Onstage and Backstage: Seth Takes a Trip Back to the ’70s | Playbill

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Seth Rudetsky Onstage and Backstage: Seth Takes a Trip Back to the ’70s This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth uncovers the amazing television acting gigs of Michael Lembeck and reveals dressing room details from the Grease tour with John Travolta.
Seth Rudetsky with Michael Lembeck and Lorna Patterson Lembeck
Seth Rudetsky with Michael Lembeck and Lorna Patterson Lembeck

Since June is busting out all over, I feel it is time to watch the hilarious Leslie Uggams lyric breakdown of that very song. If you don’t know, there’s a hi-larious video of a live performance of that very song where Leslie Uggams starts out confident and ends up a nachtmare. It’s so famous in Broadway circles that Ruthie Henshall told me when she was doing Putting It Together, cast members would give each other a “June” award. What was it for, you ask? Well, the show was all complicated Sondheim lyrics, and the “June” award went to the cast member who mangled lyrics the most. Here’s the original clip (with the lyrics hilariously transliterated).

And here is the interview with Leslie Uggams where she tells everything! She is such a cool lady!

Speaking of fun videos, here’s the Obsessed! I did with Kelli O’Hara, showing her phenomenal range mixed with her sassy country twang in “They Don’t Let You In The Opera (If You’re A Country Star)” written by Dan Lipton and David Rossmer. We’re going to be hauling this out along with many other songs next Tuesday at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. Come see us!

Anyhoo, I had Michael Lembeck and Lorna Patterson Lembeck on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show, and they are such a cool couple. Michael’s had an amazing career as an actor and director, and Lorna has gone from actress to Jewish convert to cantor! Michael was all over 1970s TV…. He was MacKenzie Phillips’ husband (check out his great rack!).

He was also part of the bizarre group “Kaptain Kool and the Kongs.” Here is their full bizarreness as they guested on the Brady Bunch Variety Hour. His voice is amazing, but every other aspect is amazingly mind-boggling: the outfits, the song, the camera cuts to the swimming ensemble etc.

Just like Godspell had their all-star 1970s company (Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner, Victor Garber, Paul Shaffer) there was also a ’70s Grease tour that had some amazing people; Michael was Sonny, Jerry Zaks was Kenickie, Judy Kaye was Rizzo, Marilu Henner was Marty and John Travolta was Doody. I heard from Judy Kaye that John would enter the ladies’ dressing room and, quite frankly, immediately expose what was underneath his dance belt. I tried to delicately ask Michael if that story was true, and as I was phrasing the question, he cut me off with “John entered every room penis-first.” Good to know.

Speaking of ’70s TV stars: In the mid ’70s, Michael was one of the final two people testing for a very big role in an upcoming TV show. However, he had just spent years playing Sonny Latierri in Grease and was sick of doing that character, so he thinks that was the reason why he didn’t give a good audition… and, therefore, lost out on the role of Fonzie!

In the ’80s, the hilarious film Airplane was written, which parodied the Airport films, but the creators couldn’t have a nun playing the guitar and singing because it was too much like the real Airport films. They decided the stewardess would borrow a guitar from the nun and sing instead. Lorna’s agents called her for the film audition, so she rushed to the studio and when she got there, they asked her if she could sing. They had no pianists available to play for her, but she happened to have a tape of accompaniment from her voice lesson with her. However, there was no tape deck on which to play it. So, she took the Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers (all of whom wrote and directed the film) into the parking lot. The three guys got into the back seat of her car (!), she put her tape into the car’s cassette player and sang for them…and got the part! And she sounded amazing in the film! What a voice! P.S. It’s the scene where she sings to Jill Whelan who the played the sick little girl.

I interviewed Jill last year, and she told me her audition for the film was to simply “make a funny face.” And boy, that face is highlighted in this scene!

Attention southern Californians: get thee to Temple Isaiah where Lorna is now an associate cantor. L’Chaim belting!

Michael told me that in the ’90s he started to really focus on learning how to direct, but hadn’t started pursuing it. He wanted to be totally prepared before he officially made the plunge. One day he came home, and Lorna told him he needed to really shift his focus from acting to directing, and, at that moment, he decided he was ready. Cut to: Within minutes he got a call asking him to direct a TV show! He soon rose to prominence doing the show Coach and then he started doing films. My absolute favorite thing he directed was the fantastic episode of Friends when Rachel and Monica switch names for health insurance reasons and then begin to insult each other (by saying horrible things about themselves) in front of George Clooney and Noah Wyle. I am so obsessed with the acting, directing and especially writing. Watch it, and then peace out!

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