Greetings from Kalamazoo, Michigan. I woke up at a delicious 4:10 AM so I could make my 6 AM flight to Detroit and then Kalamazoo. I'm here to present the upcoming Broadway season at the Miller theatre, and while the city is nice, the weather is cold and rainy. The lack of spring arriving is making me crazy. However, I did have a fun week in New York, even though I was still wearing my winter coat. First I had something called a "Town Hall" at SiriusXM radio. It's an event where SiriusXM subscribers submit a question for a celebrity or group of celebrities and, if accepted, they get to come to a taping at the studios and ask the question themselves!
I hosted it once feauturing Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond, then Josh Groban, and last week I was with the cast of It's Only A Play. Nathan Lane has just returned to the cast after doing a run in The Iceman Cometh. He recalled Jerry Seinfeld coming to see It's Only A Play back in the fall and asking what Nathan was doing next. Nathan mentioned The Iceman Cometh and Jerry said that he and his wife would come see it. Nathan mentioned that it's almost five hours long with three intermissions. At that moment, Nathan said that Seinfeld laughed up a storm. In fact, Nathan recalled, he laughed longer and harder than he had ever laughed from any of Nathan's actual onstage comedy. After Seinfeld recovered, Nathan told them that he wasn't joking. Silence. The Seinfelds wound up "missing" the critically-acclaimed run.
One of the questions asked to the cast was "What is your dream role?" Katie Finneran immediately said "Mrs. Lovett!" Stockard Channing said that the answer wasn't so simple for her because she feels that beyond the role, the questions you also have to ask are, "Who is directing? Where is it being done? And who is performing with you?" Hm... perhaps Patti Lupone, Walter Bobbie, Lonny Price, Martin Vidnovic, Priscilla Lopez and Ellen Foley all should have asked themselves that question before they filmed this mind-boggling PBS special someone posted on my Facebook wall. It's a bizarre mini-musical, billed as "soap operetta." The double meaning of the genre is based on the fact that it takes place in a laundromat. Get it? Seinfeld silence? Suffice it to say, everyone sounds amazing and nothing makes sense. Oh, and just to give you a heads up, Patti LuPone plays a love spurned ghost. As someone on YouTube commented: "I feel like I've been waiting my whole life to see Patti LuPone, sporting a mullet, erupt from a cursed dryer." I dare you to watch the whole thing.
Stockard Channing also talked about being asked to look at the script of Six Degrees of Separation. They had another leading actress who wasn't working out, so she was asked to read the script and take over the role. She told her husband she was going to take the job because it would just be a quick six-week run. Cut to, the show extended, then transferred, then she did it in London and then she filmed the movie. Six weeks turned into many years. And she loved it! I remember getting the offer to do two shows a week on SiriusXM. I thought it would be a fun little side job for a small amount of time. Two nights a week turned into six days a week and a small amount of time turned into ten years!
Back to It's Only A Play, which is about waiting for an opening night review to come out. I asked the actors if they could remember any horrible reviews that had received. Stockard remembered John Simon writing that "it's unusual to see an ingenue with a double chin." Charming. Matthew Broderick never read any of John Simon's reviews, but remembers coming to a party and seeing John Simon notice Matthew, then scurrying in a panic to another part of the room. Matthew's imitation of a wide-eyed John Simon fleeing was hi-lar. Nathan remembered a critic writing "Nathan Lane is an irrepressible force... who should be forcibly repressed." Brava on the word play?
At the "Chatterbox," I had two amazing Broadway gypsies: Paula Leggett Chase and Joann Hunter. Paula is currently in On The Twentieth Century where she plays Imelda, the high-falutin' soprano who hires the no-nonsense Kristin Chenoweth to accompany her. And Joann has transitioned out of performing and is about to come to Broadway as the choreographer for Andrew Lloyd Webber's newest show School of Rock (based on the film). It was so fun to talk to them about starting in the business. It's bizarre what we all did when we were young and had no money. In high school, Joann spent a summer taking dance class in NYC and stayed with a female friend of her dance teacher. The woman had a one-bedroom apartment. Literally. There was one bed. Joann slept all the way on one side of the bed... for the whole summer. Why would anyone want a stranger to spend the summer with them, sleeping in the same bed!? I thought there was going to be come creepy sexual story, but nothing happened along those lines. I guess the woman was just a patron of the arts... and/or someone who spent the first night thinking, "Wait... I said she could crash at my apartment. I assumed she'd take the couch. Uh-oh…why is she moving the covers of the bed. OMG, she's getting in. This can't be happening. Surely, she realizes how awkward this is for both of us. Wait a minute…she's starting to fall asleep? OMG, it's only June. Great. I have to shut down emotionally for the next three months."
Regardless, Joann eventually got cast in the national tour of West Side Story and the coolest part was when Jerome Robbins came at the end of rehearsals to add some finishing touches. They were working on the end of the show when Maria is crouched over the body of Tony. Robbins asked Joann to take Maria's shawl and place it over Maria's shoulders. He told her she should exit and then Maria would somberly follow her offstage as the lights faded. Well, on opening night, Joann placed the shawl over Maria's shoulders and Maria immediately got up and started exiting! Joann knew she was supposed to be in front of Maria so that Maria would be the last person on stage. What should she do? Run frantically and get in front of her? Wouldn't that look crazy? Why the rush? So, she let Maria exit and instead of the audience seeing a somber leading lady slowly walk off the stage as the lights dimmed they saw an uncomfortable and panicked-she-was-going-to-be-fired ensemble girl whom they vaguely remembered from "America" having a solo exit off the stage. And... final image of anonymous chorus girl... blackout.
Joanna really did think she was going to be fired, but Robbins knew it wasn't her fault and she kept the gig. Years later, she was auditioning for Jerome Robbins' Broadway and halfway through the auditions, he called her to the table. He told her that he saw on her resume she had done West Side Story. She nodded. He asked whom she did it with. She answered, "You." The whole table started laughing and she explained that he had come in at the end so he probably didn't remember her. Regardless, she got cast and she told us how they rehearsed for six months. Everyone had to be there all the time, even if they weren't doing a dance you were in. And you had better be paying non-stop attention. For instance, they were rehearsing the flapper section from Billion Dollar Baby and suddenly "Mr. Robbins" told Joann to take over for one of the girls. Not take over and learn the dance, take over like "5,6,7,8" go. And, PS, he didn't even say "5,6,7,8", he just said "And…" and you were supposed to go, full-out.
A) I can't believe Joann was able to immediately join a dance she had never actually been in before and know all the steps from just sitting and watching rehearsal. B) Joann said that kind of thing happened all the time throughout rehearsals and I asked if people were constantly sobbing. She responded "not in the rehearsal room." AKA get cut, flee to a bathroom and start weeping. Here's the whole Tony Award performance. The flappers come out after Peter Pan (played by Charlotte d'Amboise) and the On The Town sailors. Joann is stage right!
Also! I just posted two new amazing videos related to the foster care/adoption campaign that James and I started. First, I got my hands on the video of a meeting where Gladys Carrion, the commissioner from the Administration for Children's Services talks about cutting the funds to You Gotta Believe and COAC. I couldn't believe the coldness and the fact that she didn't know the names of either organization. I did one of my signature deconstructions and I have to say, I love it! Watch here.
Then, I did an interview with a young lady named Brezan who was in foster care for six years starting at 15 years old. She had many caseworkers from the Administration for Children's Services and none of them told her she could be adopted. They focused on teaching her life skills, but never told her that she could get have a family. Finally, her therapist happened to join You Gotta Believe because she wanted to be an adoptive parent and told Brezan she was eligible to be adopted. It was one month before Brezan aged out of the system (when 50% of those who age out become homeless or in prison). She called You Gotta Believe, and now, she's in the process of getting adopted! The Administration for Children's Services completely messed up and You Gotta Believe saved the day, yet You Gotta Believe is one of the agencies that had their funding cut…. by the Administration for Children's Services! It would be funny if there weren't so many stories that don't have happy endings like Brezan's. Here she is with me. Please watch the video, sign the petition and share! As I write this, we're almost up to 5,000 signatures. We've already gotten a response from de Blasio's administration (which I rebutted; read here.) and the more signatures we get, the more they're going to have to pay attention. Thank you and 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.)