ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Remembering Alice Playten, and Playing P-Town

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Remembering Alice Playten, and Playing P-Town
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Alice Playten
Alice Playten Photo by Aubrey Reuben


Let me start my column by mourning the loss of Alice Playten. She suddenly passed away last Saturday, and I was so shocked and saddened. I first heard her when I was playing in the pit of Seussical and she was playing the Mayor's wife. I loved her old-school style of singing. I then realized I had heard her numerous times while listening to the Hello, Dolly! and Oliver! cast albums because she was the original Bet and Ermengarde. We then worked together on a workshop of Michael John LaChiusa's R Shomon, and when Kelly Bishop had to leave my [AUDIO-LEFT]Actors Fund concert of Funny Girl due to a family emergency, Alice stepped in with a few days' notice. She was such a great stage comedienne. I also got to interview her a few times about being part of those great Golden Age shows and she told me that when she got to replace Baby Louise in the original run of Gypsy (!) she met Ethel Merman who immediately asked, "Does she know about the joke?" Ethel was insistent that Alice set up her joke clearly; Baby Louise has to clearly say, "Mama. Why do I have five fathers?," so Mama Rose can quickly answer, "Because you're lucky!" Alice then told me she went back to Broadway years later to see one of the numerous Broadway revivals of Gypsy, and the Baby Louise asked, barely audibly, "Mama, why do I have five fathers?" and the Mama Rose slowly intoned, "Because…you're lucky." Alice looked at me and said, "Apparently, neither of them knew about the joke." Excellent bust! She got a Tony nomination for her part as the lovably evil girl named Kafritz (from Henry, Sweet Henry), and I've obsessed about her performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" many times. You must look at the face she makes when she sees the paltry amount in her hand that the audience has donated. Brilliant!

Well, last week I started my summer run in Provincetown! And I continued my lifetime run of making mistakes that lead to incredible stress. On Thursday, I caught a cab before 7 AM so I could get to JFK at least 45 minutes before my 8:38 flight. I was smart enough to check in the night before and I didn't have any baggage to check so I knew I'd be able to breeze right to the gate. Well, I arrived at the airport and went to put my bags through the x-ray machine. The JetBlue attendant looked at my boarding pass and asked me if I had a Mac computer. I was momentarily stunned. Why was he asking? Was he offering me a free iPad like the spam I'm constantly getting on Facebook? Should I lie and say I owned a PC? Were they doing full body cavity searches only of admitted Mac users? Finally I muttered "yes" while doing an impromptu Kegel exercise. He showed me how my boarding pass was missing a bar code because Mac computers don't print them for JetBlue boarding passes. Who knew? He told me to go to a machine and reprint my boarding pass. I got there but the machine wouldn't print it. What the — ? I realized it was now probably less than 45 minutes before the flight and one has to go to the counter at the point. I ran back to the agent and he pointed me to the long line. I said I was going to miss my plane if I stood on that line, and he told me to go to the front. I ran over and the ticket agent looked at my boarding pass and said the missing bar code wasn't a problem and that I could get another one when I got to the actual gate. AH! Sooooo…..I ran back to the attendant and this time he told me I could use my Mac boarding pass. Yay! I'm glad I spent my morning burning off the calories from my Venti Soy Latte by running around JFK airport. As I was waiting on line, I checked my boarding pass and the time. My watch said 7:38, and my boarding pass said 7:38. Huh? I kept checking back and forth. Boarding pass: 7:38. Watch: 7:38. My mind couldn't wrap itself around what it was seeing. Finally, I went online and checked my itinerary. Yes. The time was 7:38 and my flight was at 7:38, not 8:38. Yay. That's why my boarding pass wouldn't print. Because it was less than 45 minutes before my flight. As a matter of fact, it was two minutes before the flight. My itinerary was to fly to Boston on JetBlue and then to Provincetown on CapeAir. I got on stand-by for the next plane (for no extra charge — thank you, JetBlue!) but I was told the flight was sold out and everyone had checked in but one person. In other words, good luck getting on the flight. I waited at the gate with other hapless stand-by people. The flight was scheduled for 9:08. At 9 AM, they were still waiting for customers to board! I was internally raging that they were waiting. I felt that since the people missed the initial boarding time, their tickets should be ixnayed. Of course, most of the time, I'm incredibly late for flights and feel that airlines should hold my seat until 15 minutes after a flight is scheduled to take off. Finally, at 9:05, they let all of us on. Yay! I got to Provincetown with no more problems. James and Juli, however, took Amtrak because Juli had to go to her last day of school. They got to Boston at 5 PM and it was a.) freezing, and b.) pouring rain. It was doubly devastating because James was a.) wearing shorts, and b.) not carrying an umbrella. They took the ferry to Provincetown and they were warned that they would have rough seas all the way there and "not to be shy and to ask for a barf bag whenever necessary." They were also told that the best way not to be seasick was to sit on the top, open deck which was a wonderful place to sit while wearing the aforementioned shorts and carrying no umbrella. They arrived in Provincetown crankier than Barbra Streisand when Carol Channing won the Tony Award over her for Funny Girl. Or Carol Channing when she read the Hello, Dolly! film breakdown in Backstage and saw "Dolly Levi: CAST (Barbra Streisand)." Despite all the crankiness, we had a great time and my first weekend was super fun.

Jackie Hoffman
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Jackie Hoffman's show (part of my Broadway Series at the Art House) sold out and was hi-larious! She told us that she had done a show by David Sedaris and she played a very patrician, rich woman. Her line was supposed to be "How long will this trip take? We have children in the car." One day in rehearsal, just for fun, she changed it to, "How long will this trip take? We have Jews in the car." David loved it kept it in the show. It always got a laugh, but one day after the show, a Jewish woman approached Jackie after the show and asked in a loud, New York-accented voice, "I don't get that joke you did. What did that mean? What did it mean when you said, 'We have Jews in the car'?" Jackie calmly explained that her character wanted the car trip to be short. "But why? Why would she want to the trip to be short?" the woman aggressively asked. Jackie finally said, "Well, I guess having Jews in a car for a long period of time could get annoying." The woman repeated in a stronger New York accent, "But why? Why??? Why would it be annoying? Why?? I don't get what could be annoying about Jews in a car for a long period of ti-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ime!"

Speaking of Jews, Jackie told a story about a friend from childhood, and I loved it. It starts with her raging about getting a message on her cell phone saying, "Jackie? This is Chaim. We went to Yeshiva together. I hear you're in a play. Tell me when the play is so I can come see it." She screams to the audience: "I'm in a Broadway show! You call and buy tickets for my Broadway show. I don't call you!!!" She told us that she's sure Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth don't ever have to deal with this kind of thing. Then she picks up a cell phone and calmly says, "Chaim? It's Bebe Neuwirth. My play runs Tuesdays through Saturday nights at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM and Sunday at 3 PM. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go…I have a lot more calls to make." This weekend my show runs Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 PM, and the great Charles Busch does his show on Saturday and Sunday at 9 PM! www.PtownArtHouse.com for details and tickets.

Seth with Joyce DeWitt

On my "Seth Speaks" radio show I got to interview Joyce DeWitt. Right now, she's starring in Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage, but of course I had to ask her about "Three's Company." Turns out, she was called in to audition for the role of Fonzie's girlfriend in a spin-off of "Happy Days." She knew she looked nothing like the tall, leggy chicks waiting in the hall but she decided to audition anyway. She walked in to the audition room and there were a ton of people there. Because it was a "Happy Days" spin-off, and the show was such a hit, all of the bigwigs were there to watch auditions. The casting director took one look at the makeshift outfit she had on (she claimed she was "fat" that day and couldn't fit into any of her regular clothes) and called her by her first name. Right after she read, the casting director changed his tune and said, "Ms. DeWitt, please wait for a moment." That's right, suddenly she had a last name and her first name was "Ms." They called later that day and offered to pay her a lot of money to keep her on hold until a sitcom came along she was right for. Of course, she wound up getting the role of Janet Wood on "Three's Company" and loved doing it. I asked her about the hilarious Don Knotts and she said he was quite the ladies man. Who knew he was a playa? She remembered that it was impossible to keep a straight face during the first costume run-through of each episode if you had to open the door to Mr. Furley because it would be the first time you'd see one of his "swinging" outfits. P.S., I just Googled him and his character is on one of TV's Top Ten Worst Dressed list! Brava? "Seth Speaks" is every Sunday at 5 PM on Sirius/XM Stars 107.

This week, my nieces Eliana and Rachel Sarah visited, and I put them in my Playbill Obsessed! video. It features them pulling names out of a hat, and John Tartaglia has to imitate the personality while singing "On My Own." Take a gander!

Last Wendesday, I had a reunion with my high school theatre friends. Eric Ronis, who was so funny when he played the old actor in The Fantasticks (I was Mortimer), brought his young son. I saw him at my radio show and came to say hello but his son just buried his face in Eric's chest. I said, "Oh…he's shy." Eric smiled and said, "No….he just hates you." The truth will set you free?

O.K., Southerners, tomorrow (June 28) I perform in Columbus, GA! So peace out, y'all! (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.)

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