Onstage & Backstage: What Musical Did Leslie Odom, Jr. Turn Down a TV Show For?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: What Musical Did Leslie Odom, Jr. Turn Down a TV Show For?
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

I'm at Logan airport after taking a quick Cape Air flight from Provincetown. Cannot believe the summer is halfway done! Where the H did it go? In a week I'm flying to Los Angeles and I'll be having a very A.D.D. Tuesday. Meaning what, you ask? Well, firstly, Aug. 4, I'm doing Deconstructing Broadway at Largo in West Hollywood. I first performed there in Judd Apatow's show (featuring Randy Newman!), then again May 30 and I'm very excited that they asked me back for August! PS Tix here

Well, my new book just came out and I'm starting to do readings at bookstores. I was super happy that the L.A. Barnes and Noble asked me to do a reading/book signing because I've never done one there! Yay! However, it's on on the same day I'm doing Deconstructing Broadway. And almost the same time. Here's where my A.D.D. pays off; I'm so used to doing various events that almost completely overlap because everything I do is so last minute and I don't like getting to the theatre way before I have to do a show. I totally identified when Stockard Channing told me she'd like to step out of the car taking her to the theatre and right onto the stage. Therefore, I told them it's fine to do my "Theater Geek" reading at 7 PM and then do Deconstructing Broadway at Largo at 8:30. Frankly, it was James who told me I could do it. He said Largo is right near the Barnes and Noble at the Grove and if I end by 8 I can make it to Largo right before my show. AKA basically stepping out of the car onto the stage! The exciting news is I'm going to have some great B'way peeps join me for my reading, just like I did in NY. Here's a highlight reel of me, Jonathan Groff, Julia Murney, Ann Harada and Santino Fontana reading from the book and performing songs in between chapters. I'm the most obsessed with Jonathan and Santino singing the duet from "Frozen" and the (inappropriate) ending I added for Jonathan. Watch

This week I interviewed Dan Bucatinsky who is a co-producer of "Who Do You Think You Are" for TLC which just started its new season as well as HBO's "The Comeback." First, I asked Dan about one of the weirdest as well as one of my favorite moments from "The Comeback": the landlady yawn. If you don't know, there's an episode where Lisa Kudrow's character goes to an apartment complex she owns and wakes up the Asian landlady at 3 AM. At one point, all dialogue stops and the landlady looks like she's frozen/having a stroke/letting out a silent scream. The moment takes an extended period of time. It is so weird looking, yet I was riveted. You then find out she was yawning. My friend Paul Castree and I have been obsessing about that for months and Dan told me that the actress, Akiko Kato, decided to do it on the spur of the moment. He said that if any other actress had added something so over-the-top and not in the script he probably would have been like "You're fired!" but it was such an incredibly hilarious and you-can't-take-your-eyes away bit that they loved it and kept it. Dan wound up being so incredibly obsessed with it that, when they made "The Comeback" jackets for the entire cast and crew, every zipper had a photo of Akiko mid-yawn! Seriously! Here's what the kids call a "gif" of part of the yawn

Dan Bucatinsky and Seth Rudetsky
Dan Bucatinsky and Seth Rudetsky

Also on my "Seth Speaks," I had the heads of the Animal Care Center, which is the city shelter. First of all, we talked about the fact that selling rabbits is now illegal in NYC! Yay! People would buy rabbits for Easter, keep them for a few weeks and then give them up to the ACC. Meanwhile, they make great pets! Nowadays, if you want a rabbit, get thee to one of the three Animal Care Center locations and, if you qualify, you'll have a little bundle of fur! Also, this is cat season at the ACC, the time of year when they shelter gets an enormous influx of sweet little kitties. Because of that, any cat you adopt (over one year old) is free! And finally, James' mom has a rescue cat and doggie, but she likes having more than one dog. She told James she was thinking of adopting another one and he started looking at the ACC site to see all the animals avail. The link to scan through all the available doggies/kitties is here, and whenever I go there I feel like I'm on Match.com. PS they also have a mobile app for your iPhone! James saw a dog with a very sweet face who was 13 years old. As most of us know, the older dogs don't have much of a chance to get adopted and, after a while, if an animal doesn't get placed, he/she is destroyed. It's incredibly tragic. James and his Mom, Elizabeth, visited the 13-year-old dog named Max. Long story short, one hour later, Max was living in Elizabeth's apartment! He's so sweet and already dedicated to Elizabeth. We all love him! I had Hamilton's Leslie Odom, Jr. at my "Chatterbox," and he's got such a great spirit. He talked about coming up from Philadelphia when he was 16 to audition for Broadway's Rent. After numerous callbacks, he finally got it! The company manager called him at home and told him that they wanted him to start rehearsals right away and that they would send him a train ticket. He was so excited to get the gig that he told them he didn't need a train ticket because he'd ask his parents to drive him. His attitude was, "Don't waste your money on me!" Mind you, this was not the downtown, low-budget New York Theater Workshop time of Rent, this was the biggest-hit-Broadway-has-ever-seen time. But Leslie felt bad taking their money. PS, I totally identify: for years I would always feel uncomfortable/weird taking a paycheck after I played a Broadway show. Seriously. I would quickly take the check and not make eye-contact because I enjoyed playing so much that the money seemed like an overindulgence. PS, after the second year playing the three hour and 15 minute Les Miz, I couldn't have demanded that check quicker.

I also love that Leslie said he's now telling people what he wants in direct terms these days. Meaning, he was cast as Aaron Burr in a workshop of Hamilton and, afterwards, told the creative team that he loved playing the role and wanted to keep doing it. Furthermore, he understood if they felt the need to see other people, but if that happened, he'd appreciate the opportunity to audition for the part. I looked at him aghast. I thought actors were always supposed to play it cool. I asked, "What about not wanting to appear desperate?" He replied, "F*ck that!" I love it! And I was also really moved. I think it would be so liberating to be honest and admit you really want something.

And, speaking of really wanting something, Leslie did the TV pilot of "State of Affairs." Then he found out that Hamilton was going to the Public Theater! He wasn't upset because "State of Affairs" filmed in NYC and, even though he'd probably be tired a lot, he knew he could do both a TV show and musical. Then he found out they were going to film "State of Affairs" in L.A.. Need I remind you that A) TV shows pay a lot of money, especially compared to an Off-Broadway show and B) When you sign a TV contract, you sign for seven years. Nonetheless, Leslie really wanted to do Hamilton so he contacted the head of the network and asked to be released from the TV show. Even though he had already filmed the pilot! Yes, he asked to break his contract, which something not usually granted. Ever. Luckily, the head of the network was none other than Bob Greenblatt, who is a major Broadway lover. Bob did what most TV people would not and let Leslie do Hamilton instead of the TV show. Brava Bob!

I asked Leslie about any onstage mishaps he'd witnessed and instead of talking about a show he'd been in, he told us about the first time he saw Wicked. Elphaba's first entrance involves her running downstage really fast. Well, the stage is raked (slanted forward) and on the night he saw it, Shoshana Bean was playing Elphaba and she built up so much momentum that she ran off the stage and into the pit! Suddenly, there was no Elphaba onstage. She then clunkily climbed out, all awkward limbs, and continued. Afterwards, he told Shoshana how much he loved that entrance and that's when he found out it wasn't planned! He then thought it was so amazing that Shoshana entered with so much energy and sass that it made her fly off the stage. His goal as an actor is to be at that level every performance. He told my "Chatterbox" audience that if they come see Hamilton and he doesn't fall into the pit, they should demand their money back! PS Leslie has a fabulous CD of his gorgeous voice and it's avail right here

Finally, I was with Sam Harris this weekend in Provincetown and our show was so great. It was basically all 11 o'clock numbers in crazy high keys. In other words, Sam fell into the pit after every song. And speaking of which, he told a related story that I'm now obsessed with. He was doing a benefit a few years ago and he suddenly noticed Carol Channing standing near him, applying glitter to the cast on her arm. This was the dialogue:

SAM: (Aghast) Carol! You fell off the stage today during rehearsal and broke your arm! Why are you here?
CAROL: (calmly) Sam. What is the name of that singer from the 60's who was horrifically assaulted in her hotel room?
SAM: Connie Francis?
CAROL: Yes. After it happened I saw her and said, "Connie! You're still in show business. You still have your orchestrations. GET OVER IT!" I'm so obsessed with the specificity of "You still have your orchestrations." And on that mind-boggling note, peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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