ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth's Adventures With Marissa Jaret Winokur, Debbie Reynolds and Megan Mullally

By Seth Rudetsky
April 8, 2013

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



Hello from the Big Easy! No, that's not my nickname from when I was in my 20s–I'm, of course, talking about New Orleans. Even though I'm planning on having a fattening breakfast at 11 AM today, I've already started the day with a large coffee with tons of sugar, half and half, and a super-sized croissant. I felt I had to ladle on the calorically dense meal because I don't want to look like a tourist. Anyhoo, I'm here for two shows with Megan Mullally as part of the Broadway at NOCCA series that I do once a month. The final two ladies who'll be joining me in the series are Audra McDonald next month and Megan Hilty in June. Delish!

Before I get to breakfast, however, I shall write a recap about this first week of April 2013. On Thursday I arrived early to my weekly talk show, Chatterbox, and was standing outside Don't Tell Mama chatting on the phone, when some girl approached me that I vaguely recognized, but couldn't place. I said, "Hi!" and kept chatting, but she kept lurking for a bit and eventually walked inside. "I've had it with stalkers," I thought! She, however, was busy tweeting, "Seth Rudetsky booked me on his Chatterbox and then totally ignored me." That's right, it was Marissa Jaret Winokur! I literally did not recognize her. Not only did she straighten her hair, but she also had the nerve to lose 70 pounds while I'm struggling to lose five. The chutzpah! Apparently you have to eat less and exercise–count me out.

We had such a fun time at the show, where I showed the Gypsy of the Year video we had done back in 1997, based on an idea we thought up together. I changed the lyrics to "Come Look At The Freaks" from Side Show to be about all the different stars--television, recording, Olympic–that came into Grease for incredibly short stays. The stage for Gypsy of the Year was filled with actors dressed as the celebs, wearing their names around their necks--Donny Most, Joe Piscopo, Dominique Dawes, Debby Boone, Mackenzie Phillips, Maureen McCormick, and at the end we had the real Linda Blair! The lyrics began with:

Come look at the freaks
Perform for two weeks
Casting choices will mystify you, they'll terrify you
You'll slap your cheeks.
On Broadway it reeks.
Come look at the freaks!

Later in the song we had two girls step forward that looked like Daisy and Violet Hilton, and instead of singing "I'm Daisy, I'm Violet, we're nothing alike!" They sang:

I'm profit
I'm artistic integrity.
We're nothing alike!

Marissa Jaret Winokur

P.S., speaking of writing lyrics, I just finished writing the opening number for the upcoming Easter Bonnet Competition! Michael Graziano from Broadway Cares wrote a version of "It's Today" and asked me to sass it up. I was crazily overwhelmed and put it off for weeks, right up until I realized I had to do it or someone else would. I wrote the whole thing in an hour. Chris Gattelli and I used to put together all the Easter Bonnet opening numbers for years, until we began to have too many conflicts and we both had to stop. I'm so, so happy to do it again! Go get tickets at BroadwayCares.org to see it on April 22 and 23, and yes, we know that it's many weeks past Easter. Believe me, that will be addressed in the opening number.

Anyhoo, back to Marissa. We were talking about her time starring in Hairspray and the crazy pressure she was under. One producer flat out told her, "You have a $10,000,000 musical riding on you!" Yay! That relaxed her. The flip side of that pressure was how much fun it was to do the show and how crazily popular it was. She told us that one day her agent called and said, "I know you won't want to do this, but I need to tell you that you were offered [a ton of money] to sing three songs at a boy's bar mitzvah." Marissa said to him that if she ever turned down that kind of money, he should fire her as a client. She gave an emphatic yes, but told him that she didn't have three Hairspray songs to sing. Only "Good Morning Baltimore" and "I Can Hear The Bells," so she offered Matt Morrison some money to come with her and sing "You Can't Stop the Beat," "Without Love" and a couple of random things like "Summer Nights." She said she made so much money that she bought her parents a house! Of course, now she thinks it's hilarious that Matt is so famous, because the bar mitzvah boy probably shows everyone pictures of his party and says, "I had Matt Morrison from 'Glee' at my bar mitzvah! Look!" Followed with, "He was singing with some girl!" P.S., you can watch the entire Chatterbox at SethTV.com. Just $5 a month! Much less than what Marissa was paid for that bar mitzvah.

Marissa's most recent television show was "Retired at 35," where she played George Segal and Jessica Walter's daughter. She said that when people asked if it was renewed she responds, "Put it this way; my mother would forget to watch it." She claims she'd post a cute picture of her son on Facebook and get a plethora of comments and 300 "likes" on Facebook, then she'd post "Watch ‘Retired at 35' tonight" and receive crickets. Literally nary a comment or like.

Seth and James with Debbie Reynolds

Speaking of "likes," I lo-o-o-o-ove the film "Singin' in the Rain" and I was so excited this week because I interviewed Debbie Reynolds! I asked her to verify a crazy story I had heard about Irene, her big Broadway vehicle from the '70s, and she told me that it was indeed true. When she was in rehearsal with director and choreographer Gower Champion, he told her that the producers wouldn't give the show an extra two days of rehearsal to perfect some dance routines with the cast. Debbie wanted Gower to have that time, so she told him she was going to pretend to knock herself out. He had no idea what she meant so she spelled it out; she told him to ask her to "practice the new forward roll he had added" (a lie), and then she'd do a flip towards the pit and land on the stage with a fake injury. Sure enough, he called the cast onstage, asked Debbie to try the new flip and right after she did it, she lay on the stage "unconscious." They rushed her to the hospital and when Gower knelt down super-close to her unconscious face, she gave him a very quick wink. The producers had to postpone the first preview by two days, which gave Gower the time he needed. And the show was a hit!

Back to last week. I forgot to write about one of the things that happened during The Daring Duo. The theatre we performed in was so small so we could hear any noise the audience made–during one show, I heard someone panting non-stop. Literally pant, pant, pant, pant the whole time. I didn't look in the direction of the sound, deciding that I didn't want to see what someone who got winded from sitting looked like. Then I heard non-stop bracelet jangling from the same direction. Again, I ignored. After the show, I was chatting with Julia Murney, who was sitting in that area and she told me that the jangling bracelets were actually the sound of a small bag adorned with chains that a woman had on her lap and the panting I heard was actually being emitted from what was inside the bag–a doggie! That's right, a woman came with a small service dog. And the dog watched all of The Daring Duo. Apparently he loved it.

Seth and Megan

My show in New Orleans with Megan Mullally was so much fun. She talked about going to Broadway shows in the '70s, and how she saw Equus when she was 16. No one had informed her that at the end of the show the lead, Peter Firth at the time, would get naked and run around the stage. It was Megan's first time ever seeing a you-know-what! She said it was bouncing non-stop and actually doing circles. Well, when Megan saw "it" and its various positions, she started laughing hysterically. And who joined her? Her mother. Literally laughing non-stop, throughout the entire denouement of the play. Megan is now mortified that she ruined the show for the audience that night but, as she told the people in New Orleans, "It was my first time seeing a penis." Pause. "And my last."

Megan and I were also talking about guest stars on "Will and Grace," and she said that Joan Collins came on and was fabulous. She was supposed to come back and be Megan's big rival but right before the read-through, a producer came in and said, "Joan's agent wants too much. She is out!" They had to find someone quickly to take the place of Joan Collins and it was… Leslie Jordan! That's how the character of Beverly Leslie became Megan's recurring rival!

All right, I'm on my way to rehearse for a big, fancy-shmancy gala saluting Marty Richards tonight. I'm co-hosting and playing the piano for so many big Broadway stars that were involved in his many Broadway shows (Chicago, Sweeney Todd, On the Twentieth Century, the Oscar-winning Chicago film and more!). I'm also gearing up for my Milwaukee shows next week. The theatre just emailed me and said if you use the code EQUALITY when you get tickets, a portion goes to Equality Wisconsin to help get marriage equality in the cheese state! To find out more about it, visit marcuscenter.org. 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.)