What Did Jerry Mitchell Say to Lauren Bacall When She Yelled at Him Backstage?

Seth Rudetsky   What Did Jerry Mitchell Say to Lauren Bacall When She Yelled at Him Backstage?
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from Ahrens and Flaherty as well as Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie.
Jerry Mitchell
Jerry Mitchell Christopher DeVargas - Greenspun Media Group

I’m getting ready to spend a month away from New York! I’m on my way right night to Storrs, Connecticut to be in Disaster! at the Connecticut Repertory Theater. Get your tickets here!

I’m very excited to play Professor Scheider again, but a little devastated to be away from home for so long. Even though I travel a lot, I’m rarely away for long periods of time. I miss my doggies! The good news is I’ll be there with Jack (Plotnick) who wrote Disaster! with me (and is directing again) and one of my closest friends, Andréa Burns, will be there soon rehearsing for the theatre’s next production, which is Sweeney Todd (she’s playing the Beggar Woman).

Seth Rudetsky 5.22.18

Jack and Andréa met years ago outside an audition room. Andréa had seen Pageant the night before, which had all the female contestants played by men, when she saw Jack she approached him and told him that she had seen him go on the night before and thought he was fantastic. Jack, blank-faced and cold, replied that he wasn’t involved with the show Pageant and didn’t know why she thought he performed in drag. Andréa was mortified…and then Jack told her he was kidding and he was indeed on the night before. It sounds like a crazy way to bond a friendship, but I think Andréa loved it because it’s very similar to what she did a year before that: Andréa was cast in the tour of West Side Story as one of the dancing Shark girls and the understudy to Maria. Even though she could do all the steps, she was by far the worst dancer in the cast, which featured cast members from Jerome Robbins Broadway and THE Nicole Fosse, the daughter of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Andréa reasoned to herself that every show had a “lemon” and she indeed was that lemon. Devanand Janki (who later went on to brilliantly direct and choreograph Zanna, Don’t!) started chatting with her at lunch. When he found out she was the Maria understudy he told her he hoped she went on one day. Andréa was in such a weird place emotionally that she confidently said, “Well, my Maria is very different.” Dev, intrigued, asked how. Andréa, using her improv skills and “Yes And-ing” herself told him that she actually belts the entire show.

“Yeah,” she said with a shrug, “I don’t have a head voice so I have to belt everything.” Including the high C at the end of the “Tonight” Quintet. Instead of being
confused/horrified, Dev’s whole face lit up and he told her he could not wait til she went on! She immediately told him she was joking and they’ve been close friends ever since. As a matter of fact, Dev started a stunning theatre retreat in Connecticut called “Live & In Color,” which develops new work that celebrates diversity. Andréa is going to be headlining their big gala on June 4. Read all about it and get tickets here.

Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens
Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens Joseph Marzullo/WENN

On Seth Speaks, I had composing team Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, who are represented on Broadway by Anastasia and Once On This Island. It’s so incredible for a composing team to have two shows running at the same time on Broadway and I told them I always thought it was so cool that Jerry Herman said he would often watch Act 1 of Mame and then hightail it over to the St. James and watch Act 2 of Hello, Dolly! .They said that Once On This Island is the perfect length so they can watch the entire show and then hightail it over to watch Act 2 of Anastasia!

That reminds me of when I was subbing lots of different Broadway shows and when I’d be leaving the theatre after conducting/playing An Inspector Calls I would see one of my other shows, Les Miz, just starting their intermission. I knew that while I’d be in my apartment ordering Chinese food and watching The Simpsons reruns, the Les Miz orchestra had another hour-and-a-half of playing to do. What’s the French word for “suckers”?

Lynn used to write music and lyrics for Schoolhouse Rock (She wrote and sang classics like “Interplanet Janet” and “The Preamble”) and, turns out, Stephen used to write lyrics, as well! He said I wouldn’t know anything he had ever written…and then proceeded to mention a song he wrote that I love! When my friend Tim graduated AMDA back in the early ’90s, our friend Deb Rascoe sang a hilarious song while dressed as the Statue of Liberty called “Who Wants a Date with a Tall Green Lady?” I thought it was hi-larious and had no idea Stephen wrote it! Speaking of Flaherty and Ahrens, they wrote the brilliant Ragtime and I had a great time performing “Wheels of a Dream” with Audra McDonald…as a trio. Watch!

I did a wonderful fundraiser for Theater Three in Port Jefferson, New York last weekend and John Fugelsang was the host. John and I both work on SiriusXM as hosts, but I had not idea he was a theatre kid from Long Island. He told everyone that he walked through the doors of the theatre when he was 11 years old and basically never left until he graduated high school. He talked so beautifully about how theatre gave him a community and a purpose.

The first part of the fundraiser began with an original musical called Life, The Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods and written by the theatre’s artistic director, Jeffrey Sanzel and a few of his closest collaborators. It gave a very inciteful and hilarious look into what it means to pursue the arts…the indignities and the triumphs. And the cast of locals were so great! It made me so jealous I didn’t have a local theatre to perform in when I was a kid. The local theatre was Broadway…and they were decidedly not interested in me.

Seth Rudetsky 5.22.18

Speaking of Broadway and Jeffrey Sanzel, he asked me to autograph some of my work. And by some, I mean my entire oeuvre (see photo)! He told me he listens to the audio book of Broadway Nights three to four times a year. Where are my residuals? P.S. If you haven’t listened, take a look at the amazing stars who play characters in the audio book: my character is having an affair with Andy Karl, I’m doing a musical directed by Jonathan Groff, my annoying assistant is Kristin Chenoweth, my psycho nanny when I was a child is Andrea Martin and that’s just half the cast! You can get it here.

I also had Jamie Bernstein on Seth Speaks; she just released a wonderful book about growing up as one of the daughters of Leonard Bernstein. It’s called Famous Father Girl. She said it’s based on the nickname that one of her classmates called her after the girl saw Jamie’s father on TV and realized he was famous. Jamie said the little girl soon began calling her “Famous Monkey Girl,” but she opted to go with the first nickname for the book title. The book is a wonderful glimpse into a childhood filled with extremely talented, extremely socially conscious, fun-loving people. I asked her about Lauren (Betty) Bacall and she said that Betty was very kind to her family, but it wasn’t fun to come across her if you were a food server, doorman or anyone else in the service profession. Sounds wonderful.

Seth Rudetsky 5.22.18

From what I know, Lauren Bacall sounds like one of those tough people who want you to be just as tough. I remember that Jerry Mitchell was a newcomer to Broadway when he became the swing in Woman Of The Year starring Lauren Bacall. When Jerry went on for the first time Lauren berated him with “You didn’t lift me high enough, you were out of formation and you were late with your entrance!” He could have apologized profusely, but he knew he was super prepared and did a perfect job so he countered with “I lifted you the perfect height, I was completely in formation and my entrance was exactly right!” And, true to every sitcom plot, they got along amazingly from then on.

Speaking of Bernstein, here’s one of my deconstructions of Bernstein’s brilliance (And Barbara Cook’s). Watch then peace out!

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