ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Climbing More Heights

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Climbing More Heights
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.

Christopher Jackson with Eliana Berman
Christopher Jackson with Eliana Berman


Hola! That means "Hello." That's right, I saw In the Heights for the nueve time. I had to go because my nieces were visiting, and Eliana (the 12-year-old) is obsessed with the show. And so is my sister, Nancy. And, quite frankly, me. I thought that surely I would start to be bored now that I've seen it so many times, but it's still amazing. There were so many moments where I started to cry. Note bene: I don't necessarily cry when something is emotionally devastating in a show…I cry when I see what I consider a perfect theatrical moment. I was so moved listening to the phenomenal vocal arrangement mixed with the creative [AUDIO-LEFT] choreography at the end of "96,000" and the title song that I had tears coming out of my eyes….or, as they inexplicably say in Legally Blonde, tears coming out of my nose.

We went to the show last Sunday night to see Mandy Gonzales' final performance, and I expected weeping from everyone throughout the show, but I was surprised to see that everyone kept it together. Afterwards I found out that Mandy had been sobbing before the show began, but of course her perfect voice was completely unaffected. Her nickname amongst the cast is "The Beast" because her voice never wavers. The only tears I saw during the show were from Priscilla Lopez who plays Mandy's mom, and she waited til the last scene in the show when tears were appropriate. The main liquid around me personally, however, was not tears but saliva. Both my sister and 12-year-old niece were drooling throughout the show because of their obsession with Chris Jackson. Every time he came onstage, Nancy had to grab and hold hands with me and Eliana in some bizarre type of prayer circle. Nancy is hi-larious and acknowledged to me that Chris is married and perhaps not interested in her. But she said it's probably because she's 48 years old and hopefully he'll be psyched to know she'll soon be 49. Anybody? Nadie.

This week was also Kids' Night On Broadway where kids get into Broadway shows for free (if an adult buys a ticket). I wanted to take Eliana to a show that wasn't specifically geared for kids. In my day, kids just saw Broadway shows. There weren't specifically "family" shows. All Broadway shows were for the family. The other reason I knew I needed to take her to a show was as an intervention; I felt I needed to get Eliana's focus away from In the Heights for at least a two-and-a-half hour period of time. So, we all went to Memphis. It's so exciting seeing a show with no recognizable "stars" and watching an audience go crazy for the leads. Montego Glover and Chad Kimball are so fantastic in their roles and win the audience over immediately. Throughout the whole show I was obsessing about what song they would do on the Tony Awards. I'm sure that they'll be nominated, and I want a song to highlight them both. I was remembering how much I loved Cheyenne Jackson's brilliant singing at the 2008 Tony Awards, but I had also wished Kerry Butler was featured more in the Xanadu scene. It's especially hard to feature lots of cast members since performances nowadays on the Tony Awards are so incredibly limited time-wise. Watch how long musicals used to get in the good ol' days. http://bluegobo.com/content/production.php?var=2879775&video=10032 During intermission of Memphis, a woman walked over to my seat and giddily told me how much she loves my deconstructions and all of my writing. This prompted the elderly woman in back of us to ask the person next to her, loudly, "What did he write? This show?" I was too mortified to turn around so she asked again… this time directing the question to my niece. "What does he write?" Eliana turned around and replied, 'Um…he writes for Playbill.'" The woman stared blankly. She then followed her staring with a barely imperceptible nod. Eliana turned back around. Yay. It's fun to be praised and humiliated in front of your 12-year-old niece. The best of both worlds.

I interviewed Chris Fitzgerald at my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show and, of course, he was f-u-n-n-y. He told me that in all of his Broadway shows he's fallen. Apparently, he has a problem falling, but still hasn't figured out what to say after he does one of his signature awkard tumbles. He told me that he still hauls out the line he would say when he was a kid AKA, he'll fall, look at the audience and proclaim, "I meant to do that." He fully admits that it wasn't funny when he was eight, and it's ten times less funny at his current age. He remembers that when he played Boq in Wicked he fell down a flight of steps and landed at Kristin Chenoweth's feet. The audience was terrified, and she was shocked. He, of course, hauled out his un-funny rejoinder but unfortunately, the sound people weren't prepared for him to add a line, so to add more loserish-ness to the situation, his mic was off. He re-enacted the entire sequence and essentially it was:
CHRIS: (Falling)
KRISTIN: (Shocked face)
CHRIS: (unintelligible) "I m***n* t* *o th**!!!!!!"

Chris made his Broadway debut in Stephen Sondheim's Saturday Night. He didn't have much contact with Sondheim until the day of the recording session. Chris did one take of his song and then saw Sondheim leave the recording booth. The session took place at the Hit Factory which was an enormous studio so it took Sondheim forever to get to Chris. Chris thought it was very sweet of him to walk all the way over to congratulate him on his performance. Sondheim finally got to Chris and instead of praising him simply said, "You're not singing what I wrote." Chris was mor-ti-fied. Not only for singing it wrong at the session but, since the show had been running for quite some time by that point, for singing it wrong in all the past performances. Had Sondheim been stewing the whole time? Chris decided not to haul out his "hilarious" I meant to do that, but instead he stammered, "Oh! Sorry! I'll sing it correctly." He decided to show how dedicated he was, so he immediately said, "Can you plunk it out on the piano for me?" Sondheim stared and then said, "Um…I think someone else can do that for you." And the mortification is still fresh as a daisy.

This month's Playbill column (the Playbills that are in theatres) was dedicated to Valentine's Day and I wrote about Chris meeting his wife Jessica Stone. If you're not going to the theatre this month, you won't see it, so I thought I'd re-print it here:

Jessica Stone and Chris Fitzgerald were cast as a couple in the Encores! production of Babes in Arms. The first day of rehearsal they rehearsed "I Wish I Were In Love Again." During the dance break, the "choreography" included them making out… for a full 32 measures. (Ironically, 32 measures was the usual length of entire relationships in my 20's). They bonded throughout that morning rehearsal and on a break that afternoon, Jessie told Chris that she sometimes "gets lippy" and if she's chattering too much and he sees director Kathleen Marshall's eyes glaze over, she asked if he'd tug on his ear as a signal for her to shut up. Jessie said that "the break ended, we went back to rehearsal and ten minutes later, he was tugging on his ear."

Two weeks later, the show had its final performance on Valentine's Day. The whole cast stood onstage singing "My Funny Valentine" (which incidentally is from the show) and Jessie and Chris held hands, as directed. Then, they went to the after-party. They hadn't overtly flirted or talked about dating during the run of the show, but while the cast was all eating, they started holding hands under the table. This time, it wasn't because of the direction. Jessie then told me, "That night we took a cab to my apartment… and he never left." Eleven years later, they're now married with two kids!

Daniel Reichard made an appearance at my Chatterbox last Thursday, and I asked him about playing the title role in the New York City Opera's Candide. Since it was opera, they assumed he'd want to share his role with another tenor, but he told them he wanted to play all the performances. They were shocked he wanted to do a whopping 16 performances. Pause for effect. To also illustrate how the opera world is the opposite of the Broadway world, let me remind you that if you're in a show, you're expected to call in if you're not going to make the performance. In opera, you call in to tell them that you are going to make the performance! They would call him every day to see if he was coming. It reminds me of those annoying friends of mine who call to confirm plans. I'll make plans with someone, not tentatively, and yet I'll still receive the day-of text/phone call/email "just checking to see if we're still on for today." Why wouldn't we be? What part of "I'll see you at noon on Wednesday at Good Enough To Eat" sounds not confirmed? I say that they're projecting their own lack of commitment onto the situation and I refuse to take on their childhood issues. FYI, that last passage was brought to you by "His Childhood, His Issues" and "Let Him Carry His Own (Emotional) Baggage." PS, I actually made up those titles, but I was on a self-help kick in the early 90's and I remember the panic that overtook me when I realized I didn't put a fake book cover on what I was reading while traveling. After a 30-minute train ride, I suddenly realized that the whole subway car had seen me nodding and heard me verbally agreeing with chapter-after-chapter of "Why Do I Think I'm Nothing Without a Man?" On a related note, I was not asked out during that ride. Daniel also told me that he hated the illustrated photo they had of him for the Candide ad. One of his eight (!) brothers was getting married during the time of that show, and they were all in a tour bus going around New York City for his bachelor party. When they came to the Columbus Circle area, they all suddenly saw an enormous ad for Candide with a giant illustrated picture of Daniel. That was the good part. The bad part was that Daniel said the picture made him look like a "twelve-year-old lesbian." So his family was jointly thrilled and duly miffed. Yet again I say, the best of both worlds. Or as they sing in Candide, "the best of all possible worlds."

This week I'm going to see Charles Busch and Julie Halston in their new show The Divine Sister and then have them both on my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show this Wednesday at noon. Next week I fly to Palm Springs to do my Deconstructing show and one of my master classes. And by "Palm Springs," I mean "Edmunton." And by "Edmunton" I specifically mean "Red Deer." I'm so glad I chose the winter to go to Canada. For info and tickets, get thee to http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=240489994507&ref=ts. And now yo digo, paz out!


Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.

Seth Rudetsky and Christopher Fitzgerald
Seth Rudetsky and Christopher Fitzgerald
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