Let me get right to it! I’m sorry this column is a week overdue. I actually feel I’m busier now than when I was co-writing and co-starring in Disaster! on Broadway! Here are the details:
Last week James and I were in Texas. We did a few events, which were great, but one of the devastating things was the lack of awareness about COVID-19. While we were at a fundraiser and they were serving food to everyone—finger food. Like nuts and chocolate. The kind you usually could use a spoon to take out and then put in your hand, but this was set out to literally reach your hand in and take it out. It was the week of March 16 when the wasn’t quite as much COVID-19 awareness, but James and I were shocked at how in-denial everyone was. And the event was at a doctor’s house!!!
The day after that event, Broadway shut down, which hopefully woke up some of these people, and we flew home the next day. We have a house upstate and we drove up, knowing we’d be holed up for a while. I’m very lucky that I’m able to do my SiriusXM show remotely, but a slew of my upcoming concerts were canceled: Keala Settle in San Francisco, Santino Fontana in Fort Lauderdale, Brian Stokes Mitchell at Town Hall, and Deconstructing Broadway in Rochester. Thankfully, we’re rescheduling them all. But, like most of us, that was money I was counting on. I began to think about everyone being affected by all work stopping.
Then, on Saturday, I saw a tweet from Jen Cody asking people to do something to help. I told James that we should do some kind of online concert where people watching can donate to The Actors Fund. P.S. If you don’t know, The Actors Fund is for everyone in the arts: musicians, ushers, lighting designers, box office personal, TV film crews, script supervisors, ballet dancers etc. In other words, everyone currently out of work. As for the singing, I know that technology isn’t good enough for me to play in my house while they sing in their house, but I knew could send tracks.
James told me that it shouldn’t just be songs; he felt we should treat it more like Concert For America and talk to the singers and find out how they’re coping and give updates from The Actors Fund. Saturday afternoon, I started sending emails and the first two to respond were Audra McDonald and Kelli O’Hara who said YES. We told Joe Benincasa and Brian Stokes Mitchell, the CEO and Chairman of the Board of The Actors Fund, respectively, and they were all for it. On Sunday, Stokes gave us the name: Stars In The House. Because stars in their houses and we’re watching them in our house. And “the house” is another name for the audience part of a theatre. #Clever.
James and I spent Sunday trying to find a website that would allow us to broadcast live. James found StreamYard.com, which lets us have up to six people on screen and we tested it with our young friend David Katz. Then, on Monday morning, Dr. Jon LaPook called us which changed everything. Dr. LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for CBS and a week before, he had asked me to write a song about handwashing and also asked if James and I would produce a video with a bunch of stars, like our “Broadway For Orlando” video. (Note: Handwashing must be for 20 seconds! Get under your nails, tops and bottoms of your hands, tips of your fingers, both thumbs and your wrists!)
Well, we first thought 50 stars like “Broadway For Orlando” but immediately realized social distancing was key and even getting 10 people together was too risky. Then we thought we’d have just one singer being filmed in a studio… but then CBS had some people test positive for COVID-19 and we had to postpone. Anyhoo, it’s Monday morning and Dr. LaPook called us to see if there was a way we could make the handwashing song happen, but we told him we couldn’t that day because we were starting a live stream for The Actors Fund. He told us that he could join if we wanted. We said YES! It has been amazing. He’s able to give updates from everyone on the frontlines, like Dr. Anthony Fauci or, as he calls him, “Tony” Fauci.
Last Monday at 8PM (our first broadcast) we didn’t exactly know how it was going to go, but James and I pushed the “GO LIVE” button on the website on Monday night and, it was fantastic. Here’s our behind-the-scenes setup:
You can see some moments from that broadcast here on this CBS Sunday Morning piece that Dr. LaPook did.
Since then, we’ve done two shows a day live and, after they air, they’re available to watch on The Actors Fund YouTube page. The show keeps developing organically, and one of the ways in which that happened was thus:
March 22 was Stephen Sondheim’s birthday. I scheduled Liz Callaway (Merrily We Roll Along) and Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music) to be on the show, but Sunday morning, James suggest Joanna Gleason (who was The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods). She immediately said yes, and then I realized we should also have the Baker with his Wife. I called Chip Zien and he said yes right away. It was so fun seeing them together again! Joanna sang “Moments in the Woods” and then she and Chip did a lovely duet of “It Takes Two.” At one point, Joanna left the screen and came back telling us that when she left Into The Woods , they gave her Bernadette Peters’ original staff that she held as the witch. Joanna has had it since the late ’80s and decided that now is the time she wants to auction it for The Actors Fund! Because of that, guests now come on the show, chat, sing and offer items for auction! Laura Benanti is auctioning off the shoes she wore as Maria in The Sound Of Music and Audra McDonald is auctioning off the baby she held in Ragtime and Betty Buckley is offering an actual piece of the heavyside layer from the set of Cats. Email StarsInTheHouse2020@gmail.com for details on how to bid!
Side note story: When Laura auditioned for Sound Of Music, she was still in high school. She knew it was a big deal to audition for a Broadway show, so she got dressed up. In her prom dress. Seriously. #Obsessed.
Speaking of Chip Zien, he told me he once auditioned for Little Shop of Horrors. And speaking of Little Shop Lee Wilkof (original Seymour) just sent me this great video to “Suddenly Seymor” about washing your (damn!) hands!
This week we have so many great people coming up on Stars in the House (schedule below) and we love that Lea Salonga emailed and offered to do an episode. The incredible part is she’s in Manila and the show is live. Manila has a 12 hour time difference! So she’s doing our 2PM Saturday show…which is 2AM in Manila!!
This week’s schedule is:
TUESDAY, MARCH 24
2pm ET: Jeremy Jordan
8pm ET: Raúl Esparza
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25
2pm ET: Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond
THURSDAY, MARCH 26
2pm ET: Tituss Burgess
8pm ET: Matt Bomer
FRIDAY, MARCH 27
8pm ET: Miranda Sings (a.k.a. Colleen Ballinger)
SATURDAY, MARCH 28
2pm ET: Lea Salonga
8pm ET: Kristin Chenoweth
Also! We don’t list all of our stars, because we love to surprise our guests!
Dr. LaPook has made it a point to tell everyone to reach out to others. We’re all so isolated right now, it’s very important to connect. So, we’ve been bringing on friends of our stars to surprise them and chat! It’s been so wonderful. Here’s a shot of the show with Norbert Leo Butz where we surprised him with Will Chase, his former cast member from Rent, and his former co-star from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, John Lithgow! Here’s a montage shot of that day with a special appearance by Dr. Jason Kindt, one of the doctors at the Friedman Health Center run by The Actors Fund. Don’t forget…this health center is for everyone! With or without insurance!
Also in entertainment: Today I launch my very first podcast through SiriusXM/Pandora. It’s called Seth Rudetsky’s Back To School and every episode is spent with a celeb talking about their high school experiences! I’m referring to the AP classes, the mortifying scoliosis test in gym class, the amazing chorus solos, the embarrassing behavior by their parents in front of their friends, the SATs, the must-have fashion, and so much more! My first batch includes Tina Fey, Sean Hayes, Rosie O’Donnell, Allison Janney, and more!! Get thee to SiriusXM.com and listen to exclusive sneak peeks from the Tina Fey and Vanessa Williams episodes here.
Tina tells an amazing story about her high school senior play Dracula in which she played Van Helsing. I started to question the casting and she immediately said, “What? Who says Van Helsing has to be a boy? Get woke, Seth!” So many hilarious things went wrong with the show and her re-telling is hilarious…including a part on the set accidentally having a flame and her no-nonsense father standing up in the audience and loudly intoning , “FIRE!”
Here’s Tina in one of her high school theatrical moments
And here’s another high school photo of hers that I love!
And don’t forget; Stars In The House is every day LIVE at 2PM and 8PM ET at StarsInTheHouse.com and all the past episodes are there, too!