ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth and Kathy Are Closer Than Ever

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth and Kathy Are Closer Than Ever
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth with Cloris Leachman
Seth with Cloris Leachman


Hello from 37,000 feet. I'm on a plane back from L.A. after filming for "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List." I had a great time and was able to get out before the earthquake! Kathy is so relaxed during filming and nice to everyone on the set. After we filmed she told me that sometimes people put on a different personality when the cameras are rolling, but she was[AUDIO-LEFT] impressed by how I'm the same on-camera as I am off-camera. I took it as a big compliment thinking that she meant I'm able to be real on camera. Then I wondered if the reverse were the actual truth; I'm constantly performing and pushing for laughs off-camera, and my desperation remains the same when I'm being filmed. As my therapist would say, it's probably a little of both.

Anyhoo, on Thursday I took a 7 AM flight (!) to the West Coast and got to the hotel we were filming in at 11AM. I met up with my good friend Jack Plotnick for breakfast since I had time before we filmed, and then I spent the rest of the afternoon at "auditions." Explanation: This season includes Kathy singing for her mom (Maggie) and her mom's friends at her new assisted living facility, and the last time I was on, I was giving Kathy a voice lesson with Kristin Chenoweth. This time, I was sitting next to Kathy and her mom, judging various entertainers and people from the "manor" (as Kathy calls the assisted living facility) who wanted to perform in the show. It was like being at an open call for On Golden Pond. The average age was 67, and that's because I'm factoring in mine and Kathy's age. PS, Kathy's mom is over 80 and looks amazing. She was nice to everyone who auditioned and constantly put up with Kathy's hilarious non-stop dishing of her, or as Kathy calls it, "elder abuse." The auditions consisted of a mix of comedians, singers, spoken word and magicians. One 67-year-old woman came in and sang a gospel-like song she wrote called "Stand For Change." I wondered how Kathy's mom would like it because it's been mentioned on the show that she watches FOX news, and I didn't think she'd want to hear a song praising Obama. Well, cut to, when we were picking the final performers, Maggie told us that we should definitely use Sandra James. Kathy and I were confused because we didn't know who "Sandra James" was, and then her mom explained it was the woman who sang about her own name. What? Then we realized Maggie thought that when the woman sang "Stand for Change," she was singing "Sandra James." Wow. It went from an empowering anthem of social justice to a completely narcissistic song of name-pride. Kathy and I were obsessed and, of course, called the woman and her song "Sandra James" from then on.

Two of the other performers we got for the show were…Rip Taylor and Cloris Leachman! Leachman is actually a great pianist, and we staged her song so that in the middle of it, she'd push me off the bench and launch into a piano solo. She played and sang great…and ended it on a sassy belted B flat. I, of course, asked her about playing Nellie in the original South Pacific. If you don't know, she auditioned for the national tour, and Rodgers and Hammerstein offered her the role in New York, London or the national tour and then gave her four weeks on Broadway so she could see what it was like. She got tears in her eyes describing how, after her first performance, Oscar Hammerstein's wife came backstage and told Cloris it was like she had been standing right behind Hammerstein the whole time he was writing the show. Bring her back to Broadway!

Rip came and performed in between rehearsals for his solo autobiographical show called It Ain't All Confetti. I love how he's constantly busting himself and also busting the audience. I'm obsessed with the exit line he used after his number. He sang his song, glared and then waved the audience away as he walked off and said, "Separate checks." Go to RipTaylor.com for info on his show and to read his hilarious/nonsensical blog. Last week, I had the amazing Broadway Inspirational Voices perform at my Sirius/XM Live on Broadway show. If you don't know, BIV (as they're called in the biz) is a gospel choir filled with Broadway singers and led by Michael McElroy. I love how there's no hierarchy in the group. It's filled with ensemble members from Broadway shows standing right next to leading ladies like Montego Glover from Memphis and Tony-Award winner Adriane Lenox. Their first New York concerts in four years are coming up April 11 and 12. Go to BroadwayInspirationalVoices.com for details.

Seth with Lynne Wintersteller and Sally Mayes

I also had Sally Mayes and Lynne Wintersteller, who are teaming up to do the twenty-year anniversary version of Closer Than Ever at Queens Theater in the Park. I was so obsessed with that (double) CD and I can't wait to see it live. The two males are being played by Sal Viviano and George Dvorsky. What's interesting is that many of the songs are about middle-aged people, and now Sally and Lynne are the right age to sing them. They both said that the song "The March of Time" was sort of a joke to them 20 years ago, but now they can't stop nodding in melancholy recognition as they sing it. They recalled the original run of the show and how incredibly tight it was backstage at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Sally told us about one particular performance: she said they were all crammed together behind the curtain, about to sing off-stage vocals at the start of the show. Well, unfortunately, one of the cast "had broccoli for lunch," as Sally put it. His digestion went haywire right before they sang, so of course their off-stage vocals were 10 per cent singing, 90 percent muffled laughter. Well, the pianist was outraged that they were so unprofessional, so he punished them by doubling all the tempos of the show. They were closer than ever… to shaving ten minutes off the show. Sally also said that there was a song she sang with the bass player, so they wanted her to be at the auditions for him. There were three guys auditioning, and one was incredibly attractive. Before she even heard him play, she told the powers-that-be to hire him. Shallow. Regardless, they've now been married for more than 15 years and have a lovely son!

Last Monday, I went to my mom's house on Long Island for the seder. I know that I make my mom out to be crazy in this column, so I thought I'd take a moment to make it clear that my whole family is crazy. One classic Rudetsky story involves my still-single sister, Beth. She had a few dates with an Israeli guy and was speaking to him on the phone. He told her, in his thick accent, that he likes Beth better than his last girlfriend because she (the last girlfriend) was a "putata." Beth knew that "puta" in Italian means "whore," and even though she wasn't up on the Hebrew word, she knew it must be similar. She also assumed that he had very chauvinistic views of women, and he probably thought that a girl who kissed on the first date was loose. She decided she wanted him to spell out what he viewed as "putata"-like behavior before she lambasted him. This was the conversation:

Beth (Fishing for specificity): So…why do you say that about your ex?
Chaim: (in thick accent) You know…she was a putata.
Beth: (haughtily) No, I don't know.
Chaim: It's what I said. A putata.
Beth: (pushing it) Meaning what?
Chaim: (getting frustrated) Like I said…a putata!
Beth: (furious) Spell it out!!!
Chaim: What is problem!! Meaning she never left the house! She was, how do you say… a couch putata.
Shockingly, they never dated again.

OK, I'm in town for three days this week and then on Thursday I fly with James and Juli down to Orlando. I'm doing my Deconstructing The Brady Bunch show and a master class over the weekend at The Parliament House. Go to www.SethRudetsky.com to register and start enjoying spring!!! *

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 and the Broadway Inspirational Voices
Seth and the Broadway Inspirational Voices
Today’s Most Popular News: