ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Tonys Are Coming! The Tonys Are Coming!

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: The Tonys Are Coming! The Tonys Are Coming!
A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley Photo by Aubrey Reuben

I'm starting this column in the Continental Airlines waiting area.

My flight to Charlotte was delayed, and instead of using the time to act out with food, I'm using it to write my weekly recap. And then reward myself with a Cinnabon. PS, when did I become Cathy Guisewite? Anyhoo, this week I began my second time doing a reading of Radio Girl, which used to be called Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, a title which, to me, had the implication of a girl entrapped in a mental institution. The hilarious Brooks Ashmanskas is one of the stars and had me laughing so hard when he was telling me about an older actor he worked with who had terrible timing: musically and pace-wise. Brooks said he had a scene where he'd be standing with his romantic lead and reveal his feelings:

BROOKS: Because…well….I love you.
And then the older actor was supposed to angrily charge on with Where the hell are you!?!?
Unfortunately, Brooks said that many times this would happen:
BROOKS: Because…well…-
OLDER ACTOR: (Charging on) Where the hell are you!?!?!?

I had a very Broadway experience when James and I went to see Desire Under the Elms right before it closed. As we sat down I heard, "Seth"! Turns out, right in back of us, was Betty Buckley! Then, after the show got out (and I was thoroughly devastated from the story), we went backstage and saw Raul Esparza hanging out. We all wound up going out for dinner, and Betty and Raul regaled us with Broadway debacle stories. Some cannot be retold in print, but at one point they were talking about techniques you can use if you forget lyrics, and Betty said that when cutie John Barrowman was starring with her in London's Sunset Boulevard, he told her about the technique he had up his sleeve. During Miss Saigon when he forgot a lyric, instead of singing nonsense syllables, he would mouth them in silence. Instead of the audience picking up that he was lost, it would look like he was singing the correct lyrics but his microphone went out! The poor sound guy would start frantically adjusting the sound board and when John finally remembered the lyrics, his mic would magically "work" again. Blimey, those Brits are tricky! Betty told us about an incident that happened during Sunset Boulevard in the scene where Norma calls Joe Gillis' girlfriend Betty Schaefer to tell her that Joe is now living in Norma's mansion. Joe Gillis comes storming in, grabs the phone, tells Betty Schaefer the address of Norma's mansion and hangs up. The rest of the play hinges on him giving the address or else Betty Schaefer wouldn't know where to find him. Well, at one performance, John stormed in, grabbed the phone from Betty ...and promptly hung it up! The phone hanging up was the cue for the orchestra to play crazy music as she and Joe struggle, but Betty realized that "Betty Schaefer" didn't know the address, and it would make no sense for her to suddenly show up. It's not like Norma Desmond is listed in the phone book. While the orchestra was playing the crazy music, Betty ran back to the phone, dialed it and said, "Someone wants to speak to you!" and handed the phone back to John. John didn't know what he was supposed to do…and then suddenly realized his mistake and yelled the address into the phone. Betty was proud of saving the plot…but then after the show, she was surprised that the stage manager tried to bust her for changing the blocking! As she left the theatre, however, a British girl who had seen the show many times approached her. She smiled at Betty and said, "Thank you for saving the plot." Speaking of Betty Schaefers, Betty said that she just saw Alice Ripley — Broadway's Betty Schaefer — in Next to Normal and was cheering wildly for her throughout the show. And, speaking of Betty, I'm so excited we get to do the Broadway By Request show we did at Feinstein's this summer at the Bay Street Theatre. We'll be performing July 3 (on Betty's birthday!) and doing two shows July 4 (on the USA's birthday!). And, Betty's going to be doing a four-day-intensive in Sag Harbor as well. Every day it's an all-day affair featuring a full Pilates class in the morning with Betty's movement coach from Sunset — who's a Pilates genius — and then Betty will work with students/educators all afternoon to learn the meditative skills she uses that make her a brilliant performer! Go to www.BettyBuckley.com for details. When you're there, listen to the amazing recording she has on her website of "Memory"…it's not the Broadway recording, and it's amazing!

Last Wednesday, I hosted an awards dinner at the Bronx Community Pride Center. Manhattan has the GLBT Community Center in the Village, and the only other one in all five boroughs is in the Bronx. It was especially meaningful to me because one of the main opponents to marriage equality is State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. from the Bronx. The Center recently lost more than $300,000 of its funding, so this was an important fundraising event. The headliner was Julie Gold, who wrote the beautiful song "From a Distance." She told us that she was working as a secretary in 1985 when she wrote the song, and even though many singers recorded it, it didn't become a hit 'til the 90's. It happened because Marc Shaiman was looking for a song to put on Bette Midler's new studio album, and he called New York Times critic Stephen Holden. Stephen recommended "From a Distance," and since then the song won the Grammy Award, was recited into the Congressional Record by Senator Barbara Boxer and was used as a wake-up call on the Mir Space Station during the first space mission using both American and Russian astronauts. Before she performed, Julie asked us to sing along because she claimed that she's a songwriter, not a singer, and she told us she was happy that the tables were so far away because, at her age, she looked better "from a distance." Brava! However, her version of not being a singer, was actually being an amazing singer. It was so special to hear the song sung by the person who actually wrote it. She had so much feeling and, despite her contralto speaking voice, she sang it in a high key and belted all the top notes. I'm trying to convince her to come on the Rosie Cruise because her performance would be so moving being sung to all the families on the boat. Speaking of which, this week, Juli was made fun of at school by one of her classmates for having gay dads. When the teacher talked to the parent, the mother was unapologetic and said that her religion disapproves of gay people. How spiritual. I guess her religion thinks it's okay to mock an eight-year-old girl for making the choice when she was a toddler to be adopted by a gay man. This is why the Bronx Community Pride Center and the Rosie Cruise are so important. Go to www.Bronxpride.org to find out more about the center and rfamilyvacations.com to find out about the upcoming cruise to Alaska. At my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show, I had beltress Kate Pazakis, who just came out with her new CD. Kate did an Off-Broadway show where she had to understudy a gaggle of Broadway ladies and one of the stars said, "Don't bother learning my part. I've never missed a show." Cut to, they added a Thursday matinee, and the star forgot about it! Thankfully, Kate learned the role despite the warning. When Kate was doing the CD, her producer asked her what her dream was for the song list. Kate said her dream was recording a song that Jason Robert Brown wrote just for her. Two weeks later, she was on a plane to L.A. to hear the song he wrote for her! And, not only did he give her a new song, he arranged an amazing version of Alanis Morissette's "One Hand In My Pocket." I love it! Get thee to www.katepazakis.com to get the CD.

My main guest was Kevin Chamberlin, who came to the show on a break from Radio Girl rehearsal, where they let him go for the hour. I, of course, had to get no special dispensation to leave rehearsal since my role could be covered by someone who speaks only a few words of English. Since the Tonys are coming, I asked him about his first nomination for Dirty Blonde. Kevin said that the show opened on the last Thursday of the season, and a few days later were the nominations, so he didn't have any time to worry if he would be nominated. Luckily, the whole cast was nominated, so there was no weird/uncomfortable showing up at the theatre and saying that awards are meaningless. Kevin was sure that Roy Dotrice from Moon for the Misbegotten would be the winner because he was a great actor… and he was in his eighties. Right before the big night though, The New York Times came out with an article saying Kevin would be the winner. Kevin arrived at the Tonys and found out he was seated right in back of Roy, who turned around and told Kevin, "You're going to win." When Kevin's name was announced as one of the nominated, he said the TV cameraman filming him was literally in the aisle, inches away from him, and he's never felt more self-conscious. This from a man who, in The Ritz, did an Andrews Sisters number wearing a wig and sporting D-cup balloons in his shirt. The winner was announced, and The New York Times was wrong. Roy Dotrice did indeed win. Then, when Kevin was nominated for Seussical, it was the opposite experience at the theatre. Nobody else involved with the show was nominated. Awkward. And, because there was only one nomination, the show immediately posted a closing notice. When the voters all rushed to see the show that week because it was their last chance to see Kevin, they didn't see him because he had always planned to take that week off to film a movie. And, most weirdly, the person they did see playing Horton was his understudy, who was performing his last hurrah as an actor…director Casey Nicholaw! It's too bad the voters didn't get to see Kevin because I'm sure he would have won if they did. He was up against very light competition; Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in The Producers. Anybody? Everybody?

All right, since I started writing the article I flew to Charlotte, NC, did my master class and Deconstructing show and now I'm back. Oddly enough, the day I got there, Corey Mitchell (who booked me there) told me there was a marriage equality rally. He wound up taking me there, and it was great! I never thought I'd be in the Deep South screaming, "Gay, Straight, Black or White! We deserve our civil rights!" I also never thought I'd scream something that, while important, didn't rhyme. ("white" and "rights" isn't an exact rhyme…except in one of the new Broadway "pop" shows). It would have been so easy to change it to "Gays, Straights, Blacks and Whites! We deserve our civil rights," but there was no fellow Sondheim-fanatic there with whom to lodge a complaint.

Tonight, I'm playing for the velvet-voiced Norm Lewis at Feinstein's (info at ActorsFund.org), and then I'm going to try to make an appearance at Chandra Wilson's "Welcome to Chicago" party at The Gate and then, Kate Pazakis' CD release party at Le Poisson Rouge (featuring Jason Robert Brown…info at www.KatePazakis.com). This Wednesday my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway Show will have the fantastic Anika Larsen and Lea Salonga, and then this weekend I'm doing my auditioning Master Class and my Deconstructing Broadway show in Harrisburg, PS (info at www.SethRudetsky.com). And when I get back… The Tonys!!!! I got tickets to the dress rehearsal…I can't wait!! I heard Dolly Parton is gonna sing some of "Nine to Five" in the opening number! Set your DVRs and 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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