How Kristin Chenoweth Helped Jump-Start Kelli O’Hara’s Career | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky How Kristin Chenoweth Helped Jump-Start Kelli O’Hara’s Career

This week in the life of Seth, Caroline Rhea talks about pranking her parents and Bebe Neuwirth remembers Sweet Charity.

Kelli O'Hara
Kelli O'Hara Emilio Madrid

Last week, I did a concert with Kelli O'Hara at Molloy College. Show business has a reputation for being cutthroat, but it’s really not true … at least not in the experiences I’ve had on Broadway. Kelli told a great story about the time she was graduating from Oklahoma City University, which is the same school Kristin Chenoweth attended. As a matter of fact, Kelli had the same singing teacher, the late, great Florence Birdwell. The Florence Birdwell quote I always make Kelli repeat is that anytime Kelli would sing something incorrectly, Ms. Birdwell would suggest that Kelli simply quit the business and “Go sell ribbon at JCPenney.” First of all, I love that there’s no middle ground: Kelli should go from pursuing opera to literally doing something that is in no way related to music. Also, is this an actual retail job? Does ribbon have a big enough demand to need a person dedicated solely to selling it? 

Anyhoo, we were talking about how theatre/music conservatory graduations usually lead to a showcase. That’s when the graduating class performs songs/scenes/monologues, and agents and casting people are invited. It’s a fantastic way to start you career. Well, Oklahoma City University did not have a showcase when Kelli graduated. And instead of Kristin feeling secretly happy that a blonde soprano was going to have a tough time coming to the city and competing with her for roles, Kristin spearheaded the showcase. She rented a studio and invited bigwigs to hear the graduating young people who wanted careers in the arts. And that’s how Kelli got her agent. Brava, Kristin. And, turns out, Kelli did not compete with Kristin for Kristin’s signature role. When Wicked came to Broadway, Kelli had three callbacks … for Nessarose! Spoiler: she didn’t get the gig. But she does have a Tony Award, so I guess it evened out.

Kelli closed our show with a fantastic song that Dan Lipton and David Rossmer wrote for her. Here she is singing at a concert we did in Orlando. Just like in our concert at Molloy last week, I’m playing the piano, and she’s hitting the high Ds!


Stars In The House, the livestream for The Actors Fund my husband James and I began in 2020, is around six weeks away from its two year anniversary. This week, we celebrated understudies and swings. It was so fun. Bebe Neuwirth talked about starring as Nickie in Sweet Charity, the role for which she won her first Tony Award. Besides playing Nickie, she also understudied the title role when it was played by Debbie Allen, and then when the late, great Ann Reinking replaced. Bebe said that one night Ann was doing the “If My Friends Could See Me Now” number where Charity is in the apartment of movie star Vittorio Vidal. At one point, she takes a sip of champagne, and that night, the person who cleaned the cup she drank from accidentally left some cleaning fluid in it. Well, Ann was able to keep going so the audience didn’t know what was up, but she couldn’t finish the show after that number so they asked Bebe to get ready to go on as soon as the song ended. The good news is Ann was totally ok by the next show, but the funny thing is normally Charity falls asleep in the closet and the next morning Vittorio opens his closet door and is shocked to find Charity there. Well, during this particular show, he opened his closet door and the audience was shocked to see Charity there … because it was Bebe Neuwirth!

Here is Bebe in her role as Nickie with Ann Reinking as Charity:

I have a podcast on SiriusXM/Pandora called Seth Rudetsky’s Back To School, and I was listening to an older episode with Caroline Rhea that was so funny. My podcast is all about celebrities in high school. Caroline told me about one time when she didn’t get money from her parents and came up with a scheme: she took a wiglet and giant glasses from her mom’s room and put on one of her father’s overcoats. Caroline went outside and rang the doorbell, and when her mother answered, Caroline used a character voice and said she was from a nearby high school and was selling raffle tickets. Of course, her mother immediately realized it was Caroline and busted her. Just kidding! Her mother completely didn’t recognize her and bought a raffle ticket. Then, she called her husband over and told him about the nice young lady selling raffle tickets. He introduced himself to Caroline. (“Hi there! I’m Dr. Rhea.”) At this point, Caroline went from being elated that she pulled it off to completely irritated that her parents did not recognize their own daughter. Suddenly, her parents looked closer, realized it was Caroline, and they all laughed hysterically. And, because her parents were so impressed by her character work, they let Caroline keep the money.

Caroline also told me that her Dad always wanted to be an actor. Because of that, when she started working on TV, Caroline would always make sure to get her Dad some kind of extra work on every pilot she did. I thought that was so sweet. She also talked about the time there was an auction to be on CSI. She paid up a storm and got her Dad an actual appearance. He called her and said, “Well, I got the offer from CSI.” Caroline interrupted with, “Dad, it’s not an ‘offer.’ I paid a charity for the opportunity for you to be on the show.” Her Dad continued, “So … they want me to play a dead body. End of story. I passed.” Caroline was like, “Dad, it’s not called ‘passing.’ It’s not a job offer.” Hi-lar!

Here’s a link to the podcast:

And here’s a link to Caroline being super funny:

 
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