Why EGOT Winner Rita Moreno Gave Lauren Graham a Note on Set

Seth Rudetsky   Why EGOT Winner Rita Moreno Gave Lauren Graham a Note on Set
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth share’s high school stories from Rosie O’Donnell, plus his first conversation with Graham over a line in Evita, and more.
Lauren Graham
Lauren Graham Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.com

I am still adjusting to the schedule of doing Stars in the House every day. Hence, my column is on the late side! But there’s so much to tell so what I lack in promptness I will make up for in content!

First, though, let me talk about my new podcast all about High School! This week I welcome Rosie O’Donnell, who has some hilarious stories about her high school years as a young obsessed theatregoer (she used to cut school on Wednesdays and go to the city to see matinees) and a young budding lesbian pretending to be straight (her friend’s mom found birth control in her friend’s room and Rosie took the blame and said it was hers! Rosie was decidedly NOT needing birth control in high school).

Rosie_ODonnell_high_school

It was so fun doing the podcast with Rosie because I’ve known her for so long (we met doing Grease in 1994) but I didn’t know a lot about her years in high school. Turns out, she was prom queen! I asked her about her high school theatre experience vs. her college experience and she talked about how great it was in high school, but when she first began college and performed a scene, her college teacher told her, dismissively, “The role of Rhoda Morgenstern is already taken.” I remember her telling that story to me back in the ’90s and I used it for the opening number to the 1998 Tony Awards that I wrote featuring Patti LuPone, Jennifer Holliday, and Betty Buckley! Watch here.

Listen to the whole podcast (and my other ones with Tina Fey, Michael Urie, Vanessa Williams, and Sean Hayes) here.

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And on a related note, SiriusXM decided to make listening completely free for an extended period of time! It’s so great because you can listen on your phone or hook it into the speakers in your house while you socially distance yourself! You can hear the all-day Broadway channel with me in the afternoon and Christine Pedi in the AM, plus my talk show Seth Speaks which, this week, has a long interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber from his house (Manse? Palace?), my Back to School podcast and all the other SiriusXM music channels and talk shows! Get thee to SiriusXM.us!

On Stars In The House, we’ve hosted lots of TV show reunions. This week is One Day At A Time (featuring Rita Moreno and Norman Lear!) plus Dallas and Melrose Place!

Last week featured the cast of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which includes lots of Broadway people like Alex Newell, Peter Gallagher, Andrew Leeds (who alternated the role of the little boy in Falsettos back in the ’90s ), Skylar Astin, and someone else who I will first anonymously tell this story about:

Around 10 years ago, I was playing “Don't Cry for Me Argentina” on my SiriusXM radio show, and I made a comment about not understanding the lyric, "Although she's dressed up to the nines, at sixes and sevens with you." I assumed it meant that Evita was dressed well but the crowd watching her was dressed a few notches below her—a.k.a. at sixes and sevens. The next day I got a call on my cell phone from a girl who nervously stammered that she was a friend of Sam Pancake, who's a super-talented actor who's friends with my friend Jack Plotnick. She explained that “at sixes and sevens” is a British expression, and it means “at odds.” But, as she was telling me, we kept getting cut off because I was getting on the subway and then in an elevator, so the whole explanation took an exhausting 30 minutes. I thanked her for her British insight and forgot about the call.

Well, a year later, I was at the baby shower of Jessie Stone and Chris Fitzgerald, and I met the girl who called me…Lauren Graham! Huh? Why did she have to say she was a friend of a friend? Why not just say who she was? She was literally starring on Gilmore Girls at the time! And why was it so necessary to tell me that information!?! It’s not like I was about to audition for the role and she wanted to make sure I understood the text!

Regardless, she’s great on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and she was super fun on Stars in the House. She grew up doing theatre and singing and told us that she was the high school prom song singer. Of course, looking back, she realizes how inappropriate their theme song, "We've Got Tonight," was for teenagers. She sang, "We've got tonight. Who needs tomorrow?” and then added, "Um, actually, you do."

in <i>Zoey&#39;s Extraordinary Playlist</i>
Lauren Graham in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

Lauren did lots of theatre as a kid. Her big coup was playing Dolly in her high school production of Hello, Dolly!. To this day, she thinks it's her dad's favorite performance of hers. He's constantly bragging to people about how she “got a standing ovation every show.” She then reminds him that there were three performances.

Lauren went to college in New York at Barnard and got her Equity card in summerstock. Of course, summerstock-style, she had the character track, and at age 20 was playing a theatre producer who was 50. In one scene, she was supposed to get stabbed in the back while facing the audience and then sit there, dead, with her eyes open throughout the rest of the scene. Throughout the entire run, she was never able to keep her eyes totally open, and every time she'd finally allow herself a quick blink, there’d be a devastatingly huge laugh from the audience. The Kalamazoo Gazette wrote that Lauren got killed at the end of Act 1…and “one wishes it happened sooner.” Well, at least she got mentioned.

She hardly got any work after getting her M.F.A. and remembers often asking her commercial agent to borrow $20. Finally, he got her a job as a mascot that walked around a sports arena because it paid well for one day. She mainly got the gig because she was tall and told us that being inside the claustrophobic costume made you slowly go crazy, so there would always be two people switching off. In other words you'd spend a few hours sweating profusely in the suit and then give that sweat-infused outfit to someone else to sweat into. Her job was mainly posing for pictures, and every time she posed with someone for a photo, she put on a big smile. She then realized after a few hours that she was completely ensconced in an enormous animal costume and no one could see her face. AKA, the “slowly going crazy” had begun.

She got an M.F.A. in theatre and moved to L.A. Lauren told us about an audition where she had to play a lawyer in a new TV show and, because she didn't get much information beforehand, she thought it was a drama. Unfortunately, after the audition, she found out it was a sitcom! Fortunately, because she was theatrically trained to play to the back row, she thinks her broad acting made it look like she was doing a comedic performance, and she got the TV show! She described it as a legal comedy where there's an uptight lawyer who plays by the rules and then her, who shows up to court trials in jeans and a leather jacket.

Rita Moreno was the hard-boiled judge, and during one scene Rita yelled out, "Stop whining!"…and that line wasn't in the script! Ouch on getting a note from a fellow actor…but when it's from a EGOT winner, I guess you should take it. Lauren did, and said that Rita was right.

Speaking of Rita, she’s on our One Day At A Time reunion tonight so tune in and see if she gives me any notes!

I remember Rita telling me years ago that when they finally filmed “America” in the West Side Story film, she had a huge problem: they had rehearsed the film in dance clothes and didn’t wear the costumes until the day of filming. Her dance partner had a silk-like shirt and when she jumped on his shoulder at the end, she kept slipping off! They had to do numerous takes until she was exhausted and finally hooked her foot into his back as hard as she could so she could remain upright for the final shot. Watch!

Peace out and watch Stars In The House every day at 2PM and 8PM ET. Tomorrow is what we call Plays In The House (every Wednesday and Saturday at 2PM) where we have a cast do a live reading. We’re excited to have The Little Dog Laughed with the original cast…including Julie White and Johnny Galecki! Since we began five weeks ago, we’ve raised more than $230,000! Check it out at StarsInTheHouse.com.

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