ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Pitching In After the Hurricane, Plus Annie, Drood and Lizz Winstead
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
I feel like I'm living in A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I live on the Upper West Side and was not affected at all by Hurricane Sandy. Yet, there are so many areas nearby that were devastated. It's so eerie to be in a city where a few miles means the difference between keeping the status quo or the complete loss of electricity and possessions. James, Juli and I are taking a cue from Jen Cody and Hunter Foster who have been going out to Staten Island and helping out every day. We're going to haul ourselves over there on Election Day since Juli's off from school and it will be a welcome distraction from the stress of the election.
There are so many ways to help if you want! For instance, some great people from In the Heights started their own relief group for specific folks they know that were hit hard by the storm. You can donate here.
Just on a side note, please don't be impressed that I quoted A Tale of Two Cities. It's one of the three assigned reading books I actually read in high school. I love reading so much, and I read constantly, but all the books assigned in school were always snoozefests. However, I lo-o-o-o-oved A Tale of Two Cities. Such a great plot and amazing ending! All of the other assigned books I "read" by using the Cliff Notes (officially called "Cliffs Notes," my editor admonishes, but no one ever used the plural). If you don't know, they were small booklets that give you a synopsis of the plot plus lots of info to talk about in class. As a matter of fact, Cliff Notes helped solidify my hate-filled relationship with my AP English teacher: When I went in for my private meeting with her to discuss my first term paper (on The Three Sisters by Chekhov), every plot point she brought up was met with a blank face by me (I had just bought the Cliff Notes but hadn't gotten around to reading them yet). On the way out of the meeting, my Cliff Notes literally fell out of my notebook and landed at her feet. Suffice it to say, from then on our relationship consisted of moments such as her wagging her finger at me and intoning, "They warned me not to put you in this class!," and me responding, casually, "Well, now you've learned your lesson." Hence my college major: Piano performance. (By the way, Cliffs Notes are now online! Easy access to academic cheating! Visit cliffsnotes.com.)
This week I did an Election Day special edition of "Seth Speaks" on SiriusXM with Lizz Winstead who co-created "The Daily Show." First the name. I busted her on the idiotic spelling and she told me it was because of her sorority in college. There were five Lizzes (!) so each one had to be different. Since there was already a Liz W she became Lizz with two Z's. (The sequel to Liza with a Z?) Lizz started out as a stand-up but didn't get political 'til the early '90s. She actually remembers the exact moment when it happened. Lizz told me that she was on a blind date with guy, and she immediately knew that he was a moron because when she suggested they see a movie at the Film Forum he asked, sounding devastated, "Isn't that in black and white?" Despite her misgivings, they saw the film but she passively/aggressively got back at him by eating popcorn and then, with her greasy fingers, touching the sleeve of his satin Yankees jacket. Because she felt guilty about that, she agreed to go with him to a bar after the film. When they walked in, the TV was tuned to the news. The Gulf War had just begun and she remembers that the screen was full of graphics, green lights and people standing on roofs reporting on the war. She felt the war wasn't being reported, it was being sold. Her date stared at the footage and said, "This is awesome!" She thought, "If he's watching and thinking that, how many other people are?" She then decided she wanted to focus on how the media gets news to us and it became part of her act. She worked for a little on Jon Stewart's talk show, and after it was cancelled, she was brought into Comedy Central to help think of a new one for him. The idea of a show about the news came up and she told them that it should be like an actual news show: theme music, graphics, fake correspondents, field reporters, etc. Comedy Central agreed, and Lizz said they were able to hire people who had worked for years on actual TV news show so they knew exactly how to do it to make it look real — how to light it, what kind of music to play. It was so interesting for me to hear about the formation of the show because when I see a finished product that's great (like a brilliant Broadway musical), a part of me thinks that's the only way it could have been. I forget about the years of workshopping and non-stop making changes during previews, etc.
I just saw Annie, and as I watched it I thought about the development of that particular musical. At first, the concept was for Annie to be played by…Bernadette Peters! They would have had an adult Annie. Also, the show could have been an adventure about the Little Orphan Annie we all know from the comics, but instead it was about how she became the Little Orphan Annie we all know from the comics. P.S., there's so much talent on that stage! Special shout-out to Anthony Warlow who took a role I never really like (I spent my childhood constantly picking up the needle whenever "Something Was Missing" began to play) and not only sounded great, but added some great laughs!
Of course, I always love Katie Finneran in anything, but my experience was clouded by the knowledge that someone in my generation is playing Miss Hannigan! I still think of myself as a Tessie...possibly a Duffy. I can't believe my peers (and I) have graduated to the adult roles I knew as a child. And, speaking of children, Lilla Crawford (who plays Annie) is great. Great actress, smoky Andrea McArdle-esque speaking voice and delish vibrato. She was "swung out" of the show last week (they put her understudy on to give Lilla a rest) and wound up coming to the taping of "Seth Speaks" because she and her mom are fans! She's adorable. We took a photo together where I show my pretend anger (not really pretend) that she gets to play Annie and I don't!
James, Juli and I also saw The Mystery of Edwin Drood and we had a great time. That cast is so talented and funny! I did a Playbill "Obsessed!" video with Stephanie J. Block where we discuss the amazing song "The Writing on the Wall" and the whole thing ends with her belting and tap dancing. Watch!
On Saturday we saw a great production of the operetta The Medium starring Jeffrey Roberson (a.k.a. Varla Jean Merman). He plays the title role (which was written for a woman) and sings the whole thing in the correct keys! Except for one song, which was taken down a step. The introduction for the song is two notes descending…and they added one more note to take the key down. Jeff said that at one performance the first two notes played, then the third one played, which indicated the song was being lowered. As soon as the third note played, he heard a loud guffaw from the audience. Devastating. Then he had to sing. The Medium is running in rep with Well-Strung, the singing string quartet. They play classical music and pop music and sing harmonies. I just did an "Obsessed!" video with them, too. Watch!
On the home front, I've been getting so many nice congratulations from people for my marriage.
Will Swenson sent me this text: Wanted to send you and James a huge congrats. So f-ing great. Old, married theater nerds rock!
I responded: Very sweet! What the f is with the "old"?
He wrote back: Apologies. I turn 40 this week so I'm slight age-paranoid at the moment. Then, he added, Also…we're old.
Tonight (Monday), I'm performing on Broadway in a benefit for Only Make Believe, a great charity that brings theatre to hospitalized kids. It's honoring Sir Ian McKellen and being hosted by Chris Meloni. Tix at OnlyMakeBelieve.org. And this Friday I fly to L.A. to do Seth's Big Fat Broadway at the Rose Center in Orange County. Tix are here. Then, Dec. 1, I'm in Louisville. Tix are here. Then, on Dec. 3-4, I host Gypsy of the Year and on Dec. 5 I leave for the Playbill Broadway On the High Seas 2 cruise! And speaking of leaving, 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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