight shows a week and various other "I'm-a-Broadway-vet-in-the-body-of-a-ten-year-old"-type things. Michael completely remembers her no-nonsense show biz talk. Later on, he figured out it was…Lea Michele! Even back then she had seen it, done it, been it, lived it. Brava! Michael also told us that he was doing a movie recently and was asked to audition for the upcoming production of The Cherry Orchard. Since he was filming, he didn't have a lot of time to prepare the audition scenes and was about to cancel the audition. Finally, though, he decided to go anyway and wing it, since he knew the director because he was at Juilliard when Michael was a student. Cut to: the director didn't even want him to read the scenes. He just had Michael do really fun acting exercises as the character…like, "as you enter the stage, you notice your shoes squeak." Michael had a great time and got a call back for the following week. A day later, he was filming his movie in an underground locale where his cell phone didn't work. When he finally got reception, he had tons of messages from his agent. Turns out, the call-back was not in a week, it was that day! Michael hoped he could come in another day, but Dianne Wiest (who is slated to star in it) was only available that day. Since he was deep in the heart of Brooklyn and there was no way he could make it to the callback, he decided to just let it go. Cut to: the director called him and offered him the gig! Michael said that the moral is to work with people you know. Is it? Could it actually be: don't prepare for an audition? Turn off your cell phone for long periods of time? Skip callbacks and hope for the best? Or is it literally pure happenstance? It reminds me of the article in the Onion where a 114-year-old woman is continually asked the secret of her longevity and she angrily keeps saying it's simply chance. So hilarious. 

Brian d'Arcy James

Speaking of hilarious, I must go back to Ana Gasteyer to say that she has one of my favorite twitter accounts, @AnaGasteyer. The tweet this week I'm obsessed with all began when I made this video highlighting Idina Menzel in Wicked and Wild Party. At one point, I talk about how Brian d'Arcy James sings "…when we met, you were less than a dirty whore!" I love his vibrato on the last note. Watch! So, first one of my followers, Joe Halpin tweeted: "It's okay to call someone less than a dirty whore, just so long as you add a vibrato to whore. #StuffSethRudetskytaughtme." Then, BD Wong wrote: "I think 'whore' has to be up a fifth, like Joanne Worley. No?" I, of course, replied that everything should be up a fifth. Then Brian d'Arcy James wrote that he'd have to have the song down a fifth before he could sing it up a fifth. Finally, Ana tweeted my favorite tweet: "Drop the R in Whore, make it a dipthong, and KEY CHANGE mid-vowel. Always works. Yes, spin the end." I'm so obsessed with babbling that makes no sense, yet the capitals to show assuredness.

I'm gearing up for some shows this fall: Deconstructing Broadway on Oct 24 at Drexel in Philadelphia, and Oct. 27-30 at City Theatre in Pittsburgh, and then a big Broadway revue on Nov. 1 at the Westbury Music Fair in the afternoon. For Westbury, I'm bringing out my belter friends (and one high soprano) and we're doing tons of Broadway solos, duets and group numbers. It's essentially a cruise ship-style I Heart Broadway show on dry land. You can get tickets by emailing Tony@rendezvous.travel. P.S., that's the theatre I played last year that has a round stage that continually spins the whole time. Another cause of vertigo? Yay. Tonight, I'm headed to the Laurie Beechman room to see the fabulous Carole Demas do her act. Carole was the original Sandy in Grease on Broadway, and I spent many mornings in the 1970s watching her on TV because she and Paula Janis were the hosts of TV's "The Magic Garden." If you don't remember, take a gander and come see her tonight at 7 PM! 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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