5 Secrets Behind the Productions of Nine, My One and Only, and Grand Hotel

Seth Rudetsky   5 Secrets Behind the Productions of Nine, My One and Only, and Grand Hotel
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares lesser known facts from his interview with composer-lyricist Maury Yeston, upcoming concert dates with Judy Kuhn and more.
Tommy Tune with the cast of <i>Grand Hotel</i>
Tommy Tune with the cast of Grand Hotel Martha Swope

Thus begins my traveling week. Tonight I’m honoring the fabulous Lee Perlman who’s been a great friend to my family and a huge help to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS as well as The Actors Fund. He was instrumental in starting the wonderful Friedman Health Center. I keep going crazy when New York people in show business post on Facebook asking for doctor recommendations. Argh! Go to the Friedman Center on Seventh Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets! It has amazing doctors from Mt. Sinai and they do fantastic referrals to the top doctors in NYC!

Anyhoo, I’m hosting an event tonight in Westchester for The Play Group Theatre that’s honoring Lee. They put on shows and have amazing programs for kids in every avenue of theatre including tech and improv. Where was this kind of program when I was a kid on Long Island? Instead, it was me putting on records in my den and lip-syncing. I guess it paid off in the long run:

Anyhoo, the next morning I will fly to Las Vegas to present all the new touring shows that are coming to the Smith Center. Then I fly to New Orleans to do a show with Beth Malone at NOCCA. Beth was a special guest star this summer in my Provincetown show with Judy Kuhn and they dueted on “I Know Him So Well.” Watch!

Speaking of Judy Kuhn, I’m performing with her this Sunday in London! I have a matinee with Olivier Award winner (for Sunday in the Park With George) Jenna Russell and then a night show with Judy. Come see both shows and get 20 percent off!

Judy is coming to our show right after her matinee of the Trevor Nunn-directed Fiddler on the Roof, where she’s playing Golde, at the Menier Chocolate Factory. And, P.S., they just announced that it’s transferring to the West End! Speaking of Fiddler, I’m re-memorizing my play Rhapsody In Seth, which is all about my childhood and I recently got up to the section where I was cast as the Rabbi in my high school production of Fiddler. In a brilliant act of re-branding, my director told me he had cast me as the “comic lead.” I was thrilled ’til I discovered that what he claimed to be the “comic lead” has only six lines…and four of them are “Let’s sit down.” Wowza. The silence I received after my “laugh lines” has not been surpassed until this.

Anyhoo, Rhapsody in Seth is Monday February 18 at Largo in L.A. and you can get tickets here!

I had the great composer/lyricist Maury Yeston on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. I asked him about Nine, specifically the song “Unusual Way.” He told me that he first wrote that vamp for the song because, he said, if you look at composers from Schubert to modern day Berlin, Porter, and Sondheim, then you’ll know that the accompaniment is part of telling the story. The accompaniment for “Unusual Way” is all eighth notes, like water flowing. Maury said it never stops and he wanted it to represent the constancy of love because “when you love someone that much, it never leaves you.” Even though the character singing the song has left Guido, she will always be connected to him. I found a video of me playing for Laura Benanti right after she played the role in the Broadway revival. She sounds amazing and the song is stunning. Listen here.

Maury talked about being summoned by Tommy Tune when his shows needed help on the way to Broadway. When My One and Only was out of town, “Tune” summoned Peter Stone and Maury to give advice. Peter wrote a new first act and had to wait for Barry Diller and Paramount Pictures to decide if they liked it and wanted a new second act. But this was while the cast was performing previews. Instead of the audience revolting because the first act questions weren’t really answered in the second act (because it was the old Act 2 from Boston!), Tommy came out before the show and told the audience that they were going to see a new first act and the old second act left over from Boston. In his charming way, he emphasized the importance of previews and thanked the audience for being a part of it. Instead of the audience revolting because they had paid to see a show that was half new/half old, they were thrilled to be there! Maury’s agent, Flora Roberts, remarked “Boy, if Tommy had bad ideas, he could be Hitler!” Meaning he had the skill set to convince a crowd of anything and, thankfully, he was using that power for good.

Peter Stone came up with a theatrical moment that was so simple, but deliciously effective. The show co-starred Charles Honi Coles who had been a famous tap dancer since the ’40s. Peter’s idea was to delay the audience’s gratification: Coles, whose character was a mentor to Tommy Tune’s character, sat in a barber chair for all of Act 1 and half of Act 2! Finally, when it seems like he’s never going to dance, his character says “Oh, Lord! This boy’s gonna make me get up outta this chair.” The audience went crazy! Watch the number here.

Tommy asked Maury to come up to Boston again during the out-of-town tryout of Grand Hotel. He told Maury that he had a room for him at the Ritz-Carlton with a piano and wanted him to “save the show.” #Pressure. First, Maury met with Forrest and Wright (the composing team). He didn’t want be an unwelcome interloper. If you don’t know, George Forrest and Robert Wright met in high school in the 1920s and were behind shows like Song of Norway and Kismet. When they met Maury they were in their 70s and they commented that he reminded them of themselves back in the day, when they met Cole Porter! Instead of being resentful that he was brought on the show, Forrest and Wright encouraged him to write new songs and he wound up writing seven new ones for the show (as well as adding additional lyrics to others)! They only insisted that he be credited for everything he did. Why? Because when they were young, they had written extra songs for a show and were never credited. They didn’t want that to happen to him. Maury said that he saw the show and immediately wrote the opening number afterwards. It went in the show the next day with just piano accompaniment and, one day later, it had the orchestration by Peter Matz.

I asked Maury about one of my favorite songs, “Love Can’t Happen” and he explained that he wrote it to explain a bizarre situation:
The Baron (David Carroll) breaks into the aging ballerina’s hotel room to steal jewels. When she catches him, he suddenly falls in love with her. Maury said that originally there was a love song for the Baron and it didn’t work because it didn’t acknowledge how unrealistic it was to fall in love in one minute. So, he made that the point of the song. The Baron can’t understand why he’s suddenly in love because “love can’t happen quite so quickly.” Maury also wrote the melody to highlight David Carroll’s amazing high A-flat as the last note. It is thrilling! Here’s my deconstruction:

Peace out!

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