The Story that Proves Debbie Reynolds Knew How to Commit

Seth Rudetsky   The Story that Proves Debbie Reynolds Knew How to Commit
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth hikes with Will Swenson, remembers his interview with the late Debbie Reynolds, and more.
Debbie Reynolds in Irene.
Debbie Reynolds in Irene.
Hiking in Zion, Utah. Pose courtesy of Mary Martin
Hiking in Zion, Utah. Pose courtesy of Mary Martin Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

I’m on my way back from Utah, where I did the final keynote address for a HUGE bunch of High School theatre kids. It’s a state-wide festival with tons and tons of kids obsessed with theatre and, boy, do I wish we had something like it when I was a kid. My personal theatre festival took place in my den while I tried to choreograph “Magic To Do” by myself. The other key note speaker was Will Swenson and we had a great time hanging out together. He’s from Utah and told me we had to go to Zion which is a stunning national park. It was beautiful but nerve-wracking because we hiked for a little bit and the ground was slippery. Even though my left arm is healed enough to play piano, my doctor specifically told me not to do anything that required balance. The good news he is decidedly not a fan of mine so I know he doesn’t read this column. The bad news is he’s not a fan of mine.

Speaking of busted arms, Will told me that when he was in his early 20s, he did an outdoor musical in Utah all about Utah. Not surprisingly, it was called Utah The Musical. It was in an amphitheatre carved into the side of a mountain. One of the cool things was the big flood scene where water would cascade over the top of the mountain. Unlike most Broadway shows, Will had non-stop entrances and exits on an actual horse. On the day of tech, they decided his horse was too small and got him another one. Well, this horse had no stage experience. Basically, they used a non-union horse. Will was sitting on it when the flood part happened and as soon as the accompanying thunder and lightening happened, the horse got spooked. It bucked Will 15 feet into the air (!) and when he landed he broke both of his arms! He went to the doctor, both arms were in casts…and did the entire run of the show—including riding a horse! Speaking of two broken arms, please watch this Obsessed! video with Susan Blackwell where she explains how she did an Agatha Christe play on a river boat with two broken arms. I love it!

Seth Rudetsky and Will Swenson hiking in Zion, Utah
Seth Rudetsky and Will Swenson hiking in Zion, Utah Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

The night James and I heard that Debbie Reynolds passed away, we immediately watched Singin’ In The Rain, which I looooooove so much. Such great performances and such a hilarious script by Comden and Green. I got to interview Debbie a few years ago and thought I’d re-post what I wrote: I asked her to verify a crazy story I heard about Irene, her big Broadway vehicle from the ‘70s. She told me it was indeed true: When she was in rehearsal with director/choreographer Gower Champion, he told her that the producers wouldn’t give the show an extra two days of rehearsal to perfect some dance routines with the cast. Debbie wanted Gower to have that time so she told him she was going to pretend to knock herself out. He had no idea what she meant so she spelled it out. She told him to ask her to “practice the new forward roll he had added” (a lie) and then she’d do a flip towards the pit and land on the stage with a fake injury. Sure enough, he called the cast onstage, asked Debbie to try the new flip and right when she landed, she lay on the stage “unconscious.” They rushed her to the hospital and it was so realistic, Gower thought she really did injure herself. While she lay in the hospital, Gower knelt down super-close to her “unconscious” face….and she gave him a very quick wink. The producers had to postpone the first preview by two days, which gave Gower the time he needed. And the show was a hit. That’s commitment!

So, this Friday is our Concert For America. It’s gonna be at 3 PM at the The Town Hall in NYC with a TON of Broadway stars and it’s already sold out! But we’re gonna live stream it. Check for how to watch. One of the stars is Billy Porter and I’m very happy to say he’s now a married man! He got married over the weekend and we can celebrate with a little classic Billy story. Back in the early 2000s there was a Broadway revival of Into the Woods having auditions. Billy went in for the Baker and after he auditioned, James Lapine told him that they were thinking of having a male witch. James asked Billy if he would go home and learn “Last Midnight.” Billy looked askance and said “Learn it?!? I know it! HIT IT!” and launched into this:

P.S. The role wound up going to Vanessa Williams and I’m going to be with her this Saturday January 21 at the Kimmel Center in Philly. Peace out!

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