What Was Kerry Butler Thinking During the First Preview of the Tony-Winning Hairspray?

Seth Rudetsky   What Was Kerry Butler Thinking During the First Preview of the Tony-Winning Hairspray?
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth lets us behind the curtain of the Seattle Concert for America with stories from Kerry Butlerplus where you can find him performing around the country this summer.

Hi from out West I’m on a cruise to Alaska for the rest of the week and then I come home Saturday and leave Sunday for a show in Provincetown with Alice Ripley. And then next Monday I stay on Cape Cod and go to Cotuit Center for the Arts to do a show with Chita (Rivera)! It’s a lot of Broadway traveling…and I love it! But, before I come back East, let me first talk about the West Coast.

Last week was our sixth Concert For America. It definitely was a little stressful because we put up two different concerts with only 12 days between them (the San Francisco Concert For America was June 24), but it wound up being so great. We did the concert as a co-production with the 5th Avenue Theater. Boy, they have really had a string of hits come through! Hairpsray and Memphis both began there and each won the Tony Award for Best Musical in their respective years. Kerry Butler (who was Hairspray’s original Penny Pingleton) was in the concert and talked onstage with David Armstrong about doing Hairspray. She said the very first preview was amazing. She knew the show was good but she no idea how crazily enthused the audience would be. Kerry remembers the curtain going up on Marissa (a.k.a. Tracy) laying in bed for the beginning of “Good Morning Baltimore” and the audience cheering. Soon Kerry had her first line which she knew was cute (“I can’t run and chew gum at the same time!”) and the audience howled with laughter. She said it was thrilling! After she talked about that she sang a three-song Hairspray medley of “Mama I’m a Big Girl,” “Without Love,” and “You Can’t Stop The Beat.”

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Speaking of amazing Hairspray songs…here’s Kerry and some original cast members doing the second song from Act 1 during our Disaster! BC/EFA after-show fundraiser.

And here’s Matthew Morrison and Marissa Jarey Winokur (in original costume) joining Kerry for another Disaster! BC/EFA fundraiser!

Kerry also talked about her early career doing commercials. She remembers that one of them was for Aquafresh and she had to hold a toothbrush with one of those beautiful swirls of Aquafresh on it. She was being a kid and twirling her toothbrush around and the production people had a breakdown. Turns out, it’s actually not Aquafresh on the toothbrush. It’s some material that’s perfectly swirled by a skilled technician… and it costs like $2,000! Kerry also said that because she had to do so many takes extolling the virtues of the toothpaste while holding the toothbrush, her arm/elbow (just off camera) was actually resting on a ledge so it wouldn’t fatigue and collapse. Who knew?

Kerry sounded so great and so did my backup singers which consisted of wonderful local Seattle talent, and…Melissa Manchester. Melissa heard I was looking for backup singers and volunteered. I loved it! There was so much Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman in the show: Kerry sang the Hairspray medley plus “Fly Fly Away” from Catch Me If You Can and Megan Hilty sang “Let Me Be Your Star” and “Moving The Line” from Smash. Those songs are so great! Then, in honor of Seattle’s non-stop rainy weather, Melissa Manchester sang “Come in From The Rain” which she co-wrote (I had no idea!) and Maureen McGovern gave us some hope with “The Morning After.” P.S. I told Maureen that I’m also obsessed with the “Theme From Angie (Different Worlds)” that she recorded. She said that singing those high soprano notes at the end of that song is what got her the offer to replace Linda Rondstat as Mabel in The Pirates of Penzanze. I love that a pop song led to a role in an operetta.

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I was recently talking to Rebecca Luker about her early days, too. Her first audition in New York City was for Phantom of the Opera. Instead of auditioning inside a rehearsal studio like today, it was old school so she auditioned on the stage of the Majestic Theatre. She was nervous until she saw “a crazy man” before her auditioning. She was in the wings, watching as he did a duet from Porgy And Bess…as both Porgy and Bess. Rebecca said it was so ridiculous that it totally put her at ease. I, myself, wanted the end of the story to be some amazing reveal like “and that crazy man was…Michael Crawford!” but Rebecca said she never that guy again.

But, speaking of Phantom and singing a duet, here’s Ryan Lowe from Chicago showing his amazing vocal range in one of my Obsessed videos!

Back to Rebecca’s audition. After Rebecca sang her aria, director Hal Prince ran to the lip of the stage. He immediately asked her if she could dance en pointe. Rebecca said, “No…but I’m a fast learner!” She wound up getting the understudy to Christine Daaé and, during rehearsals, forced her feet to dance en pointe. That’s because, in the show, Christine Daeé is in the corps to ballet before she is promoted to opera star. Of course that was because the original Christine, Sarah Brightman, was a dancer from Cats and could easily do the ballet. After a while, it must have become too hard to find Christines who could sing and do pointe work, because now during the opening dance, Christine shows up late…right after the pointe work. Hmph. That’s like Grizabella showing up right after “Touch me!!!!”

Anyhoo, when Rebecca was first in the ensemble of the show she was the so-called “mirror bride.” That happens the moment that Christine is in the lair and looks in the mirror and see herself as a bride and then the bride suddenly bends at the waist. Rebecca remembered one performance where she had a horrific upset stomach and warned them that when she bent at the waist, she “didn’t know what was gonna happen.” Thankfully, the white dress stayed pure!

Rebecca also talked about going into Nine with Antonio Banderas. She remembers when she started rehearsals Antonio told her that when he kissed people onstage, he really kissed them. Rebecca heard him, but was too frazzled learning the role to really take in what he was saying. Then she did her first performance and was surprised to find that their onstage kiss was basically a make-out session. I’m now in the process of trying to produce/star in all-male revival starring Antonio. Any investors?

For now, I'll be on a ship to Alaska—where I am now sailing the Arctic seas.

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Peace out!

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