ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: A Blast From the Past With Volleygirls and Surviving Broken Arms With Susan Blackwell

By Seth Rudetsky
July 29, 2013

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

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One more week 'til the Playbill Cruise! Yes, the ship has lots of Broadway performances and we're going to tons of fascinating cities, but basically I'm mostly looking forward to sitting on my cabin balcony, reading and eating non-stop!

Last week my sister Nancy and her family visited from Virginia and we saw Pippin. I was going to write that it was my third time seeing it but just realized it was my fourth, if you count the original production. Yes, when I was little boy in 1974, my family decided not to take a vacation in December. Instead, we took a staycation (anybody?) and saw three Broadway shows! Grease (foreshadowing my four-year stint playing piano for it on Broadway 20 years later), Pajama Game (with Hal Linden!) and Pippin. I checked my old Playbill (yes, I keep them all) and, in keeping with my mother's tradition of seeing Broadway shows after original cast members have left, I wound up seeing the replacement Catherine (originally played by Jill Claybourgh). But the exciting news is, the replacement was Betty Buckley...foreshadowing my lifelong obsession with her! Here's one of many Betty deconstructions

Back to the Playbill cruise. I leave this Friday and when I travel I'm always a nervous wreck, worrying I'm going to forget my CD/DVD/sheet music, so I make sure to keep it in my carry-on. Audra McDonald is the same way but on her recent trip from Bermuda to Napa Valley to do a concert, they made her check her carry-on baggage. She got to San Francisco and when she went to the luggage carousel, her bag wasn't there. It not only had her music in it, it also had her gowns! They told her that TSA had to look through her luggage during the stopover in Atlanta and it would arrive later that night. The problem was, it was 8 PM San Fran time, which was midnight Bermuda time, so she was exhausted. And she had to drive two hours that night to get to her hotel! Delta airlines told her that they could drop it off the following day. Yay! They then told her drop-off time would be around 10 PM. Audra told them her concert was at 7 PM so that would be after she needed her music and gown. Silence.

Finally, she spoke to the people from the festival and they arranged to have someone who was flying in that night at 11 PM pick up her bag. Audra signed the paperwork allowing the person to get her stuff, but Delta told her they would also need to call her for permission. Audra told them she was giving permission right now and the person would have ID with them. Sorry, Delta people told her, they also needed verbal consent at the pickup time. OMG! So, Audra went to the hotel and forced herself to stay awake, waiting for the phone call. 11 PM, midnight, 1 AM. And, PS, don't forget, her body clock was four hours later! Finally, at 2 AM, she called someone from the festival and told them she had to get some sleep if she was going to sing the next day and she couldn't keep waiting up to find out if they had her bag. She then found out the person had already picked up her bag and Delta decided there was no need to call. Yay! She stayed up for 24 hours for nothing!

This saga isn't over. During her tech rehearsal the nexy day, Andy Einhorn, her pianist, began to have terrible stomach pains. Audra sprang to action; first by getting him prunes, then by telling him her mother's theory of getting on all fours and sticking your butt in the air to relieve gas. He did it, but the pain remained. By now, it was 'places.' She and Andy decided on a system where she would check with him after every number to see if he could continue playing. He suffered through the concert but by the end, they immediately got him an ambulance to the hospital. Well, the reason the prunes and the butt lift didn't help is because he had a kidney stone! Ow. Later that night, he finally passed it.

Susan Blackwell in Volleygirls.
Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia

On Thursday, I had the hilarious Susan Blackwell on Seth's Broadway Chatterbox with the entire cast from the NYMF production of Volleygirls. They not only performed three songs from the show but they consisted of the largest amount of people I've ever had at a Chatterbox. I asked everyone about high school roles and Jennifer Johnson (who has a great voice!) told us she was cast as Frenchy in her high school production of Grease. The operative word is "cast" because after the cast list went up, another girl complained and was given the role of Frenchy. That's right, Jennifer gave up her role and took another one. However, there were no other girl parts available; the only role left was Johnny Casino, who has one scene, and sings the beginning section of "Born To Hand Jive." Well, the gender problem was solved with a quick name change. Yes, Johnny Casino became Janey Casino and instead of being in the entire show, Jennifer had one scene in Act Two. Problem solved and low self-esteem solidified. Speaking of gender-bending casting, when I was in high school, we didn't have enough male leading men auditioning for The Fantasticks, so my talented friend Lisa Disraeli was cast as El Gallo and did the show as...La Galla. Si, senor(ita).

One of the other highlights during the Chatterbox was the answer to my question about horrific onstage performances. PJ Adzima, who played the male romantic lead (the show closed July 27), is a cherub-faced redhead still in college, but when he was in high school he did the stage version of Holes, which is a famous young adult book. In one scene, he had to change from pajamas into another costume and that's where the horror took place. Let's just say that he wasn't wearing a dance belt and when he was changing, the audience got a glimpse of something they normally only see onstage during productions of Hair.

Lilla Crawford (right) with Juli Wesley at Unbroken Circle

Let me furthermore say that the video of the show was therefore unusable. And let me end by saying that his entire family was in the front row. Moving on. Susan Blackwell then told one of her unfortunate onstage incidents but this one happened during a tech rehearsal. She was doing an Agatha Christie play...on a riverboat. First, take that in. Ok. She told us that during a tech rehearsal, she tripped, fell and broke both of her arms! However, she subscribed to the "show must go on" adage and did the entire run with her both arms in a cast. But what of the plot, you ask? Why, they simply incorporated her new look into the dialogue, which Susan demonstrated for us. It was something like:

"But what of the mysterious Miss Casewell? She could have committed the murder!"
"With those casts on her arms?"
"Perhaps they're fake…"
The entire Chatterbox was filmed (with all three songs!) and you can watch it at SethTV.com.

Now onto the "brilliant" (Garden State Journal) tragicomedy, Unbroken Circle, whose script "makes all the right moves" (New York Time). We're now playing Wednesdays, Thursday and Sundays and one performance last week featured a bizarre/amazing confluence of audience members: Lonny Price, Lilla Crawford, Priscilla Lopez, my college boyfriend and my high school prom date! Watch the video where I interview Lonny Price and Lilla Crawford, or as we find out, two Jews and a Buddhist.  And we've put together a commercial that has actual footage from the play. I love it! Watch at UnbrokenCircleThePlay.com

On Wednesday, I'm going to see Nathan Lane (and my friend Andrea Burns!) in The Nance. Wednesday is when the Actors Fund performance is happpening. If you don't know, an Actors Fund performance is one where the actors and house staff donate their salary to the Actors Fund. It's always a thrilling night at the theatre because it's filled with so many Broadway folk in the audience. And it's a great way to give to charity while doing something fun! Go to ActorsFund.org and join me!

And at the end of the week, I'm flying to Stockholm (where the Playbill Cruise begins)! Norm Lewis just came over and we went over his act, where he's going to run the gamut of both male Les Miserables leads. Yes, he's going to sing "Stars" and "Bring Him Home"!

Speaking of Les Miserables, I did a full deconstruction on my site and we just added a way to make comments after all of my videos. Watch this!  On that note, au revoir and 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.)