Funny Tales From Betty Buckley, Debra Monk, and More Broadway Stars | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky Funny Tales From Betty Buckley, Debra Monk, and More Broadway Stars

This week, Seth offers some levity in tumultuous times.

Betty Buckley

Well, this week (and last) has been kind of a downer. In the spirit of cheering everybody up, I thought I’d do a column with my fave funny B’way stories!

Faith Prince once played Daisy in a big summer stock production of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever with Jack Jones. One of Jack's big songs is "Come Back To Me," which lists the various modes of transportation his character wants Daisy to take to reunite with him—car, plane, train, mule, etc. They didn't have a lot of rehearsal, and for some reason, Jack was having trouble remembering "mule," so they painted a big red "MULE" in the middle of the stage so he'd remember. On opening night, not only did he not remember mule, but he forget every other mode of transport in the lyrics. He was silent for the whole song except at the end of every verse when he sang "Come back to me!" Faith saw him right afterwards, and he was mortified. He told her that he froze and he couldn't remember anything. She told him she understood—but then asked, “But why not mule? It was literally written right on the stage!” Well, the stage was in the round and he told her that he was on the wrong side so all he said he saw was "elum."


Betty Buckley in 1776

Betty Buckley told me she was very green when she first did 1776—she was only 21—and didn't know a lot about theatre. For some reason, she thought she had to wear dark make-up onstage. Also, even though Betty was a blonde, they had put her in a super-dark wig. Well, it was the first preview, and she was doing her initial entrance in the show. Her back is to the audience inside a house and, suddenly, she turns and her face appears in a window. Most of the rest of the cast were older men, and she was supposed to counteract that and look youthful, fresh-faced, and innocent. Well, she said that when she turned to face the audience and revealed her dark wig and horrific make-up scheme, the audience wasn't thinking "youthful" and "fresh-faced." Instead, they were thinking, "Gasp! That's what happened to Baby Jane!" Suffice it to say, the producers got her a lighter wig and fixed her makeup the next night to prevent any audience premature heart attacks.

Speaking of Betty in 1776, someone posted a recording of her singing during out-of-town tryouts in New Haven, Connecticut before it came to Broadway. So cool! For people who know that original recording, it’s fascinating because the orchestrations are so different. Instead of the modern classical feel of the version we all know, it’s a brassy jazz waltz, Of course, she still sounds amazing. If you want to know why I’m obsessed, here’s my deconstruction!

I asked Julie White about meeting her husband and she told me that it happened at a barbecue. He was in his twenties, and after they had been chatting up a storm, he finally asked her, "How old are you? Like 35?" She said, "I said yes. Because I was 39… which is 'like 35'!"

Like Betty Buckley, Debra Monk was also very green when she did her first play in college—but much greener than Betty. She got cast on a whim and knew nothing about theatre. She showed up and the director said he wanted to start with the opening scene. He told her to say the first line at the window, start making toast after the phone rang, and finish her tea on the last line. She did the scene that way, and the next day when she showed up, he said he wanted to run it. Well, this time she started the first line at the door, finished her tea right away, and never made toast. He asked why she wasn't doing what they decided the day before, and she was completely confused. She had no idea she was supposed to do the same thing every time. She basically didn’t know what a play was!

Debra Monk

Of course, now she’s a theatre vet and has a Tony Award. That’s also the reason she’s good friends with Andrea Martin. In the early ‘90s, Andrea won a Tony Award for My Favorite Year and Deb won for Redwood Forest. Both shows had already closed by the time the Tony Awards happened, so when they went to the press room, nobody was interested in talking to them. They sat by themselves, completely ignored, and hit it off. They’ve been super-close friends ever since!

Kevin Chamberlin’s first Broadway show was Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Y-A-W-N! Doesn't that title imply the most boring show in the world? "Abe Lincoln" = something historical? I'm drowsy. "In Illinois" = and I'm out. It had an enormous cast, and he only appeared at 8:15 and then again at 11:15. He said that on some nights he would do his first scene then hop on the subway at Lincoln Center and go down to the Village and hang. One night, his friend had a show at the Duplex on Christopher Street at 9 PM, and Kevin was able to do his first scene, take the subway from Lincoln Center to the Village, see his friend's act, congratulate him after, and easily make it back for his last scene. I asked if he was nervous about the subway breaking down, and he said he could have walked and made it back in time. Bring back the 4-hour show so we can see our friend’s shows!

I flew to Asia with Jen Cody and Hunter Foster and at one point we were in the airspace over Iran. Jen when into a full panic right around then because she heard the captain say over the loudspeaker, "Please make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened because we're flying over warfare." Jen started having an anxiety attack and whispered to Hunter, "Warfare!? I didn't sign up for this." He immediately silenced her by telling her that the captain hadn’t said “warfare.” He said, "We're flying over rough air." Hi-lar! And terrifying.

And finally, here’s a story my friend Mark told me. Mark produced my New Year’s shows in Provincetown and my January 7 show at the Parker Playhouse in Ft. Lauderdale with Stephanie J. Block. He has a good friend named Diane Lizer who is a fantastic opera singer and, years ago, she worked as a receptionist in a recording studio. One day, all the expensive audio equipment was stolen. Diane was interviewed by the police and asked if she saw any suspicious activity before the robbery. She told them that nothing out of the ordinary happened. Pause. Except for the visit from the firemen. "What firemen?," they asked. She then explained that a couple of firemen came the day before and told her that they needed to see all the ways in and out to make sure the studio was safe in case of a fire. She proceeded to show every entrance and exit and how they all opened and closed. When asked what kind of uniforms the firemen were wearing, she paused and replied that they were "plainclothes firemen." Hilarious.

Stay safe, everyone! Wear a well-fitting mask in public all the time and peace out.

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