ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: No "Sopranos," Please | Playbill

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News ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: No "Sopranos," Please First of all, I have nothing to say about "The Sopranos." I watched half an episode once and found it too violent. Plus, because of my aversion to head voice, the title itself is against what I stand for. So, let me talk about the week before the Tony Awards and the big night itself.
Andy Karl and Orfeh
Andy Karl and Orfeh Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Last Monday I did a reading of a great play called The Lost Art of Conversation by Ted Sod. It was made extra fun because I got to play the brother of Anne L. Nathan. Anne and I met at a headache-y industrial audition 15 years ago, and I was so excited when she got onto Broadway in Ragtime. She was the understudy for the role of Emma Goldman, and when she would go on, I would make sure I'd listen to the end of "He Wanted to Say." It ended on a C, which most Emmas would mix, but Anne would always do it in chest voice if I was in the pit. Perhaps the real Emma Goldman flipped into head voice above a B flat, but Anne believed that Emma had a strong belt placed in the mask.

Tuesday I interviewed John Cullum for my Sirius radio show. What a career! He was in the original Camelot as Sir Dinadan! Then he was the Patti Cohenour/Terry Klausner track in Man of La Mancha — aka, he was the matinee Don Quixote when Richard Kiley wanted to do only six shows a week. He talked about starring in On the Twentieth Century with Madeline Kahn. Madeline missed a rehearsal and asked how her understudy, Judy Kaye, did. John said that she knew all the lines. Madeline missed another rehearsal and asked again how Judy did. John said that she knew all the songs. Madeline missed a third rehearsal and this time when she asked John about Judy, he simply warned her, "Don't miss any more" — aka, Judy's got it goin' on. Suffice it to say, Judy was brilliant and took over the role after Madeline left very early in the run. Also, speaking of the Tony Awards, when Judy Kaye became the star of the show, her small role of the maid was taken over by . . . Christine Ebersole! I love learning about understudies who later become stars. I think about those audience members in the seventies who were like "I'm outraged! I bought tickets to Grease to see Jeff Conaway — not his understudy Richard Gere!"

Wednesday I put together a Broadway review for a benefit of the Jed Foundation, which helps prevent suicide of college-age kids. I had Kristine Zbornik sing the parody she wrote about the subway to the tune of "People": "People…piled on top of people…are the nastiest people in the world…." My favorite is the part is "With one person…taking up two spaces…" I'm so happy for Kris because she told me that she just got cast in the new Harvey Fierstein/John Bucchino musical, A Catered Affair. Brava!

Thursday, I interviewed Orfeh and her husband Andy Karl at my Chatterbox. They met doing Saturday Night Fever. By the way, if they can turn that movie into a Broadway show, why not the headband wearing, aerobics-centered "Perfect" from the early eighties? It's an excellent vehicle for Joey McIntyre and Charlotte d'Amboise (similar Jamie Lee Curtis hairstyle . . . short and sassy). Best line at the Chatterbox: I asked Orfeh what she did at the High School of Performing Arts. She answered, "My major was drama." Andy added, "It still is."

Anyhoo, Andy said that when he gave Orfeh an engagement ring, she threw it at him. I was ready for her to refute the story, but she concurred. She said that after the show one night, they ordered in Chinese/Cuban food, and he hid the ring in a take-out container. Orfeh said that she hates surprises because she's a control freak and had no inkling that he was going to propose. When she saw the ring box buried inside the rice, it was so shocking to her that she threw it like it was burning her hand. He then got down on one knee (turned out, I'm sure, because he's a fierce dancer) and proposed. The whole courtship to marriage was just six months. And, the most shocking part is that Saturday Night Fever ran longer than that! But Journey's End closed last Sunday. Interesting. Friday, I taught an audition workshop for "Springboard NYC," which is for college kids studying theatre. I was trying to dispel myths like "Never bring in a Sondheim song" or "never sing (blank)…It's totally overdone". The only thing I'm a stickler for is that your 16 bars has to have an ending! So many people come in and sing something like: "I could stay home every night! Wait around for Mr. Right! Take cold showers every day and throw my life. (Awkward pause…then spoken) Um…that's sixteen…so…."

Find a 16 that has a beginning, a middle and an end! I was also telling the kids not to look above the auditioners' heads (something I learned from playing piano for Sara Lazarus' brilliant audition class). It looks crazy. Look at the eye level but next to them…like there's a whole audience around them. This way they feel you connect, but don't feel put on the spot. When you sing a whole song looking the auditioner in the eye, they start to feel like they're Michael Douglas to your Glenn Close.

My boyfriend James told me how much he loved "Fame," and I readily agreed…till he specified he meant the TV series! What? How can you compare the film's Anne Meara to Carol Mayo Jenkins? James informed me that he never saw the film, so I forgave him. That TV show put the hack in hackneyed. My friend Ben used to make me laugh hysterically describing this episode: The President of the United States(!) is coming to watch a performance at the High School, and everyone is atwitter. The night of the performance comes, and a secret service agent comes backstage to inform the English teacher, the aforementioned Carol Mayo Jenkins, that the President had something come up and had to cancel. She is silent. After all, the kids worked so hard on the show. The Secret Service guy feels terrible and mutters, "I don't know what to say." She looks at him saucily and says, "I do." She then raises one eyebrow and quietly declares, "Places, everybody. Places." Amazing!

Tony night was fun as always, and my favorite win was Julie White for The Little Dog Laughed. She was so unbelievably funny in that show. I interviewed her at my Chatterbox, and she was a riot. She told me about meeting her husband for the first time. It was at a barbeque. He was in his twenties, and after they had been chatting up a storm, he finally asked her, "How old are you? Like 35?" She said, "I said yes. Because I was 39, which is 'like 35'!"

I loved the reveal of who the Tony hosts were by holding up photos Chorus Line-style, but the most shocking reveal was … Angela Lansbury has a head shot!? For what? When she goes to an EPA? Is there a resume on the back?

AEA, SAG, AFTRA eligible
MAME- Mame (original cast)

Which reminds me, I need a new headshot. Mine is essentially my prom picture. I'm calling Angela's photog ASAP! *

(Seth Rudetsky is the host of "Seth's Big Fat Broadway" on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and the author of "The Q Guide to Broadway." He has played piano in the orchestras of 15 Broadway musicals, and he can be contacted by visiting www.sethsbroadwaychatterbox.com.)

Tony winner Julie White in <i>The Little Dog Laughed</i>.
Tony winner Julie White in The Little Dog Laughed. Photo by Carol Rosegg

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