ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Yin, Yang and "The Magic Garden"

News   ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Yin, Yang and "The Magic Garden"
A week in the life of actor, writer, music director and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky.
Seth with Carole Demas
Seth with Carole Demas Photo by Robb Johnston

Hola! I'm sitting in my lovely air-conditioned hacienda. I see beautiful palm tress. I see the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean. I hear gentle surf. I have a terrible cold, and James and Juli[AUDIO-LEFT] have massive sunburn. Yes, I'm in beautiful Ixtapa, Mexico, on yet another rFamily Vacations adventure. There's always the Yin and Yang in my life, and this one is beautiful scenery versus an inability to breathe through my nose. And, James and Juli went snorkeling and didn't re-apply sunscreen after being in the water. So now their backs are as red as those recently deported Russian spies.

This is the first rFamily Vacations that's not on a cruise. It's in Club Med, and it's great. First of all, as much as I love overeating the cruise food, it pretty much tastes like it's been frozen since we left port and then thawed in a vat of seawater. However, the food here is DELISH! And, similar to when I saw the Show Boat revival in the 90's, it feels like there's no end in sight. Yay!

Before I came to Mexico, I had a crazily busy week, which I'm sure led to me finally getting sick. On Monday night, I did the first performance in my new monthly series at The Triad called Seth's Big Fat Broadway Show. Of course, typical adult-ADD-style, I finished writing it on Sunday night. Why? Why can't I ever do anything in advance? Of course, my irresponsibility pales in comparison to my sister, Nancy. She got into college on a voice scholarship, and one of the requirements was being in chorus. She, of course, showed up the first few days and then sauntered in the next time on the day of the concert. She didn't know the music at all and tried to effectively fake the lyrics/harmony by randomly moving her mouth. Unfortunately, it wasn't a giant choir, it was a select one, where there were only a few people to each part. How can you nonchalantly blend in when there are only three other altos? You can't. And she has the grade to prove it. Hence, her career not in singing.

Then Tuesday was James' birthday. On a related note, Juli has been on something called an "elimination diet." There's a link between asthma and eczema, and lots of doctors think it's food related. So, to find out if it's an allergy, first you eliminate all the food most people have allergies to and see if the symptoms go away. Then you add back the foods one at a time to see what causes a reaction. So, Juli has eliminated eggs, citrus, corn, wheat, dairy and soy! AKA everything. And, James has joined her to show his solidarity. So, back to his birthday: I dare you to try to find a good-tasting cake without eggs, citrus, corn, wheat, dairy and soy. I guess I could have gotten him an ice sculpture with candles. The good news is that Juli's eczema has cleared up majorly. And, James isn't having that hard a time keeping up with the diet… since he's constantly sneaking eggs/dairy/corn/citrus/soy/wheat when Juli's not in the room. And, yes, I've taken photos for blackmail later.

On Wednesday, I interviewed two Broadway ladies who made their marks in the late '60s and '70s. Carole Demas was the original Sandy in Grease and, most important to my childhood, the co-host of "The Magic Garden" on TV. If you don't know, "The Magic Garden" starred Carole and Paula Janis and featured Sherlock the squirrel and the chuckle patch (flowers that had jokes attached to them). I lo-o-o-o-o-o-oved that show while growing up in the '70s and was always devastated when they sang "It's Nice To Say Hello" and then said hi to kids watching. Why the devastation? Because they never said "Hello" to Seth! Anti-Semitism? You decide. Regardless, after all these years, Carole finally sang "It's Nice To Say Hello" at my show and then gave me my long-awaited shout-out! You can watch an adult man-child's dream come true here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7AvLKjqM3A Speaking of "The Magic Garden" and playing Sandy, the original Grease was super-dirty. When the TV producers of Carole's show saw what she had to do in the last scene (AKA dropping the F bomb), they had a breakdown and told her that she had to get the script changed. What if children who watched her on TV then saw her on Broadway? Instead of "It's Nice To Say Hello," they'd start singing "It's Nice To Say F*** Y**." She told them it was two different jobs and two different characters, but they were adamant. She was mortified, but tentatively approached Jim Jacobs (one of the Grease writers) and asked if he could defuse the F-bombs. He immediately told her that there were many other words in the English language she could say, changed the script, and her job on "The Magic Garden" was saved. The TV producers obviously had no problem with the musical's main message that in order to get a boyfriend, you must be fitted in tight leather pants and a bustier. Wonderful.

Next week, Carole is doing her own act at the Laurie Beechman room on July 22 and 24, celebrating 50 years in the business. Why so many years? Because she just turned 70! Look at the photo? Why do I look older? She'll be singing her signature "Summer Nights" with back-up provided by her TV co-star Paula and Ilene Kristen (from "One Life to Live" and the original Patty in Grease!). For reservations, call (212) 695-6909.

Then I interviewed Jill O'Hara who was, not only the original Sheila in Hair, but the original Fran in Promises, Promises! She did Hair when it was Off-Broadway but left before it came to Broadway because she got George M. Right after that she got Promises, Promises, and when I asked her about Jerry Orbach, she told me that he was a "prince." When I then asked her about producer David Merrick, she said the same thing. Oh, wait…let me clarify that. She added "…of darkness." Excellent. It's fun to work for Voldemort.

When the show was in its Boston out-of-town try-out, the creators wanted a song for Act Two that didn't use the big orchestra sound used in the rest of the show. Jill always traveled with her guitar (it was the '60s, people) and when Burt Bacharach saw it, he asked her to show him how she played. She had hired Peter Tork for a few dollars, whom she knew from the Village coffeehouse scene (before he was in The Monkees) to show her how to strum/pluck. After Burt heard what she could do, he wrote a song that she could accompany herself on. That's how she got to originate "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." Brava! Hmm…I've got to start traveling with my piano.

In the afternoon part of Wednesday, I did an invited run-thru of Andrea Martin's new comedy show called Andrea Martin: Final Days. Everything Must Go! It went great, and we're going to try out the show for the first time in Huntsville, Canada (!). One of my favorite moments is when Andrea tells the crowd about My Favorite Year and the song "Funny." She informs them that she played a comedy writer named Alice, and the ingénue of the show begs her to teach her how to be funny. Andrea then says to the audience, "I'd love to re-create this number, but to do so I need a truly, truly unfunny woman. (Pause). Seth?" And then we do it together. Hi-lar.

On Thursday, I filmed three videos for the new Obsessed series I do on Playbill.com. My long-time crush, Jonathan Groff, was frantically getting ready to leave for London to do Deathtrap, so he kept pushing back his filming time. Finally, he biked over at 5:45 in the crazy heat. I made a comment on the video that it's a heat wave outside, and he's normally not so sweaty. He then told me he is usually that sweaty. Silence Do I still want to move to London and marry him on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, yes, a million times yes.

Ok, amigos, I got here on Friday, James and Juli flew in Saturday and last night was the first show. It was Mariah Grandy, who can literally do anything with her voice. I can't take the versatility. Audra McDonald and Will Swenson are flying in today from Utah (!) where they were just starring in 110 in the Shade. I'm sure I'll be very comfortable wearing a bathing suit near Will. I definitely won't feel like I'm starring in an "L.A. Weight Loss" before/after commercial. And on that note, lunch is served. I'm heading for the Mexicana buffet! *

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.

Seth with Jill O'Hara
Seth with Jill O'Hara Photo by Robb Johnston
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