Who Did Jonathan Groff Move to Tears With His Rendition of ‘Pure Imagination’?

Seth Rudetsky   Who Did Jonathan Groff Move to Tears With His Rendition of ‘Pure Imagination’?
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth recounts the most moving moments from his Voices for the Voiceless concert—including surprise performances.
Voices for the Voiceless attendees Marc J. Franklin

I am on my way back to NYC! I just spent the last ten days floating down the Danube with lots o’ Broadway performers. I was so busy that I didn’t have time to write last week’s column. So I’m going to do a double-header this week, but before that I want to give a shoutout Broadway lovers from Texas and tell “y’all” to come see me in Austin, Texas this Thursday night! I’m doing two performances of my signature Broadway deconstructing. I will cover all my favorite singers including the three B’s : Barbra, Betty Buckley and Bea (Arthur). For tickets and information, click here.

And next Monday I’ll be doing a full show/book signing at Barnes & Noble on East 86th Street to celebrate the release of my book Seth’s Broadway Diary Volume Three, which is a compilation of my Playbill columns! I’ll be joined by Judy Kuhn, Charles Busch, Mario Cantone, and Ann Harada, who will not only be reading hilarious sections from the book about various Broadway stars, but they’ll be reading sections from the book about themselves. And each one of them will sing as well! You can order the book here.

Two weeks ago, I did the annual fundraiser for The Humane Society called Best in Shows, which is put together by Bill and Dorothy Berloni. Bill is the trainer who’s been in charge of every Broadway animal since he trained the original Sandy in Annie. And, FYI, they’ve all been rescue animals.


The show was fantastic with Broadway folk either singing to their actual doggies or singing to the doggies that were available for adoption. Like Michael Mulheren crooning “Something Was Missing” to the doggie he adopted. One of my favorite things about Bill Berloni is that after a show closes, he winds up adopting the animals who starred in the show. Hence, he now has 33 dogs! And I feel that I’m doing my part, because every time he leaves the house, he keeps his SiriusXM radio tuned to the Broadway channel. Why? Because he hopes that each animal will cheer up when they hear a song from their show!

The day after The Humane Society benefit was the benefit concert that James and I do every year: Voices For The Voiceless: Stars For Foster Kids. The concert raises money for You Gotta Believe, an organization which helps older foster children find loving homes. Every year, James and I are in a panic putting it together and every year it winds up being so moving and crazily entertaining because of the people involved. The format is this: A former foster kid/ parent/adoptee talks about the ups and downs of their experience and then ends by telling the audience a song that meant something to them. We then have a celeb come out and sing that very song.

This year we had Jeffrey Seller (who produced Hamilton) speak about his experience being adopted. He revealed that the song that meant a lot to him when he was a kid was Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” which he admits is a little mature/dark for a child but he told us why; he said that basically most adopted kids can’t help but feel some kind of loss by not being with their biological parents, but they know that the parents who adopted them changed their lives for the better. So when Jessie Mueller came out and sang “Both Sides Now” he told us to be aware of the lyrics that he honed in on when he was a kid: Something’s lost but something’s gained. He realized that it was those words that attracted him so much to the song. It is such an accurate description for what he was talking about.

Regina Calcaterra, of You Gotta Believe, wrote the fantastic book Etched in Sand about her struggles as a child with a mentally ill mother who abused her and her siblings. The kids never wanted to tell the authorities because they didn’t want to be separated into different foster homes. Eventually, however, they were found out and, sadly, placed in different foster homes. The homes weren’t as bad as what they were used to, but they weren’t very good either. When Regina was 14, her social worker told her to prepare for being homeless because she would age out of the system in a few years. Regina assumed she’d be adopted because she was finally free of her mom, but the social worker told her that foster kids rarely get adopted, and older foster kids never get adopted. Regina wound up aging out of the system, but getting financial aid to help her through school and now she’s a high-powered lawyer. However, while she and her siblings were going through the years of abuse, she told us that the song she would sing to soothe them was “Tomorrow” from Annie. After she told everyone, I started playing the vamp and who came out singing it but… original Annie Andrea McArdle! Regina flipped out and started crying. It was such a wonderful moment and Andrea sounded fantastic. I was remembering that when I played Les Miz back in the day, Andrea was my Fantine. Watch here!

Melissa Gilbert, from Little House of the Prairie, was also adopted when she was very young. She spoke about her biological parents who already had many kids and not very much money so she, therefore, wound up being adopted by a father she loved very much. Sadly, he died when she was still a young girl. But the wonderful part is that she was on Little House On The Prairie at the time and her on screen dad, Michael Landon, became a surrogate dad to her. He didn’t adopt her, but he gave her the kind of love and guidance a parent gives.

I asked Regina Calcaterra what people can do to help if they can’t adopt. And she said it makes a huge difference to just be a supportive, trusted adult in a kids life. She mentioned one of her teachers who had faith in her and how much it meant to her and helped her to keep going. That’s what Michael Landon did for Melissa. He gave her support through her whole childhood and into her adulthood until he passed away. As for the song, Melissa said that seeing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child was a magical experience and that she always felt joyful when she heard “Pure Imagination.” Cut to, Jonathan Groff singing it to her onstage. So great!

(By the way, speaking of Michael Landon, he was very much a jokester on Little House On The Prairie. Melissa said that he would ask her to get a frog from the nearby creek when they were on a break from filming. Then he would walk over to a gaggle of ladies who all had crushes on him. They would start to flirt with him and, suddenly, he’d open his mouth and drop out a frog. So bizarre and hilarious!)

Danielle Brooks
Danielle Brooks

Every celebrity was introduced by a foster kid and those young people were all so charming. Yolanda, who was adopted in her 20s, introduced Danielle Brooks from Orange Is The New Black and Broadway’s 2016 revival of The Color Purple and told us that when Orange Is The New Black came on TV, everyone kept telling her how she looked like Danielle Brooks and how she acted like her character Tastee, in real life. Well, Yolanda was a waitress at Lincoln Center and Danielle Brooks showed up! She and Danielle wound up talking, but they never got a photo. Why? Because Yolanda felt it would be unprofessional to take a picture with a celebrity while at work. I was so impressed with her when I heard this story and also mortified because I would have 100 percent taken a selfie with a celeb I loved even if I had run into them at a funeral. Anyhoo, Yolanda didn’t get to take a photo when she was working, so instead we arranged for her to take one onstage. Look!

We also had a former foster kid in her 20s talked about being homeless in her late teens and how Danielle, one of the women from You Gotta Believe, told her that she could sleep on her couch for a few weeks. After two weeks, Danielle told Rosie she wanted her to become part of her family. Rosie stayed, but didn’t really feel like she belonged. But Rosie said everything changed when Rosie realized that Danielle yelled and cursed at her the exact same way she yelled and cursed at her biological kids, so she started calling her Mom.

Also, Malan Breton donated his amazing designer outfits to the celebs and the foster kids. Look at my high fashion look (which has never been achieved before or since).

Seth Rudetsky, Jessie Mueller, and James Wesley
Seth Rudetsky, Jessie Mueller, and James Wesley

OK, soon you’ll get part two to my column so keep checking back!

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