Onstage & Backstage: Why Did Josh Grisetti Want the Audience to Sing Along When He Starred in Rent? | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky Onstage & Backstage: Why Did Josh Grisetti Want the Audience to Sing Along When He Starred in Rent?
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Happy Mother's birthday week! James' mom's birthday is Tuesday and my mom's birthday is Wednesday. My sister just moved to Baltimore right near my mother's sister, and her birthday is this Thursday! So, Nancy decided to have a family get-together for the cousins, my Mom and my Aunt Phyllis. Nancy decided to surprise them with a cake at the end of the brunch and told the store to write "Happy Birthday Mom and Aunt Phyllis."

Mom and Aunt Phyllis
Mom and Aunt Phyllis

Well, just so you have the backstory, my parents split up in 1980, and let's just say it wasn't the most amicable break-up. Basically a Jewish version of War of the Roses with none of the star power. Cut to: We decided to get the cake ready to serve and when Nancy and I opened up the box we noticed the inscription was changed by the store. Across the cake, in bright letters, it said "Happy Birthday Mom and Dad. Aunt Phyllis." It was so hilariously inappropriate. It's like "Happy Birthday Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt"!

I guess they thought we had made a mistake and they would rectify it. That idiocy was only topped by a story my sister's kid, Eliana, told us. They have family friends who were getting a cake for someone who was retiring. They went to the bakery and told them, "Our friend is retiring and the office wants to get them a cake. We'd like it to say 'Happy retirement!' And underneath 'Love, the office.'" They picked up the cake on the day of the party and it literally had written on it: "Happy Retirement! And Underneath Love, The Office." What's happening!?!?!?


Anyhoo, this week began with the Tony nominations. I was hired by "Entertainment Tonight" to cover the Tony Awards on the night of the telecast like last year, but this year they also asked me to cover the nominations! I got to the Paramount Hotel and got to watch Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker read all the names. I had my phone out because I wanted to congratulate my friends if they got nominated. Of course, I assumed they would all be watching NY-1 obsessively but it turns out not everyone is as obsessed with being nominated as I am. As soon as Judy Kuhn's name was read for Fun Home I texted her "Congrats! You got nominated!!" Her response? "Is this a joke?" Be more humble! I assured her it wasn't and she told me later that she soon began to get non-stop phone calls and texts. Then I interviewed Bruce Willis and Mary, and she told me that she keeps her Tony Award in her closet. Not in the open at all times? Again, don't people need constant confirmation of their talent? Bruce Willis answered a lot of my questions, but he only seems to do "film acting voice" so I basically was only able to hear whispering and/or Alec Baldwin's speaking voice in "30 Rock." This week I interviewed Lane Bradbury, who was the original Dainty June in Gypsy! I was so excited! I listened to that album throughout my entire childhood. She was a dancer from the south, and after she moved to NY, she got an audition for Gypsy. Turns out, she didn't get it! The original Dainty June was Carole D'Andrea who had been in West Side Story (also directed by Jerome Robbins). However, right before the show went to Philadelphia, Lane was called to rehearsal to watch the show. She remembers that it felt very awkward because she knew she was watching a girl who was about to be fired. Lane feels that Carol probably didn't have the sound they wanted. She thinks she got it because of her "Baby Ethel Merman" voice.

Whatever the reason, she got the role and based her performance on… Shirley Temple! Who knew? The show was a hit, but she did not enjoy performing with Ethel Merman. Turns out, the Merm would never look her in the eyes onstage, only her forehead! Yet, Lane would watch Merman do "Rose's Turn" every night and see her cry during that song. She was baffled that someone who couldn't relate to her onstage at all was able to be so emotionally available during her big number. Six months into the run, Lane pulled a muscle and had to miss a week. After a week, she told the stage manager that she was ready to come back, but he told her to take off another week to make sure she was healed. How considerate! She took his advice…and then they fired her for missing two weeks! AH!


Lane feels they wanted to get rid of her because, due to the fact she was a last-minute replacement, her agent was able to negotiate a high weekly salary. If they got rid of her, they could have her understudy play the role for much less. She has plenty more stories to tell and you can hear them all at 54 Below May 8! I got to end the segment by singing the Louise part from "If Momma Was Married" from Gyspy with her!!! Dream come true! Here she is singing it on the cast album. I'm obsessed with the moment in the show when Baby June is doing trenches and the audience sees her get older by Dainty June taking her place during the trenches. Of course, I had Lane do the trenches with me for a photo! Speaking of Merman, I forgot to mention Varla Jean Merman's amazing opening act for last week's Vanessa Williams' show last week in San Francisco. Varla is played by Jeffrey Roberson and he writes hilarious material for himself.

When the show began, I came out and made an announcement: "Tonight we have a world class vocalist…star of stage, screen and recordings, plus she's known as one of the most beautiful women in the world. We also have Vanessa Williams." Then I introduced Varla Jean Merman who came out looking amazing. Varla took a bow, handed me music and immediately launched into Vanessa's big hit song, "Save The Best For Last." After a few bars I cut her off and told her "Varla! You can't sing that!" She responded, "How do you know? We haven't even gotten to the high part yet." Hi-larious! I then said, "No, I don't just mean you can't technically sing it…that's obvious to anyone here. I mean you're not allowed to sing it. Didn't you read your contract?" Varla brushed me off and told me, "Of course I read it, but only the first part. It's always the same! No open flames in my dressing room, no more than four boxes of Sudafed, I'm not allowed to talk to the crew unless I'm wearing panties...Opaque panties…they just added 'opauqe' to the contract." Here's the "Obsessed" we did together. I love it! Varla's going to be at the Art House this summer in Provincetown so come to the Cape!

Sierra Boggess, David Burtka, Tyne Daly, Montego Glover Star in Broadway's It Shoulda Been You

This week on the "Chatterbox," I had some of the leads from It Shoulda Been You. Interestingly, both Sierra Boggess and Josh Grisetti have been involved with shows that were slated for Broadway and then got ixnayed. Josh was part of Broadway Bound that was going to run in rep with Brighton Beach Memoirs. Turns out, the producer had made some kind of deal with the New York Times where they would give him a good rate but he wasn't allowed to advertise anywhere else 'til the show opened. It backfired because people who didn't read the Times didn't know the show had opened! Then the show didn't get great reviews. So, there was a mad scramble to get an audience and spin the reviews into something positive. Broadway Bound was in tech at the time and the producers told the cast not to worry…they would keep the shows running in rep. A few nights later, Josh got home and Santino Fontana (who was in both shows) called him. He told Josh how bad he felt. Josh didn't know what he was talking about. Uh-oh. Santino didn't want to break the news but had no choice: Brighton Beach Memoirs was closing and Broadway Bound was never going to open. It took Josh six more years to finally make it to Broadway! And, PS, he is fantastic in It Shoulda Been You. So charming, loveable and fun-ny! Sierra told us about doing Love Never Dies (the sequel to The Phantom Of The Opera) in London and preparing to fly home because it was opening on Broadway. She was at her boyfriend's apartment and they were both packing because he was leaving London with her to make his Broadway debut opposite her. While she was there, she got a phone call from her agent telling her Love Never Dies was not opening on Broadway. That part was not fun, but add to it her boyfriend was in the next room packing. She had to be the Yay? She was also set to be in Prince of Broadway and Rebecca. Seriously! Three Broadway bound shows that never made it to Broadway! That's why both she and Josh don't believe they're doing a Broadway show until they're literally standing onstage in front of an audience.

Josh also told me about wanting to be in the Off-Broadway revival of Angels in America. He felt he gave a great audition but didn't get it. But then a year later, Michael Greif (the director) contacted his agent to ask if Josh would be interested in playing Mark in the Rent revival. Josh thought he was totally wrong and told them he didn't want the audition for the role. So, they offered him the role instead! That happens all the time (see "Seth's Broadway Diary" and Chip Zien turning down the audition for the Baker in Into the Woods and then getting an offer). Josh listened to it, decided he could do it and took the gig. However, around two weeks in he felt confident and, of course, immediately forgot his lyrics. He started the opening number, sang "December 24th, 9 PM, Eastern Standard Time…" He then faded out because he could not remember what came next. He decided to start again because often your body will remember and form the words without thinking. He started again…and stopped. Now the guy playing Roger called out the lyrics but the guitar he tunes onstage during the number was too loud and Josh couldn't hear him. Josh started a third time. Silence. Now the band tried yelling the lyrics, but they were far back on the stage with no mic. Again, Josh couldn't hear anything. He finally wound up doing starting the song six times. Finally, the actress playing the homeless woman, who had great projection, yelled from offstage: "From here on in, I shoot without a script!" and he was able to keep going. He was completely annoyed, however, that all of the so-called Rent-heads sat in the audience and stared while he began again and again, instead of calling out the lyrics they've had memorized since 1996.

And finally Happy National Foster Care Month! I'm so excited because James and I got our celeb friends to make a video for Letita James, the Public Advocate who set up a hotline for foster kids and parents that have any issues. It's (646) 883-4663. James and I got Laura Benanti (looking stunning, sans make-up), Vanessa Williams (backstage at our show in San Fran), Rosie Perez (in our dressing room at Easter Bonnet) and Sherri Saum (from "The Fosters" who just did my radio show) to make a PSA. And the fantastic Mark Ezovski who does all my Obsessed! videos put it together. Watch!!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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