ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Marsha Mason and My Malted Milk Balls

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Marsha Mason and My Malted Milk Balls
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Ana Gasteyer
Ana Gasteyer Photo by Robb Johnston


Happy Independence Day! I hope everyone had a great barbeque while blasting 1776 (not the movie!). 1776 suffers from preconceived notions. Everyone thinks it's going to be a boring history lesson with somber, important songs thrown in. And cut. It's actually a great script and a fantastic score. It's so amazing that the show has any tension considering the big question is "Will Congress sign the Declaration of Independence?" And yet, librettist Peter Stone was able to keep that question alive up until the very end. I once saw him speak, and he said that when he was [AUDIO-LEFT]writing the show, people thought the idea of a musical about the Continental Congress sounded horribly boring. As a matter of fact, he claimed that when people would ask what he was writing, and he would reply, they would fall asleep between the "17" and the "76." Hilarious. If you refuse to listen to the score on principle, at least watch this video where a 21-year-old Betty Buckley hits one of the first belted D's on Broadway!


This week began with me seeing Ana Gasteyer's act at Feinstein's. It was so good. First of all, she sounded amazing. She was singing songs that were so much fun and she kept adding high notes. And I mean crazy high notes. What I loved is that she didn't seem to have any anxiety or deep preparation about hitting them. She would just sing whatever she wanted without worrying about how high it was. It sounded amazing. Plus, her patter was hilarious. In the middle of the show, she brought out the book she claimed she was reading: Barbra Streisand's "My Passion For Decorating." She pointed out so many crazy things in the book. On one page, there's a picture of a boat floating on a pond on Barbra's estate. Barbra comments how she made sure that the koi in the pond are only black and white. Barbra claims it's because "I'm obsessed with color." Ana comments, "First of all, black and white aren't colors…" Then Ana talked about how many of us collect things — dolls, stamps etc. Well, instead of storing them in a basement like we sometimes do when we've moved on, Barbra has turned her enormous basement into an underground mall with fake stores. Ana said, "That's right. This way, she and James Brolin can spend a lazy Sunday strolling through their mall hand in hand, pretending to buy back the sh*t they already own." Ana is going to be part of my Broadway series in Provincetown. I can't wait to do this material with her! For info go to www.PtownArtHouse.com.

Rob Bartlett and Christopher Hanke
photo by Robb Johnston

On Tuesday, I flew down to Columbus, GA, to do Deconstructing Broadway. It's a small city, two hours from Atlanta. Well, the city may be small, but I was performing in the Parthenon. I walked out onstage and felt like I was in the Hal Prince Show Boat revival from the '90s. (Remember? More than 50 people in the cast? And the length of the show was equal to the size of the cast multiplied by 1,000 minutes?). Anyhoo, it was thrilling to do the show in such a big space, and the Georgia audience was fantastic. It was really wonderful to be in a place where the people could just drive to Atlanta for their arts, but instead they choose to keep it alive in their own city. Brava! I loved doing the show there, but flying home was decidedly not cool. I wanted to make sure I made it back to do my Sirius/XM "Live On Broadway" show because it's the last one we're doing until the fall. So, I booked a 6 AM flight. The driver told me he'd pick me up at 4:30 AM. I thought that was too effing early, but I forced myself to wake up and we got to the airport at 4:50. The "fun" part was finding out that, at this particular airport, the area where you put your bag through the x-ray machine doesn't open up til 5:30! It's always more enjoyable to wait on a hard chair in an airport lobby rather than sleep. Anyhoo, I got to the show and interviewed Mary Faber, Chris Hanke and Rob Bartlett from How To Succeed…. Chris recounted the time he was playing Mark in Rent on Broadway and being thrown for a loop because he stubbed his boot while jumping up onto the table to sing "La Vie Boheme." He wound up forgetting the early lyrics of the song and told us that once you forget a lyric in that song, it's impossible to come back in on any of them because it's a patter song and when you're lost, you're lost. So, instead of singing, he did a monologue taunting Benny (sample line: "That's right! We're in your restaurant!") while he did a dance retrospective of the last 30 years, including such signature hits as the "Roger Rabbit" and "The Swim." He took that platitude "Dance as if no one is watching" too far. People actually were watching. And the only one pleased was his mother who happened to be in the audience that day and told him the show was "wonderful." He thought her comment was suspect but then remembered that before the show, she had imbibed some delicious drinks at lunch and had then taken "two mysterious Advil." And I'm out. At the end of the show, I brought out Gavin Creel because I wanted to promote the rFamily Vacation he's going to be appearing in. We're going to Club Med in Florida next week along with the hilarious Alec Mapa and Jessica Kirson. Gavin is also performing in my Broadway Series at the Art House in Provincetown. He talked about doing a recent workshop of Pippin where he played the title role and the leading player was gender-bended and played by Tracie Thoms (Joanne from the film Rent). Fastrada, the evil step-mother, was played by Katie Finneran and an interesting subtext was added since she was mega-pregnant at the time. Because I love that score, I asked Gavin to sing "Corner of the Sky" and, of course, he sounded amazing. Watch! 

Seth with Marsha Mason
photo by Robb Johnston

My talk show, "Seth Speaks," airs every Sunday at 5 PM on Sirius/XM Stars, but it tapes every Wednesday and this week I had Marsha Mason as my first guest. James and I just rented "The Goodbye Girl" and it was shocking to us because the neighborhood where the apartment Marsha Mason lives in is so broken down and scary. Turns out, it's 78th and Amsterdam! Who knew it was terrifying in 1977!! Marsha looks amazing and was in New York, visiting from her home in New Mexico. She said that one day, years ago, while living in Los Angeles, Shirley MacLaine called her (just like one of my typical days) and told Marsha that they both needed to move to New Mexico. They're good friends and Shirley said she was going to scout around and find somewhere nice. She flew down and called back a few days and she found a perfect spot for Marsha to build a house and Shirley was going to take "the mountain in back." So, Shirley still lives on that mountain and Marsha lives in the valley. Marsha said that every Thanksgiving Shirley comes down from the mountain for a big meal that Marsha cooks. She also said it's scary to watch because the mountain is a little treacherous and Shirley comes down the mountain in a golf cart. If any of this story makes sense to you, get back to me!

I was fascinated by the fact that Richard Dreyfus won the Oscar for Best Actor for "The Goodbye Girl." I think it's the only time an actor got respect from the Academy for doing a comedy. Marsha pointed out that it was also the year that the Best Picture Oscar went to Annie Hall. Why just that year? Did Groucho Marx vote 200 times? Marsha herself has been nominated four times (!) but said that the whole thing has changed. Back then, she just wore a "nice dress," but now it's so elaborate and there's pressure all the time and nominees have to use designers and stylists. I know what she means. When I won the MAC Award years ago, I just wore a blazer with a nice shirt. Now everything has changed, and if I were nominated again I'd feel enormous pressure to get a tie. It's completely out of control.

When Marsha moved to New York, she made money doing all sorts of odd jobs, but I was obsessed with the fact that at one point she was a go-go dancer! She would dance on a bar but finally decided to quit when a guy was looking up her dress and asking her to dance with her legs wider. Yowtch! In "The Goodbye Girl," she plays a Broadway dancer and I told her I was so impressed with the fact that they film her doing jazz combinations using full body shots. It's not "Black Swan"-style where the face is completely shrouded in make-up and there are constant cut-aways and close-ups of feet, shoulders and wrists. I couldn't believe what a natural dancer Marsha was. She then revealed that she worked on the few jazz combinations she had to perform for six weeks before filming began…and the other dancers in the scenes learned them on the day they filmed. Oh.

Speaking of "The Goodbye Girl," Marsha and I took a picture recreating the moment where she has on her signature cranky face as Richard Dreyfus goes into her bathroom, sees her undergarments drying and says rhythmically, "I don't like the panties hanging in the shower!"

Right now I'm sitting at a lovely spot in Provincetown that faces the water (see photo!). I wasn't feeling so lovely when I got here because I realized that I left my key to the place where I'm staying back in New York. I tracked down the guy who has a key and we decided, because he didn't have another copy, that I would keep my door unlocked the whole time I was up here. Then, my food addiction backfired. I spent the whole first day obsessing about the malted milk balls they sell at the fudge place, and, by 11:45 PM, I couldn't resist any longer. I fled my place and bought a bagful of chocolate, dark chocolate and peanut butter malted milk balls. I got back to my place and discovered that, somehow, my door had locked when I left on my obsessive sugar quest. It was now midnight and the guy who had my key was gone. I'm not proud of what followed. Suffice it to say, it involved me slicing into the screen with a random coin, removing said screen and then awkwardly hauling my ever-growing body through the slim window opening while still eating the malted milk balls. I refused to stop for even one minute. You'd think I had hit my bottom, but the next night I was back at the fudge store again with a fistful of dollars. If the whole thing was caught on film, it would be part of my opening montage for "Semi-Celebrity Rehab." But since it's not, I'll be hitting the candy again tonight. Peace out! P.S. Also appearing with me in Provincetown (and Sag Harbor) is Andrea Martin. Here's her recreation of a terrible audition, her dishing me on my terrible audition and a smattering of her opening number!

(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 be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)

Seth and Marsha Mason recreate a moment from "The Goodbye Girl."
Seth and Marsha Mason recreate a moment from "The Goodbye Girl." Photo by Robb Johnston
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