ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Underexposed Punch Lines

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Underexposed Punch Lines
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.

Tony Award winner Betty Buckley.
Tony Award winner Betty Buckley.

Happy summer in the Deep South! I mean, happy May. What is going on? Why is it so crazily hot! And, wasn't it freezing five minutes ago? Why do we have to suffer just because Mother Nature is going through menopause?

Anyhoo, this week began with a big benefit I did at New World Stages for Only Make Believe (a great charity that brings theatre to hospitalized children). I did my deconstructing show and had Betty Buckley as a guest star. I used her to demonstrate pure vowels. I get crazy when singers modify their vowels. It completely takes me out of the moment as an audience member because instead of thinking the actor is the character, I'm suddenly aware that the performer is a singer who can't hit a high note unless he or she changes "you" to "yow." I brought Betty onstage and played a sample of a modified vowel that always makes me crazy; [AUDIO-LEFT]Glenn Close ending "With One Look" by singing "With one look….I'll be ma-a-a-a-a-a-y"! I expected Betty to smugly nod when I played it, but instead she informed us that when she played Norma Desmond, the music director told her to sing it that way as well! She modified it for a year and then began lessons with voice-teacher-to-the-stars, Joan Lader. Joan heard "ma-a-a-a-y" once and immediately ordered Betty to sing the ending with a pure vowel. Brava, Joan! Betty then sang "He Plays the Violin" for us, and I highlighted the section where she sings, "When Heaven calls to me-e-e-e-e-e-…". Two days later, Betty and I were on Rosie O'Donnell's Sirius/XM radio show and when we told Rosie about Broadway By Request (the show Betty and I do around the country), Rosie asked us if we'd do it on her radio show so she could make all the requests! Of course, we said yes, and I can't wait. The best news is, Rosie was telling us about her new TV show that's coming in fall of 2011, and she's definitely not going to forget about Broadway. As a matter of fact, she made it sound like she's going to have more Broadway on her show than ever before!

She told Betty that she used to watch her on "Eight is Enough" and fantasize that her dad would marry Betty so she'd have her as a mom. Then, when she got older, she realized she didn't want Betty as a mom, she wanted Betty! That's right, she 'fessed up to having a crush on Abby Bradford. Rosie saw Betty on a plane trip many years ago and was too scared to approach her and talk to her. A few months beforehand, Rosie taped Betty on "The Tonight Show" singing a song she wrote herself. And by "taped it," I don't mean with a VCR. She did it old-school, aka holding a tape recorder up to the TV screen. Rosie listened to it all the time and knew it by heart, so when she walked by Betty she started singing the song, hoping that Betty would notice. Unfortunately, Rosie said that Betty heard it, thought she was crazy, and kept walking. Betty does not remember. I offer my own theory, after spending many years working with Rosie on many songs; I think Betty didn't recognize the song even though Rosie thought she was humming it note-for-note. Perhaps what Betty thought she heard was a section from Berg's Wozzeck (an atonal opera) and appropriately quickened her pace. Back to the benefit. The audience was amazing, and the show went so well. The next day, Dena Hammerstein (who founded OMB and recently produced Superior Donuts) and Pam Pariseau (her producing partner) sent me a thank-you gift: a brand new iPad! Best gift ever! Speaking of benefits, the next afternoon was the big BC/EFA fundraiser, The Easter Bonnet Competition. At the end, Bebe Neuwirth, Nathan Lane and Catherine Zeta-Jones had to read off all the money amounts that various shows had raised. Bebe had a hard time reading the right amounts — just like what's happened to me in the past. When you see $160,454, you want to start saying "One hundred thousand…" Then you pause because you think "Do I say 60 thousand, or start again and say one hundred and sixty thousand?" She started over twice and then looked at the audience and said, "I'm a very good dancer." Ha! During the South Pacific sketch, the kids in the show told us all the things they've learned doing a Broadway show. Things like, "If you want a long career, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize." And, "What happens in the hair room, stays in the hair room." Then one of them said, "Keep 'The Tonight Show' and 'Larry King,' give me Seth's Broadway Chatterbox." I was very flattered, and after the show I saw Jen Cody, and she congratulated me on the shout-out. I said, "Yeah, and this year it was actually a nice one." She glared and said, "Why are you pointing to me when you say that?" I replied, "Because last year, when you were Little Sally, you said you were worried about overexposure. Officer Lockstock then said, 'Well, between zero and Seth Rudetsky, I don't think you need to worry.'" Jen started to respond with "Well…," and I knew right where she was going, so I cut her off, "Yes, you were speaking the truth, so I have no right to complain." She nodded and promptly exited.

That night I played for Kerry Butler at a fundraiser for the Family Equality Council, which helps gay parents and their kids. They were honoring Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote Xanadu which Kerry starred in. (The workshop starred Jane Krakowski, but she opted out of taking the role because she got "30 Rock.") Before I continue, let me share that I have this comedy karma that manifests itself in restaurants. Whenever I'm about to reveal the hilarious punch line of one of my stories, a waiter/waitress always comes over to start clearing plates or ask if we need the check or "see if we're doing okay." It's literally always on my denouncement and completely ruins my timing/devastates me. So, bear that in mind as I continue. Before the benefit, Kerry and I were working on something funny to say having to do with Douglas and his partner Louis being such great dads. We decided she'd say, "Doug and Louis are giving their kids such a great childhood. They would bring them to the theatre all the time and told me that they would act out Xanadu at home, and the two kids would always argue about who was going to play my role!" Then she'd quietly add, "I told ___ just to push ___ down the stairs." As she'd laugh like it was a joke, I'd pipe up with, "Isn't that what you did to Jane Krakowski?" We knew it was an inside joke but decided we didn't care. Doug would probably be the only that found it funny, but it was his night. So, at Chelsea Piers that night, we went on around 9 PM, Kerry sang "Magic," and then we segued into the dialogue. I made sure I knew where Doug was sitting so I could look over at him after our banter and see his gales of laughter. Kerry gave me the set-up and, as soon as I delivered my Jane Krakowski punch line, I immediately looked towards Doug's table so I could see his reaction. Well, the reaction I got was not an enormous guffaw but instead I saw him not paying attention to the stage and nodding over his right shoulder. That's correct, at the exact moment I hauled out my punch line, the waiter stood next to him with a plate of desserts! How has my karma expanded so much?!? Now my jokes are ruined by waiters even when I'm not at a table!!!

When I was getting ready to go on at New World Stages for the Monday night benefit, I was backstage and ran into Michael Urie, who was getting ready to go on in The Temperamentals. I saw him in that show and thought his acting was great. I quickly chatted with him and forced, I mean, convinced him to come on my Chatterbox. He told us that after high school he went to a local community college near Plano, TX, where he grew up. He took a trip to NYC with the theatre teacher, whom he loved, and when they passed by Juilliard, his teacher told him that he should audition. The following year he did and was accepted! He got an agent while he was there and started getting the breakdowns illegally. If you don't know, the breakdowns are a listing of all the upcoming auditions sent by casting directors. Even though they're only supposed to go out to agents, some actors have connections so they can have them sent directly to them. They can then harass their agents to get them submitted for various auditions. Mind you, I know nothing about that. And, on a side note, it's difficult to type while your fingers are crossed. Anyhoo, Michael saw an audition for the "Ugly Betty" pilot looking for a "bitchy, gay assistant" for Vanessa Williams. He asked his agents to submit him, but they didn't want to because it wasn't a series regular, it was just for that episode. Michael didn't care, and he finally got them to submit him. He booked the gig and said that he and Vanessa got along phenomenally. She was completely non-diva-ish, and they'd spend rehearsals discussing how to make comedic moments work. One of the things he came up with would be while she had dialogue, he'd stand next to her and imitate her body language. The concept for the pilot was that Vanessa's character would have a different assistant each week because she was such a nightmare to work for, but their chemistry was so great that his one episode character was turned into a series regular! After that, he fired his agents. Sass!

At the end of the Chatterbox, he mentioned that he had done a cabaret act at Feinstein's with his "Ugly Betty" co-star Becki Newton. He had planned on singing some duets at my show, but was resigned to sing solo since she didn't show up. Right when he was about to launch into a song, a voice from the audience called, "Michael!" Michael looked shock/guilty as Becki approached the stage, pointed her finger and asked him, "Why did you tell me the show was at Joe's Pub?" Brava on the old school vaudeville humor. They both totally surprised me with the comedy bit. She then claimed, "I ran all the way here," which was hilarious because she was wearing crazy six-inch heels. They did a duet version of "Your Fault" from Into the Woods where Michael sang almost all the roles and Becky was pretty much reduced to singing "No, it isn't." And, the big news is Michael won the Lortel Award last night for Best Actor. Yay!

Deconstructing-wise, I'm back! Last year I did "30 Deconstructions in 30 Days" in April, and this year I'm upping it to "31 Deconstructions in 31 Days" because it's May. I started with a combo platter of Patrick Wilson, Liz Larsen, Chris Jackson and more, and you can watch every day at www.SethRudetsky.com. And, finally, attention Bostonians! I'm coming to do Deconstructing Broadway next Monday and Tuesday at Speakeasy Stage,and I'm doing a master class, too! All info at http://sethrudetsky.com/blog/see-me-live/. Tonight I'm at Joe's Pub doing an all-theme show helmed by Kevin Chamberlin. Rehearsals have been hi-lar. And, yes, it's a benefit. 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.

Lance Horne, Becki Newton, Michael Urie and Seth
Lance Horne, Becki Newton, Michael Urie and Seth
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