ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Seth's Easter Bonnet Antics With Ann Harada, Tom Hanks and More
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Last week began with the 23rd Easter Bonnet Competition and it was so much fun. I wrote the lyrics to the opening number and had a little cameo in the middle. The jokes at first focused on the fact that the show is called the Easter Bonnet Competition, yet Easter was weeks ago. One of the dancers asked, "What about Passover?" and another one waves her away with, "Passover, Shamshover!" and then one of the dancers asks in a panic, "'Smash' is over???" At that point, I wrote that Ann Harada (who plays the stage manager on "Smash" should run across the stage and yell, "No-o-o-o-o-o!" She did it as written but added her own line: "It's on Saturdays!" You can watch the whole number here.
Before the show, Ann and I were backstage and Andrea Martin came out of the elevator. I introduced Andrea to Ann, not realizing they'd known each other for years. Then I introduced Andrea to one of the stage managers, not realizing she'd worked with him for the entire run of one of her Broadway shows. Ann looked at me and said "Next, you're going to introduce her to Martin Short." Brava (again) Ann! (If you don't know, Andrea and Martin did Godspell together in 1972 and have been best buddies since.)
Speaking of Martin Short, I saw him and fellow Godspell alum Victor Garber at the Pippin opening night party. Andrea had so many of her good friends there including Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman! I was shocked to see them because I know their new musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is about to start previews in London. They told me they were "playing hooky" for two days because two of their closest friends were opening on Broadway: Andrea in Pippin and Bette Midler in I'll Eat You Last. It was 10:30 PM when we chatted and they were mortified they had to be up to take a car to the airport the next day at 5:30 AM! They told me that a few boys rotate the role of Charlie because of British labor laws but they think that just one will play him on Broadway. I'm not volunteering per se, but let me just put out there that I love candy...
Back to Easter Bonnet. There were so many great moments, especially Jen Cody as Little Sally and Don Richard as Officer Lockstock. Even though Urinetown closed years ago, they make an appearance every year to roast Broadway. One of my favorite lines referenced Doris Eaton Travis, who was the last living Zigfield Girl. She passed away last year at the age of 106. Officer Lockstock looked wistful and said "If Doris Eaton Travis were alive today…" and Little Sally cut in with "…she'd be the youngest person in Chicago." Hilarious!
At the end of the show, Tom Hanks, Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper came out to announce the winners and how much money had been raised. Cyndi still talks like she hasn't left the heart of Brooklyn, and at one point she looked at Harvey and said, "You see? I ain't that dumb!" He nodded and commented, "You're right! It's just the accent." I love that he busted her! I must ask, how is she able to sing completely accentless, yet insists on speaking like she's at a final call-back for Audrey in Little Shop? Anybody? Not since Jim Nabors.
Lucky Guy is Tom Hanks' first Broadway show and this was his first appearance at Easter Bonnet. He was so funny talking about how people on Broadway are so assumptive. "We began rehearsals January 10. By January 11, everyone started asking me, ‘So, are you going to be at Easter Bonnet?'… like I'm supposed to know what the f--- that is!" He also said he was suffering from a cold and added, "You know what people on Broadway do when they have a cold?" (pause) "Eight shows a week!"
As I mentioned, I got to see the opening night of Pippin! Andrea Martin gave tickets to James and me, and it was thrilling to be there. First of all, I was so blown away that I was sitting in the audience watching Andrea Martin, someone who was one of my all-time comedy idols when I was a kid – who I'm now friends with (!) – stop the show! And when I say "stop the show," I actually mean it. Her song got a full-house standing ovation! In the middle of Act One! How rare is that? I wasn't the only one who was amazed; on the way to the opening night party, we ran into the lovely Jane Krakowski who also couldn't believe how amazing Andrea's number was, and how shocking it was to get a "standing O" before the bows.
Afterwards, Jane and I were chatting by the Minskoff Theatre, and I mentioned that I had auditions at the Minskoff rehearsal studios when I was a kid. Jane said she did, too. Soon, we began to realize what similar childhoods we both had, growing up in the ‘70s as theatre kids. The only difference was when Jane would audition for a show in New York, she'd actually get it. I, instead, would have to endure the depressing ride home with my Dad, stopping only for Blimpie's.
Jane even got to perform in the Miliken Breakfast Show, which, if you don't know, was a full-out variety show put on for clothing buyers and fabric/garment manufacturers. The budget for one of their shows (in the ‘70s) was $2.5 million! That's more than the budget for three Broadway shows combined! They featured the biggest Broadway stars of the day (Chita Rivera, Dorothy Loudon, Donna McKechnie) and were directed by Michael Bennett (and later, Graciela Daniele).
Jane, who was cast at age 12, was called a "Milli-kiddie." She said she had a low, raspy voice that people thought was hilarious, so she always got to do a lot of dialogue. She also tapped up a storm with stars like Donald O'Connor. She said the show began at 8 AM, which was horrifyingly early for the cast because most of them were doing Broadway shows at night. One year, the big star was Ginger Rogers, and she'd start her warm-up at 6 AM! I haven't been up that early since I had Drivers Ed before first period.
Jane and I had various experiences/friends in common from back then, but one thing we didn't share was doing Beginnings (later changed to Youngstars). That was an all-kids club act I did for two years. Sarah Jessica Parker, Alison Smith, Ricki Lake and various other kids from Peter Pan and Evita were all in it. Here's an Obsessed video I did with another alum, Kerry Butler!
On Wednesday, I got to interview Robert Klein for "Seth Speaks," and I loved hearing about his first Broadway show, The Apple Tree, starring Alan Alda and Barbara Harris. He had a tremendous crush on Barbara and remembers taking her out to the park where she told him, "Warren Beatty won't leave me alone." I used to hear the same comments when I was dating, but instead of my prospective boyfriend starting the sentence with "Warren Beatty," he would start it with "Please" and then segue right to "leave me alone." As for They're Playing Our Song, he told me that the role of Vernon was first offered to "The pianist's son." The audience stared blankly, but I realized he meant John Rubenstein (son of Arthur and the original Pippin!).
It seems I'm always having to translate people's obscure references. I got an email from a SiriusXM listener who asked me the name of the song where a guy sings about a chair. I finally realized he meant "Being Alive" in Company. ("Somebody sit in my chair...") Oy! Robert was so funny talking about getting older, busting the Jewish tradition of burying bodies right away. He said that he's terrified to fall asleep at his grandkids' house.
Grandkid 1: Where's grandpa?
Grandkid 2 : Hmm…he's not moving.
Robert (panicked) I'm up! I'm up!!!...The last time I had to dig myself out of the ground!
He has a show coming up at Stage 72, which used to be The Triad, which use to be Steve McGraw's, which used to Paulsson's. Anybody remembers the 80s? But back to 2013, where you can buy your tickets online here.
I went to Andrea Burns' fabulous act at 54 Below and she has one more performance tonight (April 29th!), tickets here. The audience was filled with the cast of her current show (The Nance) including star Nathan Lane. Speaking of Nathan, people kept coming up to me afterwards and telling me how hard he laughed at the medley she did from The Ritz.
Back in 2007, Andrea was the stand-by for Rosie Perez who played Googie Gomez in The Ritz. At the end of Act One, Googie does a horrific Broadway medley that I wrote with Chris Gatelli and Joe Mantello. Andrea never got to go on for Googie, but I'd see her do it every week in understudy rehearsal because I was the understudy to Brooks Ashmankas. She hauled out the medley in her act and she was a brava! It was so fun to hear again, especially the moment I'm most proud of, which was created by both me and Chris: the inappropriate juxtaposition of the "Heaven on their Minds" vamp in the bass while Googie sings "Sabbath Prayer" ("May the Lord Protect and defend you"). So bizzare!
I'm not travelling this week but soon I'll be in New Orleans with the amazing Audra McDonald! If you're in the Big Easy (as in "easy" to gain 5 pounds a day) get tickets here. Peace out!!
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