How Kerry Butler Redeemed Herself 20 Years Later With That Hairspray Performance at the Tony Awards

Seth Rudetsky   How Kerry Butler Redeemed Herself 20 Years Later With That Hairspray Performance at the Tony Awards
 
This week, Seth hears about the time Megan Mullally’s mom pretended her daughter was dying to score A Chorus Line tickets.
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Darlene Love, Matthew Morrison, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Chester Gregory, and Kerry Butler Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

I just got back from Madison, Wisconsin, after doing two shows with Kerry Butler at the Overture Center for the Arts. We had such a great time… and spoke of redemption. Here’s the backstory: Some of you may know that Kerry does not consider herself a dancer—at all. One of her most mortifying moments came after the Hairspray Tony Awards back in 2003.

She was chatting with Marissa Jaret Winokur after their show had won the Tony Award and Marissa told Kerry that she watched their Tony night performance. Marissa loved how Kerry made her character (Penny Pingleton) so awkward—she told Kerry that her dancing on the Tony Awards was hilarious. Kerry then stoically informed her that during “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” her character “finds her soul” and becomes a great dancer. Her “hilarious” dancing was Kerry’s version of “amazing” dancing. Cue silence from Marissa.

Well, cut to a few weeks ago: the Hairspray cast is reunited to do “You Can’t Stop the Beat” again on the Tony Awards, this time as the opening number. Kerry is very happy that she’s in the middle of the group onstage so she can watch the others do the choreography during the number. Well, suddenly, she finds out that they’re restaging the number and Kerry will now be in the front of the group. She’ll be the one the other performers will follow. Well, Kerry worked and worked on the dance and was thrilled when a photo was released of their performance, and she was perfectly in sync with everybody! Redemption twenty years later.

P.S. I’m coming back to Wisconsin at the end of the month. Come see me in Monroe.

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Speaking of shows, my new show is opening off-Broadway this Friday. AH! It’s called Seth’s Broadway Breakdown and it’s chock full of my Broadway breakdowns aka deconstructions. I posted one recently claiming that when Cosette from Les Misérables meets Marius, she is relentlessly passive aggressive. I used proof (using the term lightly) like, after he sings “My name Marius Pontmerci” and she replies, “And I’m Cosette,” she’s refusing to give her last name. Even I think my logic is idiotic. Watch here. And here’s a tiny part of the beginning of the show filmed during my one preview last month. Deadline came to my first preview and called it “terrifically funny.” #Yass I’m only doing a four-week run so get thee there.

This coming Sunday, I’m doing one of my livestream concerts with the great Jessie Mueller (Waitress, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Minutes). She has done so many Broadway shows at this point but her goal after college was just to work in the Chicago theatre scene. She never really considered coming to New York because she grew up idolizing all the big theatres in the Windy City. One day, however, she was recommended for an audition happening in Chicago for the Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. She showed up ready to sing a song from the ’40s but noticed everyone in the waiting area looking different from her. Hunched over, dark clothes, glaring… she was nervous she was at the wrong audition. Turns out, there was also an audition in the exact same place for American Idiot! So, while everyone looked too-cool-for-school, she was in a smart dress with sensible pumps.

She went in to the audition and sang the sweet ballad “It Might As Well Be Spring.” Halfway through, she was stopped by the casting person. Not the best sign. He asked if she had a jazz song instead. Short answer: No. Long answer: She panicked, then walked over to the pianist and asked him to speed it up and add a walking bass. He did and she turned snoozy into jazzy. It seemed like a scene from an old ‘40s movie (“Hey, mister! Help me out with a walking bass”), but it actually happened.

Seth and Jessie backstage
Seth and Jessie backstage Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

They asked her to come back the next day, but she said no; she was doing a reading of her friend’s play. Brava on her loyalty… but who turns down a call back for a Broadway show!? Answer: Jessie Mueller. So, they bypassed that and asked her to fly herself to New York City instead. She went in, then came back a second time... but this time with Harry Connick, Jr. Scary, but she told me that he walked over, shook her hand and said, “I’m Harry” and it totally relaxed her. End of story: she got the gig. The show closed in the winter and a few months later she was out of town and her phone began dinging madly. Turns out, months after the show closed… she was nominated for a Tony Award for her very first time on Broadway.

We’ll definitely do songs from Clear Day, plus Waitress, Carousel and, of course, her Tony Award–winning turn in Beautiful. We live stream it only once at 8 PM ET on Sunday. Here we are doing the title song. Go to TheSethConcertSeries.com for tix.

On SiriusXM/Pandora, I do a podcast called Seth Rudetsky’s Back-To-School where I interview celebs about their years in high school and I just had Megan Mullally on the show. Megan and I met doing Grease in the 1994 revival (her Broadway debut), but I had no idea back then that she spent her teenage years as a ballet dancer. As a matter of fact, her summers were spent in NYC at the School of American Ballet (she’d come up from Oklahoma) and she was here the summer A Chorus Line opened. She told me that her mom read about it in the NY Times and took Megan to the box office to get tickets. The attendants told her mom they indeed had tickets… for the following year. Not one to give up, her mom insisted they had to go that night. Then, she turned on her acting chops and told the box office manager that poor Megan was a dancer… and was dying and therefore needed to see it right away. Cut to: that night they had house seats.

Megan also said when she was a teenager, she had long hair. Like really long. She recalled being on a train and having to say to the person next to her, “Sir…um…you’re sitting on my hair.” And on that note, I’m out! Listen to the whole thing here and peace out!

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