ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth On Sondheim and Larsen, Thompson and Cook

Seth Rudetsky   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth On Sondheim and Larsen, Thompson and Cook
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.

Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley

It's the "day of the show, y'all" as Parker Posey put it so aptly in Waiting for Guffman. I'm doing my Deconstructing Broadway show tonight at New World Stages. It starts at 7 PM, and my guest star is Betty Buckley who has to get to her show, White's Lies, by 8 PM. Tense. It has all the elements of the story Elaine Stritch tells about doing a show on Broadway then rushing to Grand Central to make a train to New Haven just in time to do her song in Act Two of Pal Joey. Hmm…all of the elements except for Betty's show is playing across the hall at New World Stages, so instead of taking a [AUDIO-LEFT]three-hour train trip to New Haven, she has to walk 30 feet. Plus the fact the Elaine Stritch's highest belted note is too low for Betty to sing. Go to OnlyMakeBelieve.org for tix.

On Friday, James and I went down to Fort Myers, FL, where I did a master class and a show. We took a crazily early flight so we could spend the day enjoying ourselves. We got to the hotel at 10:30 AM, and the guy behind the desk told us the beach was 30 minutes away. We didn't have a rental car, but he told us the bus right across the street would take us there. I put on my bathing suit, and we hightailed it out of there at 11AM. Well, the initial, yes, I said initial bus ride, was not 30 minutes long, but almost 45 minutes. It dropped us off at a strip mall where we waited under the blazing sun for the beach shuttle trolley. I'm not going to say we feared for our lives, but we were very aware of two angry men loudly conversing about how "our forefathers gave us the right to plant tobacco." The "good news" is we got to wait with them for one hour! The trolley finally came, and when we got to the beach, I looked at my watch and, shockingly, it wasn't 11:30 as the hotel predicted. It was almost 2 o'clock. How am I supposed to get sun damage if the sun's most harmful rays are almost gone? I knew I should just let it go, but I couldn't, so I called the hotel and asked the woman at the front desk why we were told it was 30 minutes to the beach when it decidedly wasn't. She said, "Well, it is…if you drive." Relevance? I'm sure it's even shorter if you fly. I told her that the guy behind the front desk knew we weren't going to drive. He's the one who handed us a bus schedule! She said that it always takes longer because you have to wait 15 minutes for the beach trolley. 15 minutes? Multiplied by four! My rage finally dissipated on Sunday when the hotel shuttle driver told us he'd drive us to the Thomas Edison museum even though it was ten miles away. The shuttle is only supposed to drive within a three-mile radius, but since another couple also wanted to go to the museum, they made an exception. I told them we were going to run over to Starbucks for a quick breakfast, and James and I power-walked to the mall, got our food to go and hightailed it back…just in time to find out that the shuttle left without us. Excellent. And now, to continue a theme I started weeks ago, "My three-day vacation in a Florida luxury hotel was the worst."

The good part was that my master class and show at the Creative Theater Workshop went great. The talent in the master class was really good, and I loved fixing up their audition songs. Then, James called and said he just saw an article in the local paper all about the Xanadu tour playing in nearby Naples. We had planned on taking a train to Wilmington, DE, in a few weeks to see our friend Anika Larsen star in it, and we were so excited we could see it that night. I suckered, I mean, convinced the nice woman (Nance) who drove me to my master class to drive us to Naples to see the show and off we went (with her daughter Hailey in tow). I saw the show three times on Broadway, and I'm still not sick of it. I was so impressed with my friend Jesse Nager from the Broadway Boys, who I've only known as a fierce singer. Turns out, he's also an amazing dancer! Stop being talented. I never got to see Annie Golden go on in the Broadway version because she was the understudy, so it was great to see her in the Jackie Hoffman part. And, Natasha Yvette Williams was great in the Mary Testa part. After a sassy line, she did one of my favorite signature moves: patting the side of her hair in place. In the show Forever Plaid, there's a moment where the pianist walks offstage for his "union break." The Plaids do a number without him, and then he walks back onstage during the applause for the number. He assumes the applause is for himself and takes a bow. When I was the pianist for the show in New York, I'd always take a bow and then "pat my bun" a la Bette Davis. Of course, no one appreciated but my fellow Plaids and/or The Little Foxes fans.

After the show, I complimented Max von Essen on his sassy fast vibrato, which I first loved in Dance of the Vampires. And, I thought Anika was great as Kira. There's a belted note in "I'm Alive" where she's supposed to sing "Is it really me?" I loved how she showed her sassy high belt by back-phrasing it to "Is it re-e-e-e-e-e-eally me?" The rule for gams also pertains to high belting: When you got it, extend it. Anika was in the ensemble on Broadway and told me that she had trouble skating right up until the first preview. She had assumed it would be like in-line skates, but then realized it was more like ice skating (When I understand the difference, I'll call you). Regardless, she was still relatively clanky on the skates but enjoyed them. After she left the show, she got to take her skates with her and started skating for fun. She went on the Avenue Q tour, and whenever they got to a city, they'd always run the show in a big rehearsal room and she'd spend her lunch hour skating around it. Then, two months ago, Elizabeth Stanley left the Xanadu tour to do Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway, and they called Anika and asked if she was able to take over the role. Not only was she able, she was able to add tons of skating tricks to the show that weren't there before because she had become an expert roller skater. Speaking of which, one time she was on tour in 2007 and while skating through a park in Michigan, a dog ran up to her and bit her! An older lady owned the dog and was very apologetic and asked what she could do. Anika, through tears, told her that the thing she most wanted her to do was vote for Obama. Michigan is a swing state and… Obama won it! Anika told me, "I'm not saying it was because of me that Obama won…but I'm also not saying it wasn't because of me."

This week at my Sirius/XM Live On Broadway show I had composer/lyricist Joe Iconis, who wrote two songs that I hear girls doing all the time at auditions these days: "Joey Is a Punk Rocker" and "Blue Hair." He writes really hummable melodies and very funny, quirky/chatty lyrics, and right now he has a musical running at Ars Nova. It's called Bloodsong of Love, and it's a spaghetti Western musical. The thought of a Western puts me to sleep, but then the thought of delicious spaghetti wakes me up again. Go to MrJoeIconis.com to hear some of his songs and get info on his shows. Jennifer Laura Thompson, who plays the opera diva in Lend Me a Tenor, was my other guest. She had one of those "the road not taken" stories that I love about the business. Right after she starred in Urinetown Off-Broadway, she got the offer to take it to Broadway. At the same time, she got cast in the big revival of Assassins. What to do? A Sondheim musical or a new show? She finally decided to do Urinetown, and then 9/11 happened. The producers of Assassins thought the timing was wrong and cancelled the show. Oy. What would have happened if she had made the other choice? Besides severe depression? And speaking of Sondheim, I saw Sondheim on Sondheim and loved it. I'm not the biggest fan of revues because they seem very random to me, and I find them more concert than theatre But, by having Sondheim on video giving background information on his songs/lyrics/shows/mishaps etc., it made you yearn to hear the song he's talking about and then enjoy it on a different level than just listening to a laundry list of hits. Leslie Kritzer is fantastic in the show. She's able to be so funny and likeable and sound fabulous. And, Norm Lewis got crazy applause after "Being Alive." I was riveted watching/hearing him sing the song and obsessed with his lack of breathing between phrases. When he ended the song, I was so overwhelmed with a combination of a.) thinking he sounded so beautiful and b.) feeling moved/proud that I cast him in his first New York show 20 (!) years ago and now he's bringing done the house on Broadway, that I was blatantly crying in the audience.

After the show, James and I went backstage, and we lauded everyone and then went upstairs to tell Barbara Cook how much we love her. I've been a fan of hers forever but have never seen her in a musical. She not only sounds great, but has so many fun comedic moments throughout the show. We stood in her dressing room complimenting her and, of course, she was very gracious. Suddenly, she leaned in to me, pointed to James and said, "How'd you land someone so good looking?" James was, of course, beaming and I focused on the "good looking" part of the sentence and not the "how'd you land" part, which essentially questioned my attractiveness. We then told Barbara we were engaged, and she was not only thrilled but very insistent that we follow through on the marriage. She said very seriously that it's incredibly important. She knows a couple that was together for 50 years, and when one died the other one had absolutely no rights and it was horrible. I just read a story about an older gay couple in Sonoma County, CA, that couldn't get married, but had every possible legal document drawn up so they'd have most of the same rights. One of them suffered a fall, and even though the other had power of attorney, the county separated them, auctioned off all of their possessions and then forced them into separate nursing homes. The partner who had fallen passed away three months into their forced separation. It sounds like something from a totalitarian regime, but it's true.

Back to Broadway. This trip to Fort Meyers was the last of my many April trips. I'm now gearing up to go to Boston to do a master class and two performances of my show at the Speakeasy Theater on May 10 and 11. Yes, I've had a lot of annoying things happen while traveling this month but they may all be trumped by my Boston trip. Why? Ask my traveling companion: my mother. Next column title: "What was I thinking?"


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.

James, Seth Rudetsky, Anika Larsen, Annie Golden, Halie Boling and Nance Boling
James, Seth Rudetsky, Anika Larsen, Annie Golden, Halie Boling and Nance Boling
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