ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Cruising With Lewis Black, Jason Danieley, Christine Ebersole, Marin Mazzie and Sherie Rene Scott
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
And now, farewell, Playbill Broadway on the High Seas cruise! I'm writing this on the balcony of cabin 890 and looking at the water off of Rio De Janeiro. All in all, the cruise was a big, fat success!
We were on the Regent Mariner and it consisted of 800 people taking a Brazilian-coast cruise and around 300 people taking the same cruise — but also part of the Playbill group, which meant special onboard events and performances throughout the 10-day experience. On the first night, Phil Birsh (the President and Publisher of Playbill) introduced me and all of the Broadway performers (Christine Ebersole, Marin Mazzie, Jason Danieley and Sherie Rene Scott) and I soon noticed that everyone standing next to me was blonde. As a matter of fact, Marin took the mic and told the room that when she was doing Next to Normal a man sent her a letter telling her that he was a major fan and had seen her in everything. He asked her if she would kindly sign the enclosed photo. Marin took out the picture… and it was a headshot of Sherie! I wasn't surprised because they really do look alike. I actually wound up calling Marin "Sherie" at one point, and briefly considered a revival of Side Show.
Speaking of Sherie, she was the first Playbill entertainer to perform and her show was a brava. She wrote it specifically for the cruise and it had her signature humor. She began by greeting the audience with: "Hi, I'm Sherie Rene Scott and I'm not ashamed to say I'm a proud, 39-year-old woman. I'm not ashamed to say it because it's not true." The whole show had lots of standards like "Old Black Magic" and "Since I Fell For You," but she ended with a four-song Brazilian medley including "How Insensitive" (one of my faves) and "I Go To Rio" ('natch). She started off by telling everyone that she's a fun-loving, single woman. She followed it with "I can't wait to tell my husband I'm single. I became single as soon as I set foot on the boat." She then explained that she brought along her mom (Esther) or as she called her, "Eagle-eyed Esther." Esther supposedly was there to keep Sherie out of trouble. Sherie claimed that as soon as she walked into the plane's luxurious business class she wanted to start partying "but Ol' Eagle Eye was glaring at me...from coach."
Sherie was my first guest in an onboard Chatterbox event. When I mentioned her Broadway debut in Tommy, she remembered that she had 11 auditions for the show! By the end, Pete Townshend told his driver he was considering a couple of girls to play Sally Simpson and the driver mentioned Sherie, shrugged and said, "I'd do her." So, Sherie said her Broadway debut was not because a rock legend chose her, but because the rock legend's driver wanted thought she was attractive.
I also did a show where I deconstructed my favorite video clips. The biggest ovation came when I showed my Chatterbox excerpt about Leslie Uggams famously flubbing "June Is Bustin' Out All Over," and then followed it with the hilarious transcription of what Leslie is saying.
Then I did a Chatterbox with Christine Ebersole. Or, as she is now always introduced, "two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole." She said that once you win a Tony, it's always part of your intro…like "Dr." She recently finished filming "The Wolf of Wall Street," in which she plays Leonardo DiCaprio's mother. She got the script and told her agent, "I have no lines." He told her not to worry and, sure enough, every time she went to film a scene, Martin Scorsese (the director) would tell her to make something up like "Tell the bride you're happy for her wedding," etc. It was the same way "Tootsie" was filmed: Years ago, she auditioned for the film by meeting Dustin Hoffman at a hotel and hanging out with him. He then invited her to a screening of himself in drag. He wanted to see what he'd look like as a woman so he hired the make-up artist from "Little Big Man" (who eventually wound up not doing "Tootsie") and asked him to make him into a believable-looking lady. Well, on the day that Christine met Dustin he had just been nominated for an Oscar for "Kramer Vs. Kramer," and he was on his way to England to meet the Queen. As he and Christine were watching the filmed footage of him in drag, he began to moan and say, "Who am I kidding? I can't do this! Forget it!" and Christine felt compelled to encourage him. Or as she says, "There I was, a young girl from the Midwest sitting next to Dustin Hoffman… who had just been nominated for an Oscar and was on his way to meet the Queen… and I'm grabbing his hand and saying 'Stop it, Dustin! You've got to do this!'"
A year or so later, she was offered a scene in "Tootsie." Her agent told her it was too small to take but she told him it was her first film and she was taking it! For the scene, the director simply told Dustin and Christine what the plot moment was, and then they improvised the entire scene! P.S., don't people write scripts in Hollywood anymore?
In Christine's solo show she started with "Welcome to the Theater," which I saw her sing when she played Margo Channing in Applause for Encores! at City Center. She then did standards like "Right as the Rain" and an amazing coloratura version of "Beyond the Blue Horizon." She did a thrilling version of "Around the World" that made the Grey Gardens fans in the audience go crazy. I'm obsessed with that song and here's proof, in a Deconstruction video. Before her encore, she played a recording of herself at three-years-old singing "Jingle Bells." Totally on pitch! She then made a joke by saying, "And that was recorded 75 years ago!" After her performance, an older woman walked up to her and said, "Wow. You look great for 78." That's right. And, I recalled that at one point during the show, Christine mentioned that her mom is 95 years old. Everyone applauded and she added, "But the real miracle is that she gave birth to me at 60!" I told Christine that she had made two jokes about her age, but the age the woman chose to believe was 78. Christine shrugged and said, "Well, whichever one's more realistic."
P.S., Christine and her amazing voice will be at Feinstein's at the Loews Regency (with Michael Feinstein) for the rest of this month. Go see her!
Lewis Black was also onboard and did a great evening of comedy. One of my favorite lines happened when he was raging about all the television options we now have but how every show still sucks. He talked about a fishing show featuring bass, and said, with an amazing line reading, "If you…are watching a show about bass fishing…then you….have had a stroke." I thought it was hilarious!
A few nights after Marin and Jason's show, we had a little get-together for all the Playbill passengers and I asked them to call out names of their fave Broadway stars and I'd tell stories I've learned about them from years of interviews. When someone yelled out "Idina Menzel" I told them what she told me about being a Long Island girl surrounded by Long Island accents: it wasn't until she an adult that she realized heavy traffic wasn't called "Bumpita Bumpa" traffic. She thought it was some sassy percussive name not "Bumper to bumper traffic."
Marin ended the week with the act she recently did at 54 Below and it was so fun. It featured great pop songs from the '60s and '70s like "That's the Way I've Always Heard it Should Be," "Weekend in New England" and "Evergreen" (really!). Then, she came out for the encore, which she admitted had nothing to do with the show. She said that she had had many requests for "Back to Before" so she would sing but she had to take off her high heels. "This is not because my feet are ki-i-i-i-illing me right now. It is because I'm a method actress and in Ragtime I sang this song barefoot." (Hm…she also played Mother while dressed a full 1918 bustle but I didn't notice her haul that out!) Speaking of bustles, Lewis Black said that he's going to start marketing male spanx because his goal on the cruise was to eat 100,000 calories. Suffice it to say, I reached that goal the third day.
If you're in NYC this week, Joanna Gleason is at the Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama this Thursday at 5 PM (SethTV.com for details)! And Monday (tonight) I'm doing a benefit for the Flat Rock Playhouse with Richard Kind, Lauren Kennedy and Leslie Odom Jr. (Details here.) All right, I'm getting ready to catch my flight from Rio to NYC. Hopefully, after I land in JFK, the drive back to Manhattan won't be "bumpita-bumpa." 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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