ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Remembering My High School Musical and A Surprise Birthday Cabaret

By Seth Rudetsky
17 Mar 2014

So, my sister Beth (who's doing group sales for Disaster!) called up the school to offer them a group rate and, last Thursday, we had 90 people from Hewlett High School come to the show! And around 75 of them were kids. After the show, the whole cast did a talk back. It was so great! It reminded me of when I was president of ITS (The International Thespain Society) and we all took a trip into NYC to see Torch Song Trilogy. That happened the same night that Barbara Baekgaard came to the show.

Here's that story: A few weeks ago, I got an email from someone asking me if I'd entertain at her Mom's birthday party. Her Mom (Barbara Baekgaard) was in her 40's back in the early 80's when she scrounged together $500 and started a bag company with her friend. The company was named after Barbara's mother... Vera Bradley! That's right, the founder of Vera Bradley (they make those realy colorful/flowery bags) was turning 75 and her daughter asked me to come up with a fun evening for her because Barbara is a huge fan. Here's what we did: Vera Bradley is a family-run company so her kids surprised Barbara by getting all of them tickets to Disaster! on the night of Barbara's birthday. She wanted to meet me afterwards, but her daughter told her that I couldn't meet her because of the talk back with my high school. They all went home, we did the talk back and then the cast all went uptown... to 15 Central Park West! Yes, she lives in the same building as Denzel, Sting and other people refered to by one name. We gathered in the lobby and then took up the elevator. I rang the doorbell and her daughter let us in. I heard Barbara say, "Is that Debbie?" and as she walked over, she saw the whole cast.

David Hibbard and Barbara Baekgaard

She got so excited! And so did we! Not only is she super nice, but the views of Central Park are amazing! Soon, her family and friends settled down into her living room, and the cast put on a variety show for her. One of the most amazing parts featured David Hibbard, who plays Tony DelVecchio in Disaster! He spent many years in Cats playing the Rum Tum Tugger. When he first got the part, it took him 45 minutes to put on the signature make-up. At Barbara's apartment, he sang the Tugger song and, in the amount of time it took for the song to end (around three minutes), he applied all of his Tugger makeup. It was amazing!

Before the show began, Barbara told me that she spent many years hanging out at Marie's Crisis in the Village, and her one request to us was that we do "Suddenly Seymour." Turns out, I had planned to do that anyway. Phew! For the final number, I introduced Jennifer Simard and told everyone that I knew she'd be amazing as the Nun in Disaster! because she's been consistently hilarious in every show I've seen her do and I knew she could belt the mega-high notes in "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" because we've sung "Suddenly Seymour" at many hospital volunteer shows, and she always ends with a crazily high belted A! They wound up filming us at the party and here's the final with me and Jen (and her high A). 

Seth with Judy Gold and Howard McGillin

Last week, I was in Ft. Lauderdale with Patti LuPone doing our show, and then a few days later, we hit the Poconos. Since it was so close, I drove down with my Mom and she was able to see me and Patti together for the first time. It's been a few years (33 to be exact), but I've forgiven my Mom for waiting to get Evita tickets for me until after Patti had left. Yes, she got me tickets just in time to see Patti's replacement's... matinee cover. Yay? Anyhoo, my Mom loved the show (but still hasn't apologized). And, speaking of Patti, Howard McGillin, her co-star from Anything Goes came to see Disaster! last week and posed with me and Judy Gold (who plays Shirley). I have never looked shorter. Then he made a fantastic Obsessed video featuring his big song from Drood! Watch it and peace out!

(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.)