ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Audra McDonald's Bad Hair Day, Frances Ruffelle's Solo Show and Molly Ringwald as an Annie Orphan

By Seth Rudetsky
20 May 2013

Audra and daughter Zoe
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Audra and I also chatted about Ragtime and (another spoiler alert) the end of Act One when Sarah is killed. Audra would fall to the ground and then cast members would lift her up above their heads and carry her off. Well, one night when they lifted her, her wig got caught in the button of somebody's costume. And then it fell off. She was carried off with just a wig cap on. Audra said people were like, "Poor Sarah. She's dead. And she wore a wig!" Right after she was carried off every night, she'd have to immediately get in the coffin for the funeral song.

If you don't know, sometimes when a show is having a long run, practical jokes start to be played. Audra said that she'd often get into the coffin only to find out that she was laying on somebody's beeper (remember, this was late 1990's). During the long Act One finale, someone in the cast would arrange for one of the understudies to stand backstage and call the beeper. Her imitation of trying to play dead while something is vibrating non-stop underneath her was hi-larious.

We spoke a little about the Sondheim Porgy and Bess flap but I will go into more details with her this summer when we perform our show at the Art House. One of the things she mentioned about that show was her daughter's response after seeing it in Boston. She was so excited for Zoe to see it…although she forgot she played a cocaine-addicted prostitute. Afterwards, she asked Zoe what she thought and Zoe said it was awkward. Why? "Well, Mom...you did some awkward things." Audra then asked Zoe if she wanted to see the show when it came to Broadway, and before she finished the sentence, Zoe quickly and simply said, "No.”

Speaking of children, I had Frances Ruffelle on Seth's Broadway Chatterbox and she said that she left the Broadway production of Les Misérables because she got pregnant. Her daughter is now a British pop star (Eliza Doolittle)! Frances didn't expect to play Eponine in America because she wasn't one of the British cast members offered a transfer. But on a Saturday, Cameron Mackintosh called and told her they couldn't find a Broadway Eponine and asked if she could fly to the USA on Monday to start rehearsal. However, there were some important people coming to the West End production a week later so she had to rehearse in America for a week and then play it in London a week later.

I asked her where she liked playing it better and she said here in America. Why? "Because people liked me on Broadway." If you don't know, the London reviews for Les Misérables were terrible and Frances didn't get any accolades. (Patti LuPone won the Olivier for playing Fantine.) However, when she did the New York production, she won the Tony Award! Here she is in 1986.  Continued...