Happy 2020! I decided to do a “best of the decade” list—but my way! This column consists of favorite stories from 2010-2019, and almost all of them have an accompanying video.
P.S. You can find these stories and more in Seth’s Broadway Diary Volumes 1-3.
2010: FAVORITE 1950s SASS
In the 1950s, after Florence Henderson starred in the tour of Oklahoma!, she auditioned for her first leading role in a Broadway show and got called back many, many times. Finally, she had her very last callback and went home to visit her family in Indiana. As soon as she arrived, she got a telegram from the producer, David Merrick. It said, "Come back to New York… Fanny!" What a great way to find out you got a title role in a show! She starred in Fanny opposite Ezio Pinza and told us a raunchy story about opening night: Mary Martin had done South Pacific opposite Ezio, and she was about to open in Peter Pan. She sent him an opening-night card saying, "I hope your Fanny is as big as my Peter." Wow. They were saucy back in the ’50s! If you’ve never heard Florence’s amazing voice singing Broadway, watch this clip of me deconstructing her on the Tony Awards!
2011: FAVORITE CONFIDENT LACK OF INFO
(This was written way before “Miranda Sings” starred in her own Netflix TV series and did concerts all around the world). My friend Colleen Ballinger is doing her character, Miranda Sings, at the Matchbox Theater in Red Deer, Canada, where I did Rhapsody in Seth last October. Matt Grue, who runs the theatre, wrote out the dialogue he heard in the theatre when two women on their way to the Miranda show saw my poster. This is what he sent:
WOMAN 1: Rhapsody in Seth. Did we see that?
WOMAN 2: Sure. It was with that guy from the radio. Sam Rabinsky.
WOMAN 1: Right. Sam Rabinsky.
WOMAN 2: He's married to Patti LuPone.
WOMAN 1: What?
WOMAN 2: I read it in the New York Times.
WOMAN 1: But that whole show was about him growing up gay in New York.
WOMAN 2: That was the character he was playing. "Seth."
WOMAN 1: Oh. Obviously. The title.
WOMAN 2: Right. (Silence)
WOMAN 1: So what's THIS show about? Miranda Sings.
WOMAN 2: I think it's about a clown who learns to sing.
WOMAN 1: Sounds interesting.
On every level, so wrong and yet so confident! Here’s the wonderful Colleen and I together.
2012: FAVORITE EGOT
On Wednesday I did my SiriusXM talk show, Seth Speaks, with Rita Moreno! Of course, I immediately brought up the fact that she's won an Emmy, Tony, Oscar and Grammy and she commented that it was "not bad for a Puerto Rican girl."
Rita started as a Hollywood contract player. To tell you how long she's been in the business, let me just say that when I mentioned The King and I, she remarked, "That was so long after I came to Hollywood!" (It was 56 years ago!) Of course, I really wanted her to talk about West Side Story. She remembers having a great audition where she sang and then did the dramatic candy store scene. But Jerry Robbins (who she knew from King and I) told her she'd have to really dance at her next audition. He said she'd have a few months to get ready and she immediately signed up for non-stop classes. She had danced all of her childhood, but that was Spanish dance and she had no real training in jazz. P.S. When she mentioned Jerry Robbins I said, "Everyone said he was a cranky ass." She immediately said, "No!" and I thought I went too far. She then finished her thought and said, "…that's way too kind." And then furthered it with, "He was sadistic." Yowtch. Regardless, she wanted that gig! Right before the auditions, she decided to contact a friend who had done the stage show and learn the dances. Unfortunately, they didn't have much time, and she was only able to learn one section of "America" and one section of the Mambo from "Dance at the Gym." Rita showed up at her audition, and the assistant choreographer showed her a section of "America"…and it was the same one she already knew! She "learned" it and then he showed her a part of the Mambo…and, yes, she had already learned that one, too. Nonetheless, she had him "teach" her the steps and then danced it for him. Apparently, he called Jerry Robbins and told him, "She doesn't have a lot of technique, but she's got style…and she's an incredibly quick learner!"
The hardest part about filming that number was the very last pose. All the ladies had to jump on the guys' shoulders and it always worked in rehearsal. However, the reason it was easy was because Rita would wear a cotton rehearsal skirt and the guys had cotton T-shirts on. Cut to the day of shooting where they wore their costumes, which were silk, and Bernardo's shoulder sloped downward. Suddenly, every time she landed, she was on a sliding pond. Take after take, and finally, on the 30th take, she aggressively hooked her foot into his back and managed to balance. And…Academy Award!
2013: FAVORITE TV GIG
Filming the final episode of Bunheads: I got to location and found my trailer. I immediately perused the amazing craft services area and ordered an egg white omelet with lots of veggies. And that was the last of my healthy eating. For the next two days, I couldn't resist the crazy amounts of delicious/fattening choices that were available every minute. It culminated on the final day when Amy Sherman Palladino (who wrote the role for me and created Gilmore Girls and Bunheads) stopped me, pointed to my plate and asked, "Your lunch is simply two giant chocolate chip cookies?" Answer: Yes it was.
Well, right before we filmed my scene with Sutton at the piano, I decided to primp and that included flossing. I was in the process of doing my back teeth when a piece of floss broke off and got stuck. And I mean really stuck. And I mean an actual piece. It was long enough to hang out of my mouth! I went to the make-up trailer to get help. My make-up woman valiantly offered to use tweezers on me but I ran out of time. I rolled the floss backwards, stuck it on the side of my mouth and filmed all 15 takes with a piece of floss stuck in my teeth! Finally, I called my dentist and she told me use another piece of floss to get it out. Two hours later, it finally dislodged. eBay? Here’s a clip of the scene and it’s so weird to know that I’m talking to her with a rolled up piece of floss inside my left cheek
2014: FAVORITE HEALTH SCARE
Anika Larsen came to our New Year’s Eve party after her show and told us about her crazy medical experience that happened while she was in rehearsals for Beautiful (where she plays Cynthia Weil). She had stomach pains for a while and, finally, after feeling a lump (!) decided to go the hospital. But, being a cheapskate actor, she didn't want to spend money on a cab so she walked. It was only around eight blocks from her house, but when she got there, she was exhausted and in a lot of pain. Because she wasn't bleeding or missing a limb, the admitting nurse was going to make her wait a long time to see a doctor. And that's when Anika fainted.
Suddenly, she was on a gurney, mask over her face, etc. They did lots of tests and finally, they told her what was wrong: She had been born with a twisted colon, and it finally turned so much that it was completely blocked! She had to have surgery and was told that if she had waited five more hours, she would have died! She's so thankful she walked there because that's what made her faint and get seen right away. Of course, she wanted to tell her family, but she couldn't get reception on her cell phone in the hospital. The nurses would tell her they were going to get her a land line and then never come back. Finally, she got a phone call out, and everyone in her family showed up right before surgery. Anika had written me an email detailing what happened, and I'm going to copy and paste it because I love the way she writes:
When they were wheeling me off into the operating room, my mom and sisters were there, and my dad had just arrived in time to wave goodbye, and he and my mom and I are all crying…and I think to myself, "Stop crying, say something funny. You may not come out the other side on this one, Larsen, what are your last words gonna have been?" And I said, "Hey, guys, when this is over, I'll have a semi-colon." Not bad under pressure (and morphine). And that is why I will now be signing my name, An;ka
How creative is that?! And, because she told her cast that story, the stage manager had the nameplate for her dressing room at Beautiful altered.
2015: FAVORITE ENCOUNTER WITH A SOUND DESIGNER
Jen Cody played Cha-cha in Grease on Broadway back in the ’90s when I was playing in the pit. She didn't enter until Act 2, so she'd come downstairs and get a mic on during intermission. Well, one night, there was a new sound guy. Jen came downstairs for her mic, turned her back to him as usual, lifted up her skirt so he'd have access to her mic pack and said, "OK! Just put it in." The new sound guy was immobile. She repeated, "Come on! Put it in!" Finally, he quietly lay the mic on her back and walked away. She then realized she hadn't yet put on underwear. And I'm out!
2016: MY FAVORITE YEAR!
DISASTER!, which I wrote with my friend Jack Plotnick, made it to Broadway and we had the best time. Here’s a wonderful video which is the making of the cast album mixed with clips from the actual production!
2017: FAVORITE HOLLYWOOD FAKE CAT FIGHT
Starting in January, James and I began doing a monthly concert called Concert For America that benefited five organizations: Sierra Club Foundation. NAACP, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Southern Poverty Law Center, and National Immigration Law Center. Halfway through our first concert, we did a salute to the Women’s March by bringing out Sharon Gless to talk about how women have been treated in Hollywood. She told a story I love so much; The great actress Lynn Redgrave had been starring in the TV series House Calls, and when she renegotiated her contract to start the next season, she asked for two things: the same salary as her co-star Wayne Rogers and to be allowed to breastfeed on the set. Not only was she not given those things, she was fired. Sharon, who was a contract player for Universal, was told she had to replace her. She didn’t want to do it, but being a contract player meant you had to do what the studio told you. She did the show for a year. At the end of the season, she had a big party and called Lynn Redgrave. She explained who she was, apologized for the horrific situation…and invited her to the party. I told her I thought that was so cool of her, and she said “Lynn was even cooler…she said yes!” Lynn then asked Sharon if she wanted to stage a bit together. Sharon agreed, and that night, a few hours into the party, Sharon saw Lynn’s car pull into the driveway. She muttered out loud, “Who could that be?” and went outside. She and Lynn quietly introduced themselves and then started a loud, fake argument so the cast could hear them. Lynn yelled, “Why the hell didn’t you invite me?” Sharon yelled, “Why should I? You can’t act for sh*t!” I can't repeat much of what was said, but it ended with Sharon standing at her door yelling, “F*ck me? F*ck you!” The cast was standing there with their mouths hanging open as Sharon “apologized” to everyone for having to witness that. And then, of course, she admitted the whole thing was fake and Lynn joined the party. Brava!
2018: FAVORITE LESSON ABOUT BOWING
Laura Benanti was in her 20s and kept getting great roles on Broadway, but still felt like a high school girl barging in on the Broadway scene. For instance, when she would come out for the curtain call at Nine, she’d feel embarrassed, give a little bow and flee. Well, Broadway legend Chita Rivera was in the show with her and gave Laura some sage advice. She told Laura that the audience wants to applaud and it’s unprofessional to deny them the opportunity. Chita explained that Laura needed to bow for a full three seconds going down and three seconds coming up. From then on, Laura couldn’t pretend she didn’t know the timing because, as she started bowing, Chita would literally stand in the wings yelling “One Mississippi! Two Mississippi! Three Mississippi…!”
Here’s my Obsessed! with Laura!
2019: FAVORITE VERSION OF “MEM’RY”
We scheduled an August Concert For America in L.A. that would benefit the National Immigration Law Center, and Laurie Metcalf emailed me to buy tickets. We emailed back and told her ixnay on the tickets, we would love to have her on stage! She immediately agreed to appear. Well, we didn’t want her to just come up and talk about immigration; we wanted something special. Almost everyone else appearing in the concert was singing, so I asked her if she would do a bit. She said yes and here it is!!
P.S. She’s appearing in our annual Voice for the Voiceless concert for foster kids on February 6, along with Brian Stokes Mitchell, Santino Fontana, Andrea Martin, Ta’Nika Gibson, Megan Hilty, Jenn Colella, and Javier Muñoz. Tickets start at $25 at YouGottaBelieve.org.
Happy New Year!