ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: A Disaster Takes the Stage and A Spot of Tea With Edward Hibbert

By Seth Rudetsky
22 Oct 2013

Michele Ragusa, John Treacy Egan, Charity Dawson, Haven Burton, Jonah Verdon and Jennifer Simard in Disaster!
Michele Ragusa, John Treacy Egan, Charity Dawson, Haven Burton, Jonah Verdon and Jennifer Simard in Disaster!
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

*

What a week! OK. Monday afternoon was our final tech rehearsal for Disaster! and by "final" I mean "only". It was the first time we had done the show with lights, sets, sound cues, the band and body mics. We actually got through the whole show, but we were constantly commenting about how crazy it was that were going to have a paying audience that night. Nonetheless, the audience showed up, I got into costume, put on my mic and suddenly the show began. Thankfully, it went great!

We were able to rehearse the next day and make changes so the next night was even better. However, there were a few mistakes each show that I found hilarious. First of all, Michele Ragusa plays Jackie and John Treacy Egan plays Tony DelVechhio, the owner of New York's first floating casino. I play Dr. Ted Scheider, noted disaster expert. When I was going over lines with James, he commented about both Tony and Ted begin with the same consonant. I told him that no one's ever had a problem with that. Cut to, the first night, I ran onstage in a rescue scene and Michele said, "Oh, Tony!" I paused and finally said, "I'm Ted." Thank you, James, for putting a hex on the show.

Then, during the Wednesday matinee, which are notoriously filled with older people, Mary Testa (who plays Shirley) was up to the part of the show where she shares an elevator ride with Jen Simard, who plays the nun. Mary pushed the emergency stop like she always does, turned towards the nun and told her, "I'm dying." One second later, a woman in the audience loudly said, "What???" Mary looked out and responded with, "I said I'm dying." Fourth wall? Anybody?



Speaking of Jennifer Simard, she not only plays the nun in Disaster!, she's also starring as Edna in Unbroken Circle. Totally different parts, but both in the same theatre! In Disaster! she's a gambling addict who lives in a convent and belts "Signed, Sealed, Delivered", and in Unbroken Circle she plays a liberal feminist who lives in Austin and returns to her childhood home in Galveston after 25 years. I took a picture of her before she went on in Disaster! and one before Unbroken Circle; both in the same spot in the dressing room. She has a lot of lines memorized!

Jennifer Simard as a feminist (left) and a nun (right)


Oct. 24 at Unbroken Circle I'll be leading a talk back with the audience after the 7 PM show and then Oct. 27 will be the final performance.

At the "Chatterbox," I had the very English Edward Hibbert. Oddly, for all of his highbrow Britishisms, it turns out, he was born in Kew Gardens, Queens! His dad was an actor and was brought to America to star in a Broadway musical opposite a British teenager making her Broadway debut. The show was The Boyfriend and the teen was Julie Andrews! After a few years, and before Edward started saying "fuggedaboutit", they moved back to Jolly Olde England and his rolled r's were firmly ensconced. He came to America in the '70's and a few years later, he was making his Broadway debut in Me and My Girl.

Edward Hibbert and Seth Rudetsky
 

He remembered one night in particular where there was a woman in the aisle in a wheelchair. She had bandages and various tubes connected to IV's and other medical accouterment. He was so moved seeing her that he told the cast they must all do the show that night just for her. It seemed like she was in the last vestiges of her life and obviously had very limited mobility, and he couldn't imagine the effort it took for her to get her wheelchair and various medical supplies to the theatre. When Act Two began, he again made eye contact with the wheelchair, but this time, that was the only remnant! The woman, whom he assumed could barely move, managed to leave the theatre but left her wheelchair behind! To this day, he has no idea what happened, who she was or if he hallucinated from an attack of delayed British jet lag.

Edward and I first worked together on Thoroughly Modern Millie. It was the very first reading and Amanda Naughton was Millie, Christine Ebersole was Muzzie and Edward was...Mrs. Meers! That's right, the Bea Lillie role was first performed by Edward in light drag. After that, Harriet Harris took over and eventually won the Tony Award. I then saw Edward in Noises Off, but he had done the show years before the Broadway revival. He remembers doing it once in Chicago and told us that the set looked like a backstage area with a prop payphone attached to a wall. One day, the real payphone backstage broke and the theatre sent for a telephone repairman. The repairman arrived during the show, wandered out onstage and began trying to fix the fake phone!

 Continued...