The Skin-Shivering Prank Hugh Panaro Pulled on the Phantom Broadway Stage | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky The Skin-Shivering Prank Hugh Panaro Pulled on the Phantom Broadway Stage

Plus, why Marc Shaiman roasted Seth's jokes and what Seth really thought of A Beautiful Noise.

John Riddle, Ali Ewoldt, Hugh Panaro, and Seth Rudetsky Courtesy Seth Rudetsky

Last week, I did my second show at the Café Carlyle. I’m so #fancy. Boy, that hotel is beautiful, and the cabaret room is so intimate. This month, my shows have been focused on The Phantom of the Opera in homage to the fifteen-year span of time I played off and on in the pit. I cannot believe it’s closing soon! This is definitely the end of an era.

Each Carlyle show has a different cast. In continuation of the Phantom theme, last Monday, I had Ali Ewoldt, who has played Christine, John Riddle, who has played Raoul, and Hugh Panaro, who has played both Raoul and the Phantom. As some of my show is swapping showbiz stories, we all shared memories of Phantom.

Ali recounted getting the role, telling us she had auditioned for the show many times over ten years. She was thrilled when she finally joined the cast because she was not only the first Asian-American to play Christine, but she was also the first person of color to play the role on Broadway.

John Riddle dropped the bomb during our concert that he is going to be the final Raoul on Broadway! #History.

I’ll never forget seeing Hugh’s Phantom at the 25th anniversary performance. Everyone knows about his glorious voice but let us all acknowledge how incredible he is as an actor. Hugh’s performance on that anniversary night was terrifying and heart-wrenching.

Hugh had the audience really laughing at one of his behind-the-scenes stories. If you don’t know, at one point in the show, the Phantom takes Christine to his lair via boat. The boat is controlled by a frequency that is sometimes interrupted by taxi radios as the taxi travels down 44th. When this happens, the boat either travels in the opposite direction or stops completely. If it totally stops, the actor playing the Phantom must get out of the boat and stand awkwardly on a stage that’s supposed to be a lake, and lead Christine to his underground cave by foot.

Well, one night, the boat stopped, and Hugh got out, but the actress playing Christine was frozen. Hugh was not going to carry her out of the boat himself. He doesn’t know what came over him, but he suddenly yelled, “Get out of the boat, Christine!” When he heard himself, he realized he sounded like he was doing a line reading as Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. The audience really loved his imitation.

Hugh was also a Phantom prankster, and I convinced him to tell the audience about my personal favorite prank he ever pulled. Okay, it was his last night, and Norm Lewis was set to replace him the next day. The signature Phantom makeup has a deep crevice in the cheek, and Hugh was able to find a tiny photo of Norm to insert into his face. At one point in the song, the Phantom pulls Christine to him and sings, “At eternity of this before your eyes!” When he sang “this,” he pointed to the photo of Norm.

“What could they do to me?” Hugh said in his recount. “They couldn’t fire me. It was my final performance!”  

Check out the photo, here!

Hugh Panaro featuring Norm Lewis Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

I wish the Carlyle concert had been filmed. It had so many left turns. We included so many amazing Phantom moments, like the “Final Lair,” which is the whole last section of the show. Ali and Hugh sang “The Prayer.” Hugh sang a song Elton John wrote specifically for him when Hugh had the title role in Lestat. John sang such a beautiful version of Little River Band’s “Reminiscing.” His voice sounds perfectly placed whenever he sings.

Hugh, Ali, and I realized we had all done Les Misérables on Broadway, but not at the same time. We performed “A Heart Full Of Love” with Ali as Cosette, Hugh recreating his Marius, and me singing the role I’ve always wanted, Eponine. I loved it!

Saturday I’ll be with the dulcet-toned Sean McLaughlin, as well as the glorious Gay Willis. Gay was an amazing Christine opposite Colm Wilkinson. Anne Runolfsson, who went from high-belting in various Broadway shows to high coloratura when she played Carlotta, will also be joining us.

In this video, Anne does both. Anne was the stand-by for Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria, and I subbed as the pianist in the pit for the amazing Joseph Thalken. Anne wound up going on quite frequently, so they changed keys and the end of “Le Jazz Hot” for her. Normally, Julie would hit a high note and sing it as a soprano in head voice. Anne took it down a step-and-a-half so it was still high, but she could belt it, ending that number on an F. It was amazing. I did an Obsessed video with her on Playbill and she recreated it. I brought up the fact that she told me when she was in a “good mood” she would take it up another octave and end on a coloratura High F above High C! Watch.

The other week, I did a QVC shopping special with Busy Phillips that was so much fun. My old comedy writing pal, Caissie St. Onge, from the olden days of The Rosie O’Donnell Show was the executive producer of Busy’s talk show and works with her a lot. Caissie asked me to make an appearance and play piano for a fun parody she wrote. All of us writers on Rosie’s show in the late 90s had a lot of laughs in our office, especially when we pulled “stings” (aka pranks) on each other. One of the classic ones was when the hilarious Linda Smith was playing with a small ball, and it dropped out our window. We were on the 8th floor of 30 Rock which faced Sixth Avenue. One of the writers got the NBC security guard to go along with the “sting.” He came into the writers’ room and asked if anyone had dropped a ball out the window because the ball had fallen on someone’s head and severely injured them. Talk about a sting!

That was just one of many. Linda used to do mini stings to me. Back then, I was obsessed about my weight and would make low calorie protein shakes all the time. Well, one day, while my back was turned, she poured a bag of M&Ms into the blender! I was haughtily drinking and proclaiming, “This is a 70 calorie, no-sugar health drink,” despite it actually being sugary liquified M&Ms.

In Broadway news, James and I got invited to not one, but two amazing opening nights. First, we saw A Beautiful Noise. There are so many things to talk about with that show. Robyn Hurder tore it up. Will Swenson sounded exactly like Neil Diamond. Talk about a role he was born to play. Will is also looking like he’s 30 years old. Whoa! You can always count on Will to find the comedy in his performance. Yay, Will!

James and I also could not stop talking about that ensemble. Here’s why I loved them so much. First, there aren’t that many of them, so you could really see each individual person and hear their individual voices instead of it sounding like a wall of singing voices. The singing was so good, with great music arrangements by Sonny Paladino. Not only are they tremendous singers, but they can dance, like the entire time. The choreography is some of the most creative I’ve seen on Broadway. We just loved them!

Then, James and I went to the opening of Some Like It Hot. Again, the ensemble is amazing, and their dancing and singing was thrilling to watch. This is another wonderful score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. How wonderful to have it performed by that cast! I have to give a special shout-out to J. Harrison Ghee, who is in a truly star-making role. He was so funny, so moving, and sings with a voice I want to hear all night.

Marc, who generously invited us to opening night, had the best text chain going with me all that day. I decided to be the annoying friend and text around noon, “Where is the theatre?” I was playing that person who think that someone getting ready for their big opening night has both the time and the interest to text back something very basic and very easy to Google. My hilarious plan failed, though, because I ended up with a typo in the message that confused Marc. He didn’t realize I was joking. When I tried to explain, I added, “So sorry we can’t come!” Another quip that didn’t land, as it only confused him further. After explaining my second “joke,” Marc wrote, “Do us both a favor and spend a little more time on these jokes. Write them out beforehand. Maybe try them out at a few local clubs. When you’re truly ready, text me again.”

Such a hilarious roast!

James and I were meant to attend the opening night party but had to get back home to walk our dog. As we were heading out the door, we heard a huge cheer. That was the moment they saw they got a rave review. We are so happy for them!

Last night, I did a big fundraiser for the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue, Beit Simchat Torah. I had a phenomenal line-up that included Beth Leavel, Christine Pedi, Darius de Haas and Sierra Boggess. It was a ton of fun, so thank you to everyone who attended in person or watched the livestream.

Peace out!

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