ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Tale of the Disappearing Balloon

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Tale of the Disappearing Balloon
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Chris Sieber, with Liz Froio, in Hairspray
Chris Sieber, with Liz Froio, in Hairspray Photo by Kathleen A. Fahle

I spent a delicious week in Provincetown, and now I'm starting a terrifying/thrilling downhill slope to They're Playing Our Song.

It's on Aug. 30, which means it's less than 30 days away! I've been out of town almost every week and Sutton Foster has been busy preparing to open Trust at Second Stage (this Thursday), so we haven't been able to start rehearsing until right now. We just did our first read-thru of the script at Denis Jones' apartment (who's directing/choreographing), and it went great! It's such a funny script, and it was so fun to make Sutton laugh. I've never [AUDIO-LEFT]played a part opposite her, and I was amazed at how full her natural speaking voice is. No wonder she's such an amazing singer. Her voice just fills every cavity in her face and has a crazy resonance that had me searching her hairline for a hidden body mic. If you want tix, go to www.ActorsFund.org!

Let me now write about amazing Provincetown. On Monday night James, Juli and I took a short drive across the Cape to Dennis, MA, and went to see Hairspray at the historic Cape Playhouse. I hadn't been there since 1994 when I did a short run of Forever Plaid right after it closed Off-Broadway. I loved the backstage of the theatre because there are posters from all of the old shows that played there. There are two posters that feature Vivian Vance that I used to look at every night over and over again because I'm obsessed with her. Right after Hairspray ended, I ran backstage with James and Juli and I was so happy to see that the posters were still there! Hairspray was great, and Chris Sieber was a brava as Edna. Also, he's such a good-looking guy that when he got in full make-up during "Welcome to the 60's," he looked stunning! I was also phenomenally impressed with Jim Walton, who played Chris' husband, Wilbur. Their Act Two duet ("You're Timeless to Me") was brilliant. Jim is such a great dancer, and he combined his hoofing with a trunk-full of vaudeville shtick to make the number fantastic. I loved how Chris hauled out Paul Lynde in Shrek, and he did it again during his part in the duet. But, this time Jim Walton did it back, and it became a hilarious version of dueling Lyndes. I wish Alice Ghostley had walked out onstage to make it a trio.

Varla Jean Merman

Tuesday was the night of Classical Varla, which is a yearly benefit starring Varla Jean Merman for the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod. First of all, I love how the concert was advertised: It had the title and then a list of performers starting with "Varla Jean Merman, Former Soprano." It reminds me of when I worked on the album of Anastasia (by Forrest and Wright) with opera star Regina Resnik. She was in her mid-70's at the time, and during one of the breaks she commented about how low the key was of the song she was singing. She told me, "I used to be a soprano, then a contralto. Now…I'm a smoky baritone." Brava! Back to Classical Varla. Unfortunately, Jeff (who plays Varla) got bronchitis over the weekend and was petrified he wouldn't be able to sing any of the concert. I heard him complain about his voice before.

ME: Won't be able to sing the concert? You say that every year.
JEFF: Yes, but this year it's true! I couldn't take it anymore, so finally I did what most people on Broadway do if they're sick; I called Barry Kohn. Barry is an allergist (whom Charles Busch based his play The Tale Of The Allergist's Wife on), and he helps out most everybody on the theatre scene. I reached him immediately, and he prescribed medication for Jeff over the phone. Through the miracle of steroids, Jeff got his voice back! And, he lifted my piano over his head. Brava, Barry!

Mark (Jeff's manager and opera tenor) asked me if I'd be able to do something to fill out the concert, and I told him I could play "Rhapsody in Blue." It's a pretty hard piece, but I wasn't nervous to play it since I had recently done it in June. Until, right before the concert began, I ran into a friend of mine I hadn't seen for 20 years. He's a musician also, and we went to Oberlin together. Suddenly having a trained musician in the audience changed my whole relaxed attitude of "I love this piece! Who's going to know if I mess up?" into a terrified "There's someone in the audience listening and judging every single note." Yay. It's fun to feel like that through an incredibly long piece that has non-stop sections featuring technical bravura. Regardless, I got through it and actually got a standing ovation. Was it worth the near thrombosis? I guess the good news is that I can call Barry to start on a heart medication regime.

Mark Cortale sang a slew of opera songs that had him hitting non-stop high notes, and the audience ate it up. And speaking of high notes, Nell Snaidas was the soprano of the evening and brought down the house with her "Glitter and Be Gay." She is a brilliant soprano, and she's also on my Hair CD singing all the crazy coloratura stuff in "Hare Krishna." Here she is singing her specialty, which is early music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW7OPnPvNu4.

Near the end, Varla came out and told everyone she was going to sing from The Magic Flute. She introduced it with "Does anybody know what The Magic Flute is about?" (Pause.) "Well, it's about four hours. And that's three and a half hours too long." As they said in Mozart's time, true 'dat. Varla talked about the crazy high notes in the Queen of the Night aria and that since she couldn't hit them, she was going to play them on her iPhone. Seriously. There's an ocarina app that Varla has gotten incredibly adept at playing, and she used it to do the signature high coloratura part. Of course, because it was a Varla show, she combined the aria with Lady Gaga's "Telephone." In the middle, Papageno comes out singing "Pa-pa-pa-pa-geno." Then he comes out again singing "Pop-pop-pop-pop-Popeye's" but holding a bag of fried chicken. Then finally, he comes out singing and holding "Pop-pop-pop-poppers," which Varla sniffs and therefore ends the song by singing a high F sharp above high C! It's cra-za-zy and Jeff told me the trick is to breathe in as you sing. Here's a video! http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/

Seth on "My Life on the D-list"
photo courtesy BravoTV

Tuesday night was also the episode of "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-list" that I was on. Unfortunately, it aired when I was at Classical Varla, but a bunch of us got together and watched the second showing at midnight at our friend Mark's house. The good news: He was willing to stay up with us to watch a TV show at midnight. The bad news: He wasn't particularly familiar with the workings of his own TV. Halfway through the showing, he got up to "adjust" the set and wound up changing the channel. Unfortunately, it was one of those TVs that have to be on a certain channel to show cable, and it was an old one that would only change the channel upwards. So he had to start madly flipping up through every channel to try to go back to the right one. But because he was so panicked we were missing the actual show, he was flipping frantically, and when he would get to the right channel, he'd go right past it by accident and then have to start the whole thing again. I used the technique I learned from childhood abuse at school and completely shut down emotionally. I came to when he finally found the right channel, but by this time, we had missed an entire segment and it was on a commercial. After a few minutes, we noticed it was the same commercial and then realized he had changed the channel to an all-infomercial network. And the process started again. Regardless, I wound up enjoying (what I saw of) the show and got so many emails, Facebook posts and twitters. Cheyenne Jackson texted me from Hollywood and said he watched it and missed me. I then congratulated him on all of his upcoming TV shows ("30 Rock," "Glee" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm") but begged him not to forget Broadway. He texted back, "You couldn't keep me away from the BroadWAY." Yay! On Wednesday, I did Deconstructing Broadway, and I was so excited that it was sold out! Provincetown can be really difficult sometimes to get an audience, and I was nervous I'd be doing my old chestnuts for just James and Juli who wouldn't even have the courtesy to fake laugh. PS, I'm doing my show again in Provincetown on Aug. 26 at the Crown and Anchor if you're in the 'hood.


The whole trip was momentous for Juli not only because she learned how to ride a bike (YAY!) but because she became obsessed with Cashetta, who is a drag magician. Every performer in P-town has to stand on the street and hawk for their show, and Cashetta did a trick on the street that Juli and I can't stop thinking about. She blows up one of the really long balloons and slowly starts to swallow it like a sword swallower. She keeps swallowing it until finally…it's all gone. Then just when we were waiting for her to pull it back out of her throat, she started calmly chatting! That's right, it never comes back out! Where does it go? We were amazed/horrified. Juli insisted on seeing Cashetta's show twice. Watch one of her amazing tricks here! http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/ All last week was Family Week in Provincetown, which is sponsored by the Family Equality Council (FamilyEquality.org), a great organization for gay parents and their kids. It was especially exciting to be there as Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional. Hopefully, it's the beginning of all of these kids being allowed to have married parents. Speaking of which, Gavin Creel, who co-founded Broadway Impact, asked me to speak tonight at Therapy to celebrate the anti-Prop 8 ruling. Some great people will be there including beltress Shayna Steele and most of the cast of [title of show]. Go to BroadwayImpact.org for details! And if you're in Pittsfield, MA, on Wednesday, come see me play for Betty Buckley: Broadway By Request. I'm taking my mom with me, and it's a three-and-half-hour car ride each way. That's a lot of hours to talk about her physical therapist/her dermatologist/her days marching against the war/who she's in a fight with at synagogue/who didn't save her a seat at synagogue/synagogue period. Hmm…will Barry Kohn give me a prescription for earplugs? 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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