How Bonnie Milligan and J. Harrison Ghee Saved the Red Bucket Follies | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky How Bonnie Milligan and J. Harrison Ghee Saved the Red Bucket Follies

Plus, who hosts the New Year's Day brunch of every Broadway lover's dreams and where you can see Seth live next!

J. Harrison Ghee, Seth Rudetsky, Lillias White, Jelani Remy, Leslie Odom, Jr., Kimber Elayne Sprawl, Ta’Nika Renee Gibson, and Bobby Daye. Rebecca J Michelson

Happy New Year!

It’s 2024, but I still must recap some 2023 events. 

In December, I was asked to host The Red Bucket Follies, and when I heard Lillias White was going to be there to represent Hadestown, I texted her and asked if we could do the fight scene from Dreamgirls. If you don’t know, I’m obsessed with it. The number happens right before, “And I Am Telling You” and, because there is a lot of flexibility allowed in the score, every cast that performs it sounds different. Here’s the original Broadway cast version which was left off the first cast recording because David Geffen wanted it to be more of a pop album.

Speaking of casts, here’s what happened with the Red Bucket cast!

Red Bucket Follies takes place on a Monday and a Tuesday. For the Monday cast, I had Lillias, Ta’Nika Renée Gibson, Javier Colon, Kimber Elayne Sprawl, and Bobby Daye slated to perform. Bobby Daye was ready to play the brother, C.C. White, and, because he had done the original run of the show, Bobby told me he could sing any other male part I needed. I was going to have him perform the role of Curtis as well, but, during my sound check I saw Jelani Remy, who tears it up on Broadway in Back To The Future, standing in the wings. I asked him if he knew the fight scene and if he could go on as Curtis that afternoon. Thankfully, he said, “Yes!” As you’ll soon hear, he sounded amazing.

The show began at 4 PM and it started running long. It was soon past 6 PM, and we hadn’t gotten to the Dreamgirls number. Well, turns out, Kimber, who was going to sing the Lorrell and Michelle parts, currently plays Nessa Rose in Wicked. That Monday, Wicked had a 7 PM show so Kimber had to get to the theatre by 6:30 PM. There was no way she could wait any longer, so she texted me that she had to go. Uh-oh! No Lorrell or Michelle in this number! Well, I wasn’t that stressed because I knew Ta’Nika, who recently graced the Broadway stage in Into The Woods, knew all the parts and could sing Deena as well as Lorrell and Michelle.

Ta'Nika Renée Gibson's text message to Seth Rudetsky Seth Rudetsky

Little did I know, but Bonnie Milligan was in the dressing room next to the one where my mini Dreamgirls cast was rehearsing. Around 10 minutes before they were going to go on, the cast ran the fight scene, and Bonnie poked her head to compliment how great they sounded. Everyone immediately asked her if she knew the fight scene, specifically the part of Michelle. She was like, "…I guess!"

The next thing she knew, she was “hired!” Here is the video she sent me afterwards, in the elevator on the way to the stage.

We never rehearsed, but Bonnie nailed it. Here’s the number filmed from the wings.

Bonnie Milligan, Jelani Remy, Bobby Daye, Javier Colon, Ta’Nika Renee Gibson, Lillias White, and Seth Rudetsky Seth Rudetsky

Now onto Tuesday’s show! For this one, I knew the cast had to change again. Javier had told me he couldn’t do the Tuesday show and, after I saw Purlie Victorious on Broadway, I asked Leslie Odom, Jr. if he could fill in. He told me he would do it if no one else was available. No one else was, so he was in! If you don’t know, Leslie was in my 2001 Actors Fund benefit of Dreamgirls when he was still in college. There’s amazing footage of him (and everyone else) in rehearsal here!

Kimber was ready to perform Lorrell and Michelle as planned, but before the show began, I saw J. Harrison Ghee rehearsing the opening number which gave me an idea. I asked him (P.S. J. uses the pronouns he/she/they) if he would play Michelle. He said, “Yes!” Again, we didn’t have an official “put in” rehearsal with Leslie and J. but they both were fantastic.

Hilariously, someone told me that I must have demanded the person playing Michelle be a 2023 Tony Award winner. I didn’t realize that was true of both Bonnie and J. until after the show.

J. Harrison Ghee, Bobby Daye, Ta’Nika Renee Gibson, Seth Rudetsky, Lillias White, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Kimber Elayne Sprawl Seth Rudetsky

Before the performance that day, I called Lillias and told her I didn’t want her to blow out her voice (since she’s starring in Hadestown 8 times a week and we have shows at the Segerstrom Center in L.A.), so I thought it was best if we did a cut version of “And I Am Telling You.” She was onboard until I mentioned, right before I was about to hang up, that I had invited Henry Krieger, the composer of Dreamgirls, to the benefit. She said, “Henry is coming? Then I must do the whole thing.” And she did. Watch!

Speaking of Leslie Odom, Jr., James and I went to see Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through The Cotton Patch and, true to it’s name, it definitely was victorious. A great story, funny, very forward-thinking and including so many fantastic performances! Afterwards, we were hanging out in Leslie’s dressing room with Megan Hilty, Leslie’s Carnegie Mellon pal, and her wonderful husband Brian Gallagher. We were laughing about the fact that Megan and I have the same iPhone holder. Let me simply say this video is my unofficial audition for SMASH!

Seth Rudetsky, James Wesley, Megan Hilty, Brian Gallagher, and Leslie Odom Jr. backstage at Purlie Victorious Seth Rudetsky

Now, let’s get into the New Year!

One New Year’s Eve, James and I had a little game night with Paul Castree and his husband Stephen Spadaro. I’m so excited for Paul because he’s about to be on Broadway again in the musical Water For Elephants. Right before midnight, Stephen and Paul told us to walk over to Central Park West. James and I didn’t know, but it turns out, there is the perfect view of the fireworks there every year. It was so thrilling! Here’s a photo Paul took of James and me watching the celebration!

James Wesley and Seth Rudetsky Tim Schutheis

Now onto New Year’s Day! Julia Murney told me that when she was in college, her friends decided it would be fun to spend New Year’s Eve at her place (aka her parents’ apartment) since she lived in the city. The next morning, Julia volunteered to make pancakes for her friends, and thus started a tradition that lasted more than 20 years! Every New Year’s Day, Julia had an open house and makes pancakes all day long for her friends and her friends’ friends. Around 100 people would show up throughout the day and chow down on pancakes, bacon (which I skipped because I’m a vegetarian), orange juice, and coffee. I used to always go as it felt like a great way to start the year. Here’s a photo from back in the day with Heidi Blickenstaff, Julia, James, me, and our Juli when she was in elementary school.

Heidi Blickenstaff, James Wesley, Julia Murney, Julie Rudetsky-Wesley, and Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky and Julia Murney Seth Rudetsky

Julia’s parents moved out of the city, and their apartment was therefore no longer avail for the celebration. So, this year, James and I decided to host it at our place. It was so wonderful! Some highlights include Donna McKechnie telling us about a brand new fabulous gig she just got (I’m keeping my trap shut ‘til it’s announced, but brava!).

If you’d like a dose of Donna because you missed her on my last Broadway Cruise, here she is in a clip I’d never seen before…dancing up a storm in the '60s!

James Wesley, Donna McKechnie, and Seth Rudetsky Seth Rudetsky

Back to the all-day New Year’s Day brunch! My good friend, amazing singer Bob McDonald, with whom I went to Oberlin and my friend Tim Cross, whom I always mention, had an Obie reunion. Bob’s been living in D.C., so we haven’t all been together since our college game nights. I was remembering the hilarious game of Pictionary we played back then when fellow student, Laura Bewig, drew something that none of us could guess. After the minute was up, she was so annoyed we didn’t know what it was and, said a quote we’ve been saying for years. She angrily pointed at what she drew and told us, “From now on, this means ‘penis.’” Good to know!

Richard Kind was there with us as well and regaled me and Jackie Hoffman with stories and jokes. He told us that he was at the shiva in L.A. for the wonderful, late, great Norman Lear and that none other than Albert Brooks approached him and told him the following joke. It goes like this!

A older Jewish man is lying on his deathbed. He rallies and asks meekly, “Is my wife here?” She responds, “Yes, Morris! I’m here!”

“And my brother and sister?” The dying man asks. “Are they here?”

They both say, “Yes, our dear brother! We’re right here.”

The man then asks, “And my grandchildren? Are they here?”

The little ones reply, “Yes, Zayde! All three of us are right beside you!”

“And,” he continues, “My daughter? My son?”

They both reply, “Yes, Daddy! We are here! Everyone is next to you!”

“Everyone is in here?” The man asks, and they all readily agree. He then asks, “Then why is the kitchen light on?!”

Happy post-Hannukah!

Jackie Hoffman, Marc Kudisch, Richard Kind, and Seth Rudetsky Seth Rudetsky

This week, we fly to Aspen for my concerts with Jessie Mueller and with Ana Gasteyer! Watch Ana’s devastating story about Annie here (don’t worry, this clip also features her fabulous singing).

Visit for all relevant deets. And with that, Happy New Year!

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