This week I'm off to Raleigh/Durham North Carolina on Wednesday to do Deconstructing Broadway as well as a master class. Then on Sunday, I'm doing another master class... or should I say Mastre Classe. Oui, I'll be in Montreal!
We're going to take a 12 hour Amtrak up to Montreal which is really scenic and great for getting writing done. However, before I focus on the future, let me obsess on the past (my mother's specialty). Last week, I had Hal Linden on my SiriusXM talk show, "Seth Speaks." Turns out, he began as a musician. He played reeds (especially clarinet) and performed in the Army big band during the Korean War. Once in a while, he'd sing a song in one of the army concerts with his instrument around his neck. At one of the shows, they asked him to play a role. He had never really acted before, but the moment he got his first laugh, he wanted more. He had always planned on joining a big band when he got out of the army, but the end of the war happened to coincide with the end of the big band era so he used his GI bill money to go to acting school. He was working in summer stock and one of the girls he was seeing who was the chorus of Bells Are Ringing told him there was an opening in the show. It was a small chorus role that would also understudy Sydney Chaplin (the leading man). Since Hal had no New York experience, he had to audition starting with the stage manager, then the casting associate, then to the creative staff and finally opposite Judy Holliday!
He got the part and began rehearsals on a Monday. They decided to teach him the Sydney Chaplin role first (instead of his chorus part) and it was a lucky thing because there was suddenly an outbreak of the Asian Flu (!) and Hal was on for the leading man that Saturday afternoon. Five days after he began rehearsal! He hadn't even finished blocking the show but he had a very good sense of it — he had seen it a lot since he was dating one of the girls in the show. When he got to the scenes he had never staged people in the cast simply pushed him where he needed to be. That happens all the time when someone goes on in a show with a lack of rehearsal. My friend Jennifer Simard taught me the show biz term which is "shove with love." As helpful as everyone was, it wasn't always able to override the fact that he hadn't rehearsed with any of the actors in the show; during one of the dances someone whispered, "Go across the stage to Louise" and he responded with, "Who's Louise?"
It was very emotional for me to meet Hal because of two reasons. In 1974, when I was a little kid, my parents decided to take the money we would have spent on a vacation during December and spend it on taking the whole family to three Broadway shows; we saw Grease, Pippin (with Ben Vereen and Betty Buckley) and a revival of The Pajama Game. Even though I later went on to love the score to Pippin and I wound up playing keyboard for the revival of Grease for years, the show that had an incredible effect on me was The Pajama Game. I went home and listened to the original cast recording non-stop, especially the opening number which I became obsessed with. That was the show that started my lifelong love of Broadway. Who was the star of that revival? Hal Linden! I told him what a big deal it was for me to meet him but didn't want to cry on the air so I had to completely shut down emotionally while I was telling him. Basically, I wound up sounding like a combination of a Stepford Wife and a severely medicated Jessica Lange in "Frances."
The other reason Hal figured so prominently into my life is because any time I've had to describe my father, I've always said he looks like Hal Linden. I told Hal and he immediately said that anyone who has graying hair and mustache is said to look like him. I argued that father really did look like him but he refused to bite. Instead, he wound up telling me a story about the head of William Morris, whom everyone always said looked exactly like him. One year after the Tony Awards, Hal was being interviewed on the red carpet. He said all of the "wire women" (the ladies who interviewed the stars) were usually actresses and one of them went over to Hal and told her listening audience, "This man is one of the most important in all of show business. He can make anyone's career skyrocket." She then smiled and added, "Of course, I could never even get in see him!" Hal realized the woman thought he was head of William Morris! He corrected her and they continued the interview. Actually, no. He smiled and said, "This Monday. My office. 10 AM." Really! To this day, he doesn't know what happened that Monday. You can see Hal (aka my father's doppleganger) at Café Carlyle May 20-24. He sang "Just In Time" on my show and played clarinet and he was amazing. Such a fantastic musician.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson was the host and did a great job. When he presented the award being given to Barbara Cook, he said,"She originated the role of Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, Amalia in She Loves Me..." Then he said, "These are all the role Kelli O'Hara played in high school, but Barbara did them with the people who wrote them!" I'm signing off! This week at "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox," I have Linzi Hateley, the original Carrie in Broadway's Carrie!. For reals! For more info, get thee to SethTV.com. Peace out!
(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)