ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Varla Jean Merman in P-Town, Or, The Fleet's In | Playbill

News ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Varla Jean Merman in P-Town, Or, The Fleet's In
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky Lauren Kennedy


It was my last week going back and forth to Provincetown, and what is a week of travel for me without a headache-y airport experience? Here goes: I left my apartment at around 10:15 to make my 11:50 flight. No bags to check and I already had my boarding pass. The cab took me all the way uptown to cross the bridge into Queens…and it was closed. Yay? The policeman directing traffic gave us no info on how long it would be closed, or if there was another entrance so the driver decided he had to go all the [AUDIO-LEFT]way downtown to the midtown tunnel. When we finally got on the FDR drive and were headed down, we looked to the left…and the bridge was open. There was traffic going both ways on it. We don't know if there was a secret entrance or a detour, but he felt we had to go downtown to be safe. When we finally got to JFK, I still had to wait on the security line. I was having a panic attack but finally got through the x-ray, looked up at the monitors to see what gate the plane was at and right next to the gate number, it didn't say "boarding." It said CLOSED. I knew that it wasn't yet 11:50, so I ran like a lunatic to the gate and made it there at 11:43…and got on the plane! So relieved! I could not believe I was able to get on the plane minutes before departure, and I knew everyone's eyes were on me as I walked down the aisle. Then, as I sat down and finally stopped my panting, all the passenger's eyes shifted…to two other people boarding after me! How dare they trump my drama!

Anyhoo, it's finally September and I'm about to be on the road again. And by "road," I mean "sea." I leave on Thursday for the Playbill cruise, so the next time I write this column, I'll have my signature jet lag and weight gain. But until then, here's the update from my last week in Provincetown.

Varla Jean Merman
photo by Rex Bonomelli
Andrea Martin was the final celeb from the Broadway Series at the Art House and on Friday night, I took her to see Varla Jean Merman's hilarious show. Varla is played by Jeff Roberson, and he usually performs in P-town for the whole summer, but he was planning on spending June and July Off-Broadway, where he was starring with Leslie Jordan in Lucky Guy. If you don't know, even though Varla and Leslie got crazily amazing reviews, the show closed ten days after opening. In his Provincetown show, he tells the audience that he was starring in an Off-Broadway show, but it abruptly closed after opening. He quickly says, "Not my fault!," but then thoughtfully admits, "…well, I guess, partially." In his show, he sings a "Children Will Listen" as he shows a montage of possible children's books he can write (instead of "Curious George," there's a cover photo of "Bi-curious George"), and he intros the song with a knowing, wise face: "Be careful around children, because they're like sponges. (Pause.) Full of bacteria." I also love that every time Varla mentions someone like Riahanna or Lady Gaga she'll give a knowing nod and call them a "colleague."

The whole show, as bizarre as this sounds, it sponsored by Fleet Enemas. Seriously. After dressing in a nautical outfit and singing an incredibly clever song called "When the Fleet's In," he tells the audience that he's feeling like Oprah so everyone in the audience is getting an enema. He starts passing them out yelling, "You get an enema! And you get an enema!" — a la Oprah's "You get a car! And you get a car!" He then kindly asks people to wait until they get home before using them. Well, the Fleet company has now asked him to make his signature hilarious videos to promote the brand, and the first one is a brava. It's a tip o' the hat to Hurricane Irene.

Andrea Martin
In order for me to enjoy my delicious Provincetown food binges, I started pushing my workouts here by taking boot camp-style classes. It's in a place called Heart Core Fitness and it's just the instructor, Maya, and around six people. The annoying thing is that Jeff takes the classes with me and he's like one of those ex-smokers who suddenly can't stand to be around smoke. He used to weigh another 100 pounds, and now that he's lost the weight, he's in incredible shape and is continually pushing himself…and people who don't want to be pushed. The instructor gave us a slew of exercises to do and Jeff made the suggestion that we take a break between sets…by doing a run! That's not called taking a break! It's actually the opposite. And speaking of weight/food/etc., Andrea Martin was casually walking through town in the morning and a woman came up to her, desperately. Here's the dialogue: WOMAN: Are you from around here?
ANDREA: Not really, but can I help you with anything?
WOMAN: Do you know a place where I can get a hot dog?
ANDREA: Uh…not really. What about a bagel or some eggs.
WOMAN: (Adamant) No! A hot dog. I just need something to tide me over.

Andrea saw me minutes later and was obsessed with the conversation. First of all, a hot dog? It was 10:20 in the morning. Second of all, "tide you over" until what?

Andrea's shows were both sold out and it was a great way to end the series. Standing ovations as well. Not for my show, FYI. But for her show. I'm so "happy" for her. She's coming on the Playbill Cruise, too and she's bringing one of her best friends, Debra Monk. They will either have an amazing time. Or it will be the ruination of their friendship.

Debra Monk
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
In preparation for my European cruise, I cashed in my Groupon for teeth whitening. The whole experience is crazy. You sit in a chair and they put a thing in your mouth that makes you have your teeth permanently exposed. Then the technician paints a layer or some kind of bleach on your chompers and shines an ultraviolet light directly on them. She did warn me repeatedly not to look at the light so, of course, I spent the whole time wanting to look at it and/or obsessing that I did look at it by accident and permanently ruining my cornea. After around an hour, the whole thing was finally done. Then the dentist came in and asked me what kind of stuff I ingested that could stain teeth. I said that I don't smoke and I hate wine. And that I mainly drink ice coffee with a straw. I knew that if you used a straw, the staining coffee mainly bypassed your teeth. I was then about to leave when he told me that I had to take extra care 'til the whitening fully took hold. Huh? First, he told me not to drink coffee for two days. I reiterated that I drank through a straw and he still told me to stop for two days. What? I'm supposed to go through a Yom Kippur caffeine withdrawal just for whiter teeth? I flat out told him to forget it. I don't think any other patient had ever reacted that way because he looked taken aback. Then he said not to eat anything with any soy sauce. What? All I eat is Chinese food. I just glared. Suffice it to say, I decided to try to avoid the staining foods for two days but lasted a little less than that. Within 40 minutes, I was eating red velvet frozen yogurt. James was horrified when he saw and told me to stop. I learned my lesson. Avoid James. Twenty minutes later, I was hiding in the kitchen eating two chocolate chip cookies. Conclusion: my teeth were white for as long as the run of Lucky Guy.

All righty, before I go, I must mention my latest Playbill Obsessed! video featuring Sierra Boggess. She demonstrates an audition song I put together for her that features all of her career highlights in 16 bars. Take a gander!

And I've finally caught up on my podcast versions of this column. If you go here, you can listen to me babbling — with much-needed musical breaks throughout. Happy Labor Day and Back-to-School week!

(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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