ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Having Faith in Prince and Celebrating the Genius of Gene Kelly
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
I'm now officially in my summer travel mode. Every week I'm going to Provincetown for the Broadway Series at the Art House, and this Thursday and Friday (July 26-27) I'll be with Faith Prince! Everybody knows she won the Tony Award for Adelaide in the '90s Guys and Dolls revival. But many people don't know the iconic role she almost created. Back in the '80s she auditioned for the original Little Shop of Horrors and got a callback for the role of Audrey. Finally, she got the phone call telling her she got the part! But…she was contracted to do a Coke industrial that happened to conflict with the show. P.S., If you don't know, industrials are shows that corporations put on for their workers. Usually, they feature big musical numbers with lyrics changed to be about the product. Hunter Bell and I did one for Rite-Aid in Baltimore where we touted "RAPTAR," an acronym that all Rite-Aid workers are supposed to remember. It stands for Recognition, Appreciation, Praise and Respect. Our industrial offered parodies of famous TV shows; the finale was based on "Everybody Loves Raymond" and was called "Everybody Loves RAPTAR." It featured Hunter (in a black wig) as Ray Romano and me (in full old lady drag) as Doris Roberts. Anybody? Decidedly nobody.
Regardless, Faith told the folks running the industrial that she got a leading role in a new musical, and would like to please be released from her contract. They told her no. She remembers she actually got down on her knees and begged…and they still said N-O! So, the role went to Ellen Greene and the rest, as they say, is her-story. But some interesting side notes: Faith has no bitterness about what happened. She told me that a little later she was at the Goodspeed Opera House doing a show and there was a big New York Times feature on Ellen as Audrey. People in the show were trying to hide it from her but Faith was totally at peace about it. She felt that the whole thing was meant to be and would work out for both of them. And Guys and Dolls is what was waiting for her! Faith thinks she wouldn't have gotten Adelaide if she had been known for playing Audrey because the roles are similar. And, on another side note, two of the stars of Guys and Dolls almost worked together before Jerry Zaks cast them. Yes, Faith almost played Audrey and, if Lee Wilkof hadn't played Seymour, the next choice was…Nathan Lane! Faith did wind up playing Audrey during the run and we'll do the famous duet from that show this week in Provincetown! Get tix at www.PtownArtHouse.com.
ME: Two shots, please.
On "Seth Speaks," I had Chris March and Jesse LeNoir who were past contestants on "Project Runway." Or, from what they told me, "Project Prison." When they got on the show, they had to sign a contract saying that the producers could portray them in a negative light as well as altering their image and/or alter their voice! Plus, the show owned their life story forever! Chris said the contestants worked non-stop and the only break they got was after a judging. I asked if he meant they got a day or two off. He said he meant they got an hour or two off! The judgings, where they stand on the runway, would last seven hours! And if one of the contestants argued, they'd go back and forth with the judges for at least an hour. That's why a lot of them would just agree with whatever criticism came their way. The contestants also had severely restricted access to the outside world. Jesse said that they only reason they knew Michael Jackson died was because they were in a car going through Times Square and saw it on the newsfeed. Chris has been asked by many people why he cried when Sarah Jessica Parker came on the show. He responds "Because I had gotten eight hours of sleep...in four days!"
Also on "Seth Speaks" was Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene Kelly's third wife and now the trustee of his estate. She tours around the country showing people his genius, screening clips of his films and sharing information about his artistic choices. This summer would be his 100th birthday and she's trying to show people how relevant he still is and what an innovator he was. I went to see her lecture/dem at Lincoln Center Friday night and it was amazing. Because Gene was such a wonderful performer people forget that he was also a brilliant choreographer and director. I always hear dancers speak of Jack Cole and Bob Fosse as geniuses of modern theatre dance, but Gene is rarely mentioned. However, when you watch his film clips, you see what a trailblazer he was in American dance. While Fred Astaire continued the European style of dance, Gene wanted to develop one that was distinctly American and athletic. I'm also obsessed with how so many of his big musical numbers were done with barely any camera cuts. In other words, he'd dance continually, like in a Broadway show. Speaking of innovating, look at his amazing roller-skating combined with tap dancing!
Patricia told us that when he filmed "On the Town" they were on location in New York and tried to avoid the mobs of fans eager for Frank Sinatra. Gene, Frank and Jules Munshin would travel to and from each locale (filming without a permit, by the way) and make Frank lay down in the back seat so he wasn't seen. It wasn't until they did the last section of "New York, New York" at Rockefeller Center that people figured out who was there and, if you watch the number, you can see an enormous crowd gathering above the three stars.
I did a show with Shoshana Bean last week and someone in the audience told her how he impressed he was that she didn't take one sip of water. She revealed that she challenges herself, hydration-wise, at every show because a while back someone told her how cool it was that she sang five songs in a row without water. Now, she tries to see if she can go a whole show without water. I don't exactly understand why she needs to build that stamina, unless she's preparing herself for The Mojave Circuit.
I recently heard from my agents about two auditions. The first was for a Sandra Bullock film. Yay! I then found out my character was in one scene and was named "Choking Victim." Even though I wanted to do it just to see what the audition would consist of, I passed. Then I was asked to audition for a Martin Scorsese film. I said yes! I was also told it was starring Leonardo Decaprio. I reiterated yes! Then I was told there was an orgy and nude scene. Silence. I read the script and decided the nudity was "tasteful"…and went in! The film takes place during the '80s Wall Street boom and I was auditioning for the role of a butler to a big financier. I decided to wear my red button down shirt that I love to wear because it's so comfy and I think it looks great on me. Well, I did the audition (no nudity…yet) and the casting director was very nice. And, at the end of the audition she complimented my shirt. Yay! However, she should have stopped after the first sentence. This was the conversation:
HER: I love your shirt!
Tonight (July 23) I'm yet again hosting and music directing the New York Civil Liberties Union benefit at the Skirball Center. It's chock-full of Broadway folk and you can get tickets at NYCLU.org/Bway. And on that note, 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.)
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