Yay! Saturday night was a big gala I’ve been working on for months, and I’m so relieved it went great.
‘Twas the annual gala for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), and the money went to the Art Education program, which has great training for kids in basically every performing art — jazz, dance, musical theatre, comedy, improv, etc. The evening was themed as a salute to Sondheim, and some kids who train at NJPAC opened the show with “Comedy Tonight.” Or, as I call it because of Janeece Freeman’s arrangement, “High Belting Tonight.” There were non-stop D’s throughout. With vibrato! (PS: one of my favorite “D’s” is Patti LuPone in “High Flying Adored” singing “…local girl makes good, weds famous man.” Listen to her on opening night in 1979!)
I hosted the NJPAC evening, doing mini-interviews with the celebs between songs, and I was also the conductor and pianist. Afterwards, I posted a photo from the show on my Facebook fan page, and someone commented underneath: “We attended this event tonight. Fabulous entertainment.” Ah! How nice! I then continued reading the comment, which ended with this question: “Were you there?” What the-? Maybe they attended the after-dinner and missed the performance? If so, why write “fabulous entertainment?” I was so obsessed with the bizarreness of the comment that I had to respond. I asked, “Were you at the show?” The commenter then clarified that my photo had been shared to another wall, and she meant her comment for that person. Phew! It reminded me of two things: Tyler Maynard told me his mom came to Mary Poppins when he was dancing and singing in the ensemble. Afterwards she told him how great the number in the bank was and added, “You should have been in it.” He responded, “I was!” Also: back when I was coaching a lot, a woman made an appointment with me to work on an audition song; I spent an hour finding the right key, giving her acting/performing tips and cutting the song down to 16 bars. After the whole session she asked me, “By the way, do you also coach?” What the-? What did she think that was? I was then in a crazy position: Do I say, “Actually, that was a coaching…” to which she responds, “That’s your version of a coaching?” Or do I say, “Yes. I also coach.” I chose the latter. PS, still wondering what she thought we did for an hour. Hung out?
Anyhoo, the performers were James Monroe Iglehart, Tony Yazbeck, Len Cariou, Judy Kuhn and Vanessa Williams. Poor James, who plays the Genie in Aladdin, had started his performance on Friday night and during the opening number, he did one of his signature sassy dance moves. However, this time his foot got stuck on the stage but his body kept moving forward. The result? A pulled groin muscle! He left the show after the opening, and his understudy took over. But he made it to the NJPAC show. Brava! After his first number, he told the audience how he was in the group Freestyle Love Supreme with Lin-Manuel Miranda and how good he is at making up raps on the spot. I asked the audience to call out a subject, and someone yelled, “Blue Cheese.” James improvised a fantastic rap (at one point raging that it’s always served on the side with chicken wings even though he never requests it). Of course, afterwards someone asked, “Was that all planned beforehand?” No! Argh! Why do people always ask questions like that? It makes me crazy! During my comedy show, I play recordings of myself when I was a kid, and afterwards people will ask, “Was that really you?” Yes, it was! That’s the point! Do they think I hired a child actor to sing horribly and pretend to be me? Speaking of Iglehart coming up with a rap, here is our Obsessed featuring him and Aladdin himself, Adam Jacobs.
Because both Judy Kuhn (who sang the theme to "Pocahontas" in the film) and Vanessa Williams (who did the radio version) were in the show, I wanted to have a “Pocahontas-off,” where each would sing her version of “Colors of the Wind,” and the winner would get a blue corn moon. But the evening only featured Sondheim songs, so it never happened. Maybe if next year’s theme is Stephen Schwartz. Len Cariou talked about moving back to Canada in the '70s to run his theatre company and direct Company. He called Hal Prince and asked if he was willing to send the stage manager script that had all the blocking. Hal said yes and then added, “By the way, Steve wrote a musical for you. There aren’t any lyrics, but I can send you the script.” Of course, Len was completely thrilled that Sondheim wrote a musical for him to star in (!) and was very excited to get the script. Then he started reading it. He thought, “They must be out of their minds.” Then he read the whole thing and thought, “Well…maybe it could work if the score is very romantic…” Apparently, it did work because Sweeney Todd won a ton of Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Direction and a Best Actor Tony Award for Len Cariou and Best Actress for Angela Lansbury! I just found this fun video of them doing “A Little Priest.” They both sound so great, and I’m obsessed with Angela’s weird dance moves. And, I’m a sucker for a delicious button to a song. Watch the end when they both raise their arms on the last chorus. So satisfying.
At Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM radio show, I had Michele Lee, who just started playing Madame Morrible in Wicked. They wound up giving her a whole new look, so she’s a more sexy Morrible putting the “dame” in Madame. And, speaking of Sweeney Todd, she’s back at the theatre where Sweeney Todd was in the '70s. It was called the Uris, and it’s where she starred as Gittel Mosca in Seesaw. Also on Seth Speaks was Amanda McBroom, who wrote “The Rose.” It wound up being a perfect pairing because she was also in Seesaw! The plot features Ken Howard as someone who is separated from his wife and starts a love affair with Michele Lee. Well, the wife Ken Howard leaves (and, spoiler alert, reunites with at the end of the show) was played by Amanda McBroom! That is, until her role and solo song was turned into a monologue… read by someone else. That kind of stuff happens all the time, but what’s crazy is that Michael Bennett didn’t fire her! He took over as director while the show was in Detroit and changed so many things about the show — including firing tons and tons of people. The late, great Tommy Walsh (“If Troy Donahue could be a movie star…” from A Chorus Line) told me that he hid in back of the clothing racks backstage because Michael would walk around during the show and when he saw you, he’d fire you! So, the fact that Amanda’s role was cut (and she couldn’t dance) yet she was kept in the show must mean Michael Bennett really liked her. Or she was adept at hiding in back of a wool suit next to Tommy Walsh.
Amanda’s written some gorgeous songs, and one of my favorites is “Ship in a Bottle.” Here’s Barbara Cook singing it in 1994:
Amanda is also a great singer, and her next show is in Philly at the Rrazz Room. Info about everything at AmcBroom.com. I’m starting my [email protected] series there on Wednesday, Oct. 8 at the Kimmel Center. I’m also appearing there later on with Kelli O’Hara and Sutton Foster! Info at www.KimmelCenter.org. Speaking of Philly, we were lamenting the annoyingness of cell phones in theatres, and she said it was bizarre during Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill because it was supposed to be a live show with no fourth wall. So, if a phone went off during the show, she felt she had to acknowledge it. But the show took place many years before cell phones, so how could she tell the person to turn it off? So, she would just play it as if it was actually happening during a Billie Holiday concert. When she’d hear a ring, she’d look confused and then in that crazy Billie Holiday speaking voice, she’d start yelling, “What da f --- is that? What da f--- is making that noise?” Someone needs to find a tape where Audra hauled that out and make a mix tape including Patti’s “Who do you think you are” topped with Barbra’s “Shut the f--- up!” stocking stuffer for Broadway fans!
And, finally: Attention book fans! The launch for my new “Seth’s Broadway Diary Volume 2” is going to be Wednesday, Oct. 28! You can beat the crowds and pre-order it here at www.DressCirclePublishing.com. And, if you want a book to read right now, you can get Volume One of “Seth’s Broadway Diary” and “My Awesome Awful Popularity Plan” and “The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek” right here. And on that note, peace out!
(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)