How Did Audra McDonald React to Seth Rudetsky's Surprise Modulations During a Concert? | Playbill

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Seth Rudetsky How Did Audra McDonald React to Seth Rudetsky's Surprise Modulations During a Concert? This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth teases his upcoming concert series at The Town Hall and hangs out with Joss Whedon!
Seth Rudetsky and Audra McDonald

This week I’m in San Francisco to do a show with Ramin Karimloo on Thursday night at the Herbst Theater. Ramin played the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera as well as Love Never Dies. However, he never played piano in the pit of Phantom as I did off and on for 15 years. One of the first videos I put on YouTube was my experience playing in the pit and being confronted by the bass player wearing a mask. Yes, a mask. Why, you ask? Well, I reenacted my Broadway meltdown here.

Anyhoo, I had written one of these columns over the summer and mentioned that the first show Ramin saw was Phantom when he was 15 years old and he became obsessed with the leading man, Colm Wilkinson. What’s amazing is that years later, Ramin played Colm’s signature role of Jean Valjean in Les Miz and Colm guest-starred as the Bishop in a benefit performance in Toronto. For an encore, they duetted on “Bring Him Home." Can you imagine if teenaged Ramin had knows this would happen!? Watch!

I fly back to NYC over the weekend and then the Broadway series I’ve been doing around the country will finally debut in NYC! It actually debuted last year when I did my show with Patti LuPone on Broadway for BC/EFA, but no other dates were set after that so it was more of a one-time thing. But now I have three concerts booked at The Town Hall and that constitutes a series: Audra, Kelli O’Hara, and Jeremy Jordan. You can buy tix for all three or for individual concerts.

Since my Audra concert is coming up, I thought it would be fun to recap how we first became friends. I met Audra when I was playing an audition for an industrial in the early '90s. (She always claims I met her at her audition for a summer stock production of Evita but I am 100 percent sure I was not there!) At the industrial audition, she sang something from Dreamgirls and I asked her if she wanted to perform at one of my shows for Hearts and Voices (I would bring singers to hospitalized patients with AIDS as part of the organization). That’s how I know it wasn’t at the Evita audition. I didn’t start doing those shows til 1992 so she and her faulty memory can cut!

Anyhoo, Audra started singing at hospitals with me, mainly St. Clare’s where they had a prison ward. That was my regular volunteer show. It took place every Thursday late afternoon and it was a prison ward because the NY prison hospitals weren’t equipped to deal with AIDS patients so they were transferred to St. Clare’s into a locked ward. Of course, I always had to submit the names of who was performing every week early in the week so my performers could get official clearance, but not surprising, my A.D.D always wound up with me calling singers on Thursday afternoon and begging the prison officials to let them in. Regardless, Audra sang a lot with me there and soon it was time for her to graduate from Juilliard. The first half of her recital was all classical, then she had a jazz section and I played the part that was all Broadway. That is where I started the trend of the surprise modulation. You see, the audience at Juilliard demanded an encore but we didn’t have one prepared. I suggested she do “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” because I knew she was familiar with it and I knew it by heart because I always used to play it for my sister, Nancy, when we were kids. Well, Audra and I were coming near the end of the song and I wanted to give it some more sassafrass so I modulated up a half step. My memory includes Audra turning to me and giving me the finger, something never seen during a Juilliard Senior Recital, but she denies that happened. Regardless, years later, we were doing a concert featuring “I Could Have Danced All Night” and I wanted to give it some sassafrass so, again, I spontaneously modulated. My key change, as usual, caused Audra to haul out ye olde finger and this time it’s on video! (The amazing part is it also made her end the song on a high C sharp! Talk about #StillGotIt!)

We’ve done so many performances together and there are always hilarious things we add to them. Weirdly, I was walking with James in London a few weeks ago when I was doing concerts with Ramin Karimloo and a stranger walked up to James and complimented him on his “Wheels of a Dream.” That was from a concert I did with Audra where she dueted with James and we added a jealous husband ending. The crazy thing is, this guy in London saw the video and recognized James on the street! Here it is!

Come see us on Monday November 12 at the Town Hall! You never know what’s going to happen!

Last week in L.A., we celebrated Jack’s birthday and I had a great time with his friends. I had direct messaged Joss Whedon whom I noticed followed me on Twitter and whom I love because I was obsessed with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which he created. I invited him to Jack’s party and he hung out with us for hours. Anyhoo, we had a great time hanging out and I loved finding out that he is a big fan of musicals. I wish I had known him when he came to see Disaster! on Broadway. Oh, wait…before I go on; someone tweeted me the funniest thing I have to post. So, in Disaster! I sang a song with Adam Pascal and Kerry Butler called “Sky High” and I had to sing a high note on the word “high.” I found this recording of us for reference.

So, this guy named Jeff Whitmire tweeted, “I've been walking around the house singing "Sky High" from @DisasterMusical all weekend. My 4-year-old has decided she wants to join by taking on..."that note" at the end of the chorus. This was the result!” Watch this. I laughed SO CRAZILY HARD.

It completely reminded me of this.

Anyhoo, Joss was talking about how much he loved Sondheim and how he saw the original cast of Sweeney Todd. He told us that on the night he saw it the bridge fell! Yikes! Well, a few years ago he was at a Broadway event and got in a huge line to finally to meet Angela Lansbury. He waited and waited…and right before he got to her, the guy before him told her, “The night I saw Sweeney Todd the bridge fell." He said he was like, “You dick! That was all I had!”

And finally, tonight we’re re-airing the Concert For America that we performed in Montana. Tune in for some incredible singing: Jessie Mueller, Carrie Manolakos, Abbie Mueller, Andrea McArdle and Vanessa Williams. You will flip out over Carrie’s “Halleluah.” So stunning. It airs tonight at 9PM at And you can still donate as you watch! All the money is split between NAACP, Sierra Club, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Immigration Law Center and Southern Poverty Law Center.

AND MAKE SURE YOU VOTE! I don’t care if you’re tired, think it doesn’t matter, can’t deal with the traffic…VOTE! Peace out!


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