ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: We've Come Home — at Last

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: We've Come Home — at Last
A week in the life of actor, musician and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth Rudetsky in Whose Life is it Anyway?
Seth Rudetsky in Whose Life is it Anyway?

James, Juli and I are now officially ensconced in our new apartment.

We're completely unpacked, everything has its place, all the rooms are decorated and the place looks stunning. And, if you believe any of that, The Blonde in the Thunderbird is being revived. The real story is we're unpacked-ish, but nothing has a permanent place yet. Essentially, wherever it landed, it stayed. Our friend Ryan made us a beautiful bookshelf (we did Forever Plaid together, and he's a combination high tenor/master woodworker), and soon my Rosie Cruise compatriot, Michael Lee Scott, is gonna paint all the rooms. Michael is one of those genius painters who can either make your walls look beautiful with stunning color combinations, or can paint a scene on your wall that looks like it's real. I never understand how one person can have so many talents. Michael Lee is such a great performer (he played a hilarious Roxie in the Rosie Cruise production of Chicago), but he also can paint or build anything you want out of anything you want. Right now, he's creating a new look for the building that houses Rosie's Broadway Kids, and he's so creative that Rosie has nicknamed him after MacGyver; she calls him "Mc-Gay-ver." Look at his website and the amazing rooms he's painted: www.MichaelLeeScott.com.

This week I started audition coaching singers again at my apartment, which I had stopped because my old neighbor complained about any extraneous noise, including the sound of me and James "walking too loudly." Walking loudly? I tiptoed around that apartment. The only time I moved more quietly was when I was in 11th grade playing the lead in Whose Life is it Anyway? and was completely paralyzed in my hospital bed (see above picture). PS, that picture was recently sent to me by Peter Flynn (who's the artistic director of The Hangar Theater) because his chief architect's sister-in-law went to high school with me. Peter's note was: "If Whose Life Is It Anyway is a searing drama, why the crazy, happy smile?" After sending it to my sister Nancy, her note was: "I love the Mackenzie Phillips hairstyle…and matching make-up."

Anyhoo, I've been sort of walking on eggshells in the new apartment waiting for the shoe to drop. So, after I coached someone for the new Michael John LaChiusa musical version of Giant I got a call on my cell phone.

VOICE: (Very direct) Seth Rudetsky?
ME: (nervous) Yes?
VOICE: (declarative) This is your landlord.
ME: (terrified) Hi…
VOICE: I understand you have three people living with you.
ME: (wondering if that's against my lease. Do we have to send Juli to boarding school? ) Um…sort of…
VOICE: (more direct) I don't know if you were informed…
ME: (thinking I literally have to move back in with my mother) Yes???
VOICE: …I'm buying you a larger refrigerator.
ME: (having just voided) Thank you! This week began with a private party at Don't Tell Mama. A father and son who listen to me on Sirius/XM asked me if I'd do my comedy show at a birthday party and, like Liza, I said, "Yes!" The dad's name is Lee Perlman, and he hired me to do my show but also donated money to BC/EFA. Plus, none of the kids were allowed to bring gifts, they could only bring checks to BC/EFA. How great is that? I did my "Deconstructing" show and turns out, I'm a hit with 18-year-olds! They got all of my jokes, and they also loved Marty Thomas, who was the opening act. Marty (who recently won the Broadway Beauty Pageant) is a fantastic singer, and before he sang I asked him if anything had ever gone wrong while he was in the ensemble of Wicked. Turns out, he was there the first time the cherry picker didn't work. That's the thing that lifts Elphaba in the air during the last chorus of "Defying Gravity." Shoshana Bean was on, and when she realized she wasn't going to "fly," she got unlatched from the cherry picker and started walking from stage left to stage right, sassing the audience (á la "American Idol," according to Marty). The ensemble is supposed to rush on, singing, but they didn't know if they should. The stage managers were panicking, and the stage right stage manager told the ensemble to sing from backstage, but the stage left one told them to go out! So, the audience saw one group rushing out singing, "Look at her, she's wicked," but from only one side of the stage. The singers onstage realized that it didn't look like Shoshana was flying above them, so they all decided to crouch down to make it appear that she was towering over them (PS, she's like 5'4"). Finally, Shoshana did her signature sassy riff and the number, mercifully, ended. However, the cherry picker wasn't the only thing broken. The whole computer system of cues was not working, so right after Shoshana's amazing note, instead of having a full stage blackout, all the lights stayed on. And there was no curtain. Everyone onstage froze ….and froze…and finally awkwardly slunk offstage, in full lighting.

After I did my show, I brought the birthday boy up to the stage, who said he's going to major in theatre next year at Northwestern. I played two songs for him, and he sang great...and also was hilarious busting himself. He lamented the fact that he's considered an overweight character actor at age 18 (PS, he's not overweight!). He told us that at the Northwestern summer program he went to (Cherubs), everyone took turns standing in front of the other campers, who told them what roles they were right for. He was told by the other campers that he'd be "perfect" for Max Bialystock, Poombah... and Tevye. That's an average age of 49 and a collective weight of 600 lbs. What up?????

Tuesday night I performed at a show for Mary-Mitchell Campbell's organization called ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty). Mary-Mitchell did the great orchestrations for the recent Company revival and created ASTEP, which uses the arts to help kids in poverty all over the world. Go to the website and see the great documentary my fellow The Ritz cast member, David Turner, made (asteponline.org)! Anyhoo, it was in celebration of the inauguration, and I decided to do some deconstructing in honor or Obama. His key word is "change," so I saluted the best kind of change in music…a key change! I played and deconstructed my three favorite key changes: The end of the Laurie Beechman "Star-to-be" section in Annie, the modulation in "I Will Always Love You" when Whitney Houston starts belting up a storm, and Lillias White singing the last section of "I Am Changing." Before I went on, I heard Kerry Butler singing the song she'll sing in the Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman-penned Catch Me If You Can. The last I heard, the show was going out of town, and rumor had it that Norbert Leo Butz was playing the Tom Hanks part and Kerry was gonna play the main girlfriend. Kerry sounded great on her song…lamenting the Leonardo DiCaprio character leaving her. Kerry is so honest onstage and her emotions are so real, I was devastated at the end of the song. I can't wait to see it on Broadway!

Wednesday I was a mentor for the TDF Open Doors Scholarship Program. It was started in 1998 by Wendy Wasserstein, and it brings small groups of high school kids to Broadway shows. Afterwards, the mentor, who's a theatre professional (current mentors include Michael Mayer, Kathleen Marshall and Scott Ellis), lead the kids in a discussion. I was a last-minute replacement for Derek McLane, and I got to hang out with a great group of kids from Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow High School and see Billy Elliot with them. First of all, the Billy I saw (Kiril Kulish) was a great dancer, and I was especially impressed by his acting. Of course, my main complaint is that the role doesn't have Annie-style belting. Why, whenever there's a little boy on Broadway, does he usually have to sing in that Oliver/Where is love/boy soprano style? Bring on the mini-Mermans! Speaking of mini-Mermans, I saw David Bologna play Michael, and he was fantastic. Where was that role when I was a kid? I easily could have done it...if the costume allowed for a 32-inch-waist. There were so many moments in the show that brought tears to my eyes. I'm such a sucker for a clean, solid-gesture at the end of a number, and there were so many songs that had Billy doing some crazy dance step (like 100 turns) and then he'd stop, and the last chord of the song would be played as he sassily hit his pose. And…tears! After the show, I talked with the very erudite Edward R. Morrow kids and turns out, their school has no sports programs and it instead spends all of its money on the arts! How great is that? They've done such creative shows in their school: Evita, Miss Saigon, and they were the first school to get the rights to The Producers! I wanna go to a high school where there's no sports and just the arts! What? I'd still get made fun of every day, and I wouldn't have the excuse of "I'm not good at sports"? Okay…I'll pass.

Wednesday, I did my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show and started with Katrina Rose Dideriksen, who's about to star in the GLSEN benefit of Zanna, Don't! at the York on Feb. 3. First, let me say that I love GLSEN, which stands for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and focuses on ensuring safe schools for all kids…regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. AKA, where were they my whole childhood? I'm so excited Zanna, Don't! is being done because just recently I was listening to it while I was unpacking and loving it! It's such a great CD. And, Marty Thomas, who was recently seen crouching under Shoshana Bean in Wicked, is gonna play Zanna. Katrina was the Tracy Turnblad standby on tour and on Broadway in Hairspray and said that the rats on the road were a nightmare. Not real rats, the fake ones in "Good Morning Baltimore." On Broadway when she sings "The rats on the street, all dance 'round my feet," toy rats were pulled across the stage on a string, but on the road they were remote controlled. One of the robot rats had a long antennae sticking out of its butt, and it got tangled in Katrina's skirt while she was singing. She kept performing and trying to get the rat out of her gams as it twisted round and round and she finally freed it. Unfortunately, she then saw two batteries roll into the pit. She realized that without the batteries, the rat was gonna stay dead-center onstage. So, while she was singing, she acted totally Tracy Turnblad-like, picked up the rat while wearing a big smile… and put it in her purse! Brava! I'm great friends with Anika Larsen, who was the original Roberta Off-Broadway in Zanna, Don't!, and she can't do the benefit because she's starring in the Avenue Q tour. I couldn't imagine anyone else playing that part, but Katrina sang "I Ain't Got Time" and tore it up. I can't wait to see the benefit! For tix go to www.glsenstore.org.

Andrea Burns and Seth
photo by Robb Johnston

After I interviewed Katrina, I had Andrea Burns from In the Heights on the show. I brought her on because after the interview, the audience gets to meet the performers, and I knew she'd sell a ton of her CDs …but I forgot to tell her about that part. So, after the interview, the audience came over to get autographs and buy stuff, and I suddenly realized I didn't tell Andrea to bring her CDs. Every time an audience person came up and asked what was for sale I felt incredibly guilty…but not guilty enough to not sell my two books. They flew off the shelf. I still got it! And by "it" I mean sullen glances from Andrea. PS, you can get her CD ("A Deeper Shade of Red") at http://www.myspace.com/andreaburnsmusic. More stories about moving. Of course, I was supposed to clean out my old apartment when I moved, and I was certainly planning on doing it at some point. My landlord lives in California, but he told me that he was coming to NY to stay in the apartment and do some renovating. I had around a week after we moved out to get the apartment in order, and by the time I knew my landlord was coming, I had thought about cleaning the apartment many, many times. I waited 'til the last minute, but since he was flying in from the West Coast, I figured I had all day to get it spotless. Of course, my cell phone rang at 9 AM because he has taken the red eye. Ouch. I told him I would clean it out ASAP. I instead stopped to get a leisurely breakfast at a diner on 77th Street and at the table next to me…my landlord sat down. Hi! We chatted, and I told him I was off to clean the apartment. As I left, I realized that I had therapy so I hightailed it uptown. I sent him a text saying I would definitely stop by later…and he wrote back to say that I had left without paying for my meal. It's a good thing I have a new apartment because I would probably be evicted by now.

OK, this week I'm playing for the fantastic Norm Lewis at the Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble on Wednesday at 6 PM. He's promoting his CD "This Is The Life," and I'll be insisting he does all the songs that have amazing high notes (aka "Before the Parade Passes By," "This Is the Life" and "We Live on Borrowed Time"). Then I'm off to Salt Lake City, UT, with Paul Castree and Andrea McArdle. I’m going to do my deconstructing show (and feature them in it) and then do some audition workshops. I'm always doing these workshops out of town, so I've finally decided to do one in New York. On Feb. 8 I'm giving a workshop right here in midtown! You can register at my website (www.SethRudetsky.com) and learn to start enjoying auditioning. Why should the Mormons have all the fun? 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.)

Andrea Burns and Seth Rudetsky
Andrea Burns and Seth Rudetsky Photo by Robb Johnston
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