ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Gypsy of the Year, Maltby & Shire, and the Launch of Playbill's Broadway On the High Seas Cruise

By Seth Rudetsky
10 Dec 2012

Seth at Gypsy of the Year
Photo by Monica Simoes

The week began with Gypsy of the Year Dec. 3-4, which I hosted for the fifth time. As usual, it was so much fun! And, also as usual, I made my signature wrong entrance. I did my opening which went great and then ran out after the first act to do my whole bit about the song "Tomorrow." I gave the set-up and turned back to the piano to play a little and was surprised to see that the piano wasn't there. I was confused for a moment 'til I heard the announcer's voice tell me (and the entire audience) I wasn't supposed to be onstage. I promptly ran offstage. I was mortified, but not as much as last year when I made my wrong entrance right before the Moment of Silence! That's right, in 2011 the most solemn moment of the show (which features Judith Light making an incredibly moving speech) began with me bounding out, landing a few zingers, looking offstage and seeing Judith Light prepared to make her entrance and then slinking offstage. The good news is, the "Tomorrow" section (which I then did at the correct time) wound up being amazing! I came out and described my childhood obsession with Dynamite magazine. If you're not familiar, it was sort of People magazine for 'tweens. I got a pen pal through Dynamite. Her name was Debbi. After she wrote me, I thought, "Why should I write her back a plain ol' letter when instead I can make her a 45-minute tape of myself playing the piano and singing." I started by recording the Haydn minor sonata (I had just won a talent contest with that song) and then I counteracted my classical chops by funking out and playing and singing Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing." I followed it with the hit love song of the day ("Nobody Does It Better") and then closed with my audition song from that year which was, 'natch, "Tomorrow."

Andrea McArdle and Lilla Crawford sing "Tomorrow."
photo by Monica Simoes

After I recorded everything I had a listen and decided that the tape was "too good to send." I held onto it. I then listened to it again 20 years later. Turns out, it wasn't so good. I told the audience I had the tape digitally transferred and brought to Gypsy of the Year. I informed them I was going to play eight measures from "Tomorrow" and within them there would be many lessons to be gleaned…on how not to sing a song. Suffice it to say, one of the horrific things I added to the song to "make it my own" was a blue note. That's right, I fancied myself a young Ella Fitzgerald so I added a jazzy blue note to "Tomorrow"…the whitest song in the world. I played the recording for everyone and the audience was duly horrified and then, from stage right, Lilla Crawford (the current Annie) came onstage with her hands over her ears. Of course, the audience loved it. And when her hands were removed, I asked her to "cleanse the palate." Lilla sang the refrain and I then asked her to "jazz it up." Lilla sang it again but this time, she added my signature blue note. Hilarious/devastating. Then, Lilla turned to me and said, "Seth, let's kick it old school!" I asked her what she meant and she said, "I think you know what I mean!" She pointed stage right and out came Andrea McArdle! The audience again went crazy and Andrea started the song from the bridge (sounding amazing). When she got to the last refrain, she and Lilla sang it together and on the last note, Andrea reached around and guided Lilla's left arm up in the classic Annie slow-arm raise. It was so fantastic. Of course, afterwards I had tears in my eyes because I would have passed out as a kid if I knew that one day I'd be playing piano on Broadway for two different Annies…especially Andrea, who I never got to see. (If you don't know, my mom was notorious for getting me tickets to all the shows I loved…right after the original cast had left. Why see Patti LuPone in Evita, when you can wait a year and see the replacement's matinee cover? Still in a rage.)