ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Tears and Laughter, and a Rave | Playbill

News ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Tears and Laughter, and a Rave
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

* This week had a lot of ups and downs. First, Maggie. After I wrote that things were looking up last week, she wound up having a bad reaction to her chemo and I had to take her to the dog emergency room. They admitted her overnight for dehydration and, the next day, James and I decided to switch vets because the vet we were using was colder than Barbra Streisand's face watching herself be honored at the Kennedy Center. Andrea McArdle had been touting her vet to me, so James and I took Maggie up to Yonkers and we loved it. If only I knew as a kid that one day I would not only meet Andrea McArdle, but actually be able to call and text her! Although, I don't know if I would have understood the concept of texting. My mother still doesn't. Actually, that's an exaggeration, but suffice it to say that literally any verb relating to a computer is "downloading." She told me recently her printer broke and she therefore couldn't download anything. Download = print? Anyway, we took Maggie to the new vet, who we really liked, but Maggie wound up having a bad week. Daily, she hasn't wanted to eat until the very end of the day. It was so hard to know if this was nausea from the chemo or loss of appetite from the cancer. Is this the way it will always be? Is she suffering? So, that's the incredibly difficult background that was present all during the week. (But, P.S., every time Maggie would suddenly get some energy back and start to eat, James and I would cry with joy. So, there were up-sides to each day with her.)


After I wrote the column that follows, however, Maggie declined and the doctor told us she would need a blood transfusion and that the tumor hadn't gone away. Her hind legs were incredibly weak and looked hopeless. We put Maggie to sleep last night, Feb. 12. I can't describe the incredible sadness I feel. She was 14, and I had her since she was 7 months. We took trips to Provincetown together, where she learned how to swim. We went to Salem, CT, where she'd run in the woods. She slept next to me every night. I wrote the rest of this column before I knew what was going to happen.

While all that was happening, I did "Seth Speaks" on SiriusXM and I interviewed Tony Award winner Alice Ripley. She has an original song that's "dropping" on Valentine's Day, and I asked her to come sing it on the show. You can hear her do it Tuesday at 11AM on SiriusXM Stars 107. Anyhoo, I asked Alice about a lot of her past jobs, including being a "'Hee Haw' honey." If you were mercifully spared knowledge of that show, it was a TV variety hour featuring country music and comedy. I had zero interest in it when I was child and yet in the mid-'70s, despite the myriad "Bugs Bunny" and "Charlie Brown" options, my mother bought me a "Hee Haw" lunch box. To this day, I am miffed, mortified, confused and mind-boggled. What was she thinking? The only country music I like is The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas but I assume that lunch box was too risqué for me to carry around my Yeshiva. Regardless, before Alice got the "Hee Haw" gig, the show had been on the air for 26 years. She told me they decided to re-format it, hired all new people (including Alice) and it was immediately cancelled. Devastating for her, affirming for me! We also discussed her work at various theatres before she starred on Broadway. One of them was in San Diego and it sat directly underneath the flight path for jets landing at the airport. The sound when the airplanes approached obliterated everything else, so the theatre had an ingenious system worked out. All the actors onstage could see three traffic lights that were stationed in the pit. The show went along as usual when the green light was on. When it went to yellow, the actors knew they had to prepare for a jet. When it finally went red, they had to stop whatever they were singing, freeze, let the jet pass, and then resume. Seriously. She had soprano leads, and essentially the audience would hear "Sweetheart, they're suspecting things…" (Big finish) "Peo-ple will sa-a-a-a-a-y, we-e-e-e-e-e're…. " (Silence, then the sound of an enormous jet for 10 seconds….then) "in lo-o-o-o-ove!" Applause?

Finally, we discussed her love of Evita, and the fact that she still hasn't played the role. For my recent "Playbill Obsessed!" video, we decided to have her audition to understudy the role in case the current producers are watching!

As I write this, it's 5:30 AM Los Angeles time and I'm on my way back to NYC. I came out here for the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards, which is a fundraiser for Desert AIDS. My good friend Jack Plotnick drove me down from L.A. and we spent the day together. This event had celebrities like Wynonna, Peter Gallagher, Joan Rivers and Queen Latifah, so, typical of whenever I'm at an extremely high-powered event, I fall way past my pseudo-celebrity status into "…and you are?" My first sign that something was amiss was when I was at rehearsal and one of the people running the organization came up and introduced himself to me. Unfortunately, the "me" he introduced himself to was Jack Plotnick. He shook Jack's hand and called him Seth. I informed him that I was actually Seth and he re-introduced himself. Once that happened, I went into a panic about what I had to do next: the red carpet. That's when you walk the paparazzi line and there are tons of flashbulbs going off and people clamoring to interview you. If you're a celeb. I can sometimes get away with some people having interest if it's a Broadway event, but I knew this one was going to mortifying. Just to make it super awkward, I decided to shave the last minute but realized I had forgotten my razor. The hotel sent one up to my room and it was one of those "Buy 20 Razors for a Dollar"-types. AKA, I wound up being late to get to the red carpet because I was bleeding from so many places on my face. I walked down to the lobby with a towel pressed against the bigger cuts and when I was ready to go, I didn’t know what to do with the towel. I went to the concierge and asked him where I could get rid of it. He looked at the bloody towel and said, "Hold on one minute." Then, "Let me get the incinerator." Brava on the sense of humor! The first person I saw interviewing people on the red carpet was Michael Costello, who's currently on "Project Runway All-Stars." I always watch that show and was excited for an opportunity to be interviewed by him. He was holding a big microphone in his hand that I saw him use to interview the celeb before me. I approached him and as soon as I introduced myself to him, I saw the microphone drop to his side. As in, "This won't be needed." I wound up fleeing the red carpet and went to the dinner/show, which was great.

Queen Latifah sang "I Know Where I've Been," Wynonna sang "I Wanna Know What Love Is" and Joan Rivers was a hi-larious host. She talked about her supposed charity to bring sex to homebound seniors. She claims it's "Feels on Wheels." I was there to play for Megan Mullally. We first worked together on Grease! back in '94 when she played Marty and I played piano at rehearsals and subbed in the pit. For this benefit she sang "Happy Days Are Here Again," and at the end went up to an E flat and the crowd flipped out. We took a crazy picture in the dressing room. It's me, her and her husband Nick Offerman. The lighting is so weird that Nick said it should be the poster for our upcoming Harold Pinter play.

Right after the event, I took a car to L.A., got to bed by 12:30 and woke up at 4:45 to catch an early flight back to NYC so I can do Disaster! Which brings me to the thrilling part of the week. Last week's performance of Disaster! was hard for everybody because we've always been able to run the show in the afternoon before a performance, but we weren't able to last Sunday. It's really difficult to do a full musical with six whole days between performances. So, a whole week had gone by and we were all shaky and forgetful. So many things went wrong that I was backstage in a full depression whenever I wasn't onstage. For example, at one point I'm supposed to run out into the group of survivors and announce, "People! I have an announcement!" The bad guy is supposed to tell me to "Can it!" and we have an argument. Well, for whatever reason, the bad guy forgot to come in with his line. So, the audience saw me come out and yell, "People! I have an announcement!" This was met by a wall of silence onstage. I wanted to cue the next line somehow, so after a good amount of silence went by, I panicked and implored, "Let me speak!" It literally made no sense. Who wasn't letting me speak? The air?

The show was chock full of clankity-clunky moments like that. I wasn't that upset in the long run because it was only our third performance and I knew we'd be able to run the show the following Sunday afternoon. Well, who happened to be at the clankity-clunky show reviewing it? The New York F-ing Times! My Off-Broadway play, Rhapsody in Seth ran for six months before they reviewed, but for this they waited two whole performances until they came. It actually wound up being perfect because a.) I had no idea they were there so I felt no stress; b.) I didn't spend a week frantically checking to see if a review came and hoping it was good/worrying it was bad; and, most miraculously, c.) we got a rave. We were all in shock. It's like being told you won the lottery when you didn't even know you bought a ticket.

The most perfect "full-circle" aspect of it is that the day the Times review came out in the paper is the day I was in Palm Springs with Jack doing the 2012 Desert AIDS benefit. When did Jack and I first start writing Disaster!? In Palm Springs, at the 2011 Desert AIDS benefit! We were able to walk by the spot where we first opened my computer and started the first scene exactly one year ago. The first line is of the review? "While the Giants were winning in Indianapolis, another triumph was unfolding on West 72nd Street." It says that the script "doesn't pause for refueling"; it calls the show "irresistible"; it calls the cast "exuberant" and "indefatigable." The only devastating part? The reviewer calls me a "seasoned multi-hyphenate (Actor-pianist- playwright-satellite radio host)." What does "seasoned" mean? I'll tell you: old! What the F? Anyhoo, the cast was joyous and as soon as I know what the next step is, I'll tell you!

This weekend, I'm in Costa Mesa, CA, doing Andrea Martin: Final Days! Everything Must Go!, and then I'll be doing Deconstructing Broadway at Reprise on Feb. 23. And then….my birthday! And…jury duty. Peace out!

(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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