ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Remembering Snow Days on Broadway and Talking Musicals With Steven Pasquale
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
I'm on my way to New Orleans to do a show with Sutton Foster. It's freezing in New York and I just found out New Orleans is due for a winter storm. Yay?
Last week New York had a snowstorm and we were petrified that no one would show up at Disaster! We wound up having a really great audience (!) and I remembered back to a big snowstorm we had back in the mid-90's, when I was playing in the pit for Grease. The storm was much, much bigger than the one we had last week. It was so big that Broadway shows cancelled their performances... all of them except for Grease.
Of course, the show was basically sold out that night because there weren't any other shows to go to. A few months later was the Easter Bonnet Competition, which is the big fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Paul Castree (who's currently starring in Disaster! as Tony DelVecchio) wrote the lyrics for the Grease sketch, which a parody of "The Telephone Hour" from Bye Bye Birdie. During the part that goes, "When you gotta go, then you gotta go" he changed the lyrics to, "Twenty feet of snow, we still had a show!" and the crowd went wild.
Cut to, around a year later, Rosie O'Donnell called me and asked me to write parodies for her TV show. It was the November sweeps (when ratings really count) and she wanted Broadway shows to come on and sing their signature songs but with lyrics about her show, written by me. She asked me to make them like the songs I wrote for Gypsy of the Year and The Easter Bonnet Competition. I had written lots of the sketches for Grease and lots of opening numbers and I knew she had been in the audience for all those benefits, and I was so happy that the work I had done for charity helped me get this great job. One day in passing she told me that the most amazing lyric I had written, and pretty much the lyric that got me the job, was, "Twenty feet of snow, we still had a show." I was mortified. I nodded politely, didn't mention the words "Paul" or "Castree"... and cashed my paycheck.
It's so great doing Disaster! with Paul. His role is based on the disaster movie archetype of the person who won't acknowledge he's about to cause a disaster, and I play the person who's desperately trying to warn everyone of the upcoming disaster. We love that most of our scenes are opposite each other and we keep coming up with comedy bits throughout the show. He has to leave because he's been cast in the upcoming tour of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, both from "American Idol." Paul and I met doing Forever Plaid Off-Broadway and since then we've done Grease and Saturday Night Fever together (with me in the pit). This is the first show where we really play opposite each other, and I'm sad he's leaving next week. I'm also "sad" that he refuses to age. He's older than me but does not look it.
One of the stories we always laugh about happened when I heard he had an audition for a role I thought I would be right for. I called my agent and asked him to get me an audition. He told me I was too old. I then, proudly, told him that I knew for a fact that Paul Castree had an audition for that role. He laughed and said, "Seth! Paul Castree is much younger than you." I was completely and totally silent because all I could possibly say was "No, he isn't!" to which his reply would be a honest and direct, "Well, he looks much younger than you. Now what?"
I did not get the audition.
At "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox," I had Steven Pasquale, who just began previews for The Bridges of Madison County. This is his first Broadway musical; however he was cast in lead roles in two other Broadway musicals beforehand! First, he created the role of Fabrizio in The Light in the Piazza at the Sundance Theater Lab and was offered the role when it came to Broadway. But, at the time, he was playing one of the firefighters on TV's "Rescue Me." Luckily, the TV studio where they filmed was relatively close to Lincoln Center. If he finished filming by 7 PM, there wouldn't be any problem getting to the theatre in time to do the show. However, there was a chance he'd have to film past 7 PM so he told the Broadway producers that he might have to miss shows. They assured that there would be no problem putting on his understudy. He then asked the TV show if he could do The Light in the Piazza and they said flat-out no. He told them that he would only go to the theatre if he was finished filming by 7 PM and they still said no. Because he was under contract he had no choice. Of course, the entire time Piazza was running, he never filmed past 7.
A few years passed and he was offered the role of Lt. Cable in the revival of South Pacific (also directed by Bartlett Sher and music directed by Ted Sperling). Now that some time had passed, he assumed that Dennis Leary (the head honcho at "Rescue Me") would realize how easy it would be for Steven to do a Broadway show. Steven asked if he could do South Pacific and again the answer was N to the O. Because Steven had to pass on both of those shows, starring in The Bridges of Madison County is truly thrilling for him. He finally gets to do a Broadway musical!
When Steven was younger, he thought he'd be a football player, but he was injured in high school. He wound up focusing on theatre instead, and when he was in his first year of college, he tried out for the national tour of West Side Story and got the gig! His Anita was the amazing Natascia Diaz and his Riff was Christian Borle! Right after that tour ended, he tried out for the national tour of Miss Saigon and got the leading role of Chris! He did that for 18 months on the road and finally moved to New York. Since he had booked the very first two auditions he ever went on, he assumed that the acting life was a piece of cake.
Cut to, after more than a year in New York and literally getting no jobs, he had spent all of the money he saved from touring! Finally, he was cast in a show, Spinning Into Butter and he soon began to get play and TV work. He's happy he did "Rescue Me" because it was a great gig, but he remembered some headache-y things he had to deal with. Dennis Leary would often write himself as the hero in certain scripts, but when one episode featured the firefighters jumping into the East River, suddenly Dennis didn't do the heroic scene. Dennis wrote it for Steven and his co-star instead. Steven said the water tasted disgusting, and it was so gross that as soon as the scene ended, he co-star fled to the shore and threw up!
Speaking of "Chatterbox," this week we have two of the stars of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector, who play Carole's friends and rival songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The show is Thursday at 5 PM at Don't Tell Mama on 46th Street, and then at 7 PM, right across the street is ye old Disaster!. See them both in one night... it's just the right amount of Seth (way too much).
This week Paul Shaffer came to Disaster! and after the show, he told us that he had actually played on one of the songs we use in the show! Yes, Paul is on keyboard for Daybreak! Not only a big hit in Act Two of Daybreak but also a big hit when I sang it in sophomore year high school chorus. Here's the original.
On Friday, one of my comedy heros came to the show: Joan Rivers! She loved the show and stayed afterwards taking pictures with everybody. It was so exciting! I remember listening to her record when I was in high school and obsession over so many jokes especially my favorite: "I don't do drugs... don't do drugs. But every once in a while…I put a little Fresca on a panty shield... perks me right up!" And on that note, peace out and perk up!
(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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