What Is Audra McDonald’s Theory About Talent and Broadway? | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky What Is Audra McDonald’s Theory About Talent and Broadway? This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth reveals more guests for the upcoming Concert for America, stories from his concerts with Audra McDonald, and a video message from Cheyenne Jackson.
Seth Rudetsky and Audra McDonald Sachyn Mital

Hello from my two days in NYC! On Wednesday, I fly to L.A. to do final preparations for Concert For America which is this Saturday, September 21 at 6 PM Pacific Time. Meaning, if you’re in NYC, watch the livestream at 9 PM Eastern Time! So many cast members have updates that have happened within the last week: Kate Flannery (from The Office) just started Dancing With The Stars. I was watching some classic “Meredith” moments from The Office and the first one is so shocking and hilarious.

Anyhoo, Kate will be singing with Jane Lynch…who just won an Emmy award for guest starring on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel! And Melissa Benoist and Chris Wood (both from Supergirl) were slated to sing together and now it’s even more perfect…they just got married! So, it will be their first performance as a married couple! Some of the stars are flying in for the concert….Grant Gustin got the day off from filming The Flash to fly to L.A. from Vancouver and Cheyenne Jackson is also flying in from Vancouver from filming his TV show. Here’s the video Cheyenne did promoting the concert, which I posted and stated that it was very difficult for me to take in the information based on the trance I fell into from his stunning blue eyes and shining white teeth.

And, we just added two former Elphabas to the lineup! Carrie Manolakos and Eden Espinosa are both singing. Have you ever heard Eden’s incredible signing on the song I arranged for her for the Actors Fund Hair album? It’s so mind-bogglingly amazing!!! Here’s my deconstruction:

All remaining tickets are $25! And there is also the aforementioned livestream. Also, the amazing TV producer Greg Berlanti and his husband Robbie Rogers and their Berlanti Family Foundation are funding the entire concert: the band, the theatre rental, the livestream costs etc. That way all the money from ticket sales will go right to National Immigration Law Center (NILC.org)! Anything you donate (meaning right now!) will go to them as well. SO get thee to ConcertForAmerica.com for tickets and livestream access and donations.

I spent Sunday in Chicago doing two shows with Audra McDonald. My friends Michael Kilmczak, Phil Fabry, and their daughter, Mia, came, too. Mia’s about to turn 10, but when she was a baby, James, Juli and I would babysit her.


One time when I was with her, she would not stop crying. I randomly did a time-step…and, suddenly, she stopped! I soon realized that I would only silence her wailing if I hauled out my tap skillz. I actually made a video when it happened for proof!

During our show, Audra and I were talking about her Broadway debut, which was in The Secret Garden. At first, she felt the thrill of “I’m on Broadway!” But then she said that it felt the same as any show she’d ever done. Her point was, that she had always thought Broadway was going to be this magically special place that felt so different and she’d be surrounded by magical beings…but theatre is theatre wherever you are.

There’s this myth that the most talented people in the world leave whatever city they’re in and come to Broadway, and the lesser talented ones stay close to home. Well, it’s just not true. Some people stay in their cities for various reasons and don’t try to do Broadway (or don’t perform at all) and Audra is always miffed when people say to her “I can’t believe you’re from Fresno” implying “how could someone that talented be from that random city?” Audra said there are so many extremely talented people everywhere…success is talent plus opportunity.

We then spoke about her first original role on Broadway, which was Carrie in Carousel. When she won the Outer Critic’s Award, it was presented by Madeline Kahn. Audra was huge fan and was so thrilled to meet her, she doesn’t remember if she made a speech. She thinks she spent the whole time gushing over meeting Madeline. Audra has seen What’s Up, Doc? at least 10 times!

Well, a little while after that, Audra wound up being cast on a sitcom with Madeline! They were flying to L.A. together to film; Madeline was in first class and Audra was in coach. Audra went up to say “hi” and the flight attendant tried to prevent her, but Audra insisted that she knew Madeline. Finally, Madeline saw her and was super friendly. As a matter of fact, the seat next to her was empty and Madeline asked Audra to sit there for a while. When Audra finally went back to her seat, she gave the flight attendant a look of triumph. Well, Audra has always said that whenever she feels haughty, she gets kicked by karma and, sure enough, after filming the pilot with Madeline, she got fired!!! But she and Madeline remained close. When Madeline passed away, Audra was pregnant and on the day of Madeline’s memorial, Audra found out her baby was a girl. And that’s why her daughter’s Zoe’s middle name is Madeline!

Audra told another story about her how hard it was for her at Juilliard. At one point, Barbara Cook was giving a master class and Audra begged to be able to perform for her. The answer was a flat-out NO. But she was allowed to usher. Then, after Audra performed her senior recital (where I played for her!), she got critiqued by the vocal staff and one of the teachers (who really did not like her) wrote that her performance was sub-par. He ended by telling her she was more suited for Broadway. Not “You’re so amazing you should be on Broadway!” but “You’re not good enough for anywhere but Broadway.” Well, years later, she wound up becoming very close to Barbara Cook…and actually performing with her!

As a matter of fact, Audra made her Met debut because Barbara put her in her show! One night, Audra saw Barbara’s show at The Carlyle and went to visit her dressing room. Who then walked in but…the professor who basically thought Audra was a no-talent. Picture it: There was Audra, who was forbidden from doing Barbara’s master class, in Barbara’s dressing room! And, she had performed with her numerous times! Audra was polite and said, “Hi! I don’t know if you remember me…” and he immediately told her that he did and added “I’ve followed your success on Broadway…” Then, instead of being mortified, he nodded sagely and said, “You see…I was right!” #Chutzpah

Here is Barbara and Audra at the amazing Obama fundraiser they did on Broadway in 2008!


Last week, I met up with one of my favorite authors, Elin Hilderbrand, because she wanted some advice about doing a benefit on Nantucket. When I walked into Le Pain Quotidian, she had a legal pad out and was writing on it. I thought it was something like a grocery list, but she told me it was her next book! What the-? Turns out, she hand writes all of her novels! I couldn’t believe it. I have to write everything on a laptop because I write way too slowly and my mind always races ahead, so it’s extremely frustrating. Anyhoo, I posted our photo on Facebook and mentioned how Elin hand writes everything and my friend Sasha Charnin posted a photo underneath. Sasha is Martin Charnin’s daughter and, turns out, he hand wrote everything, too! Look!


After L.A., I have shows coming up in Kansas, Boston (with Cheyenne Jackson), Hartford, Connecticut (doing Rhapsody in Seth), and in Ohio twice (Lorain County and Cincinnati). Details at SethRudetsky.com!

And now, please watch my friend Bonnie Milligan singing The Wizard And I. The ending was so shocking and amazing to me, I almost passed out! Bonnie is going to be at Best In Shows, the Humane Society benefit I’m hosting and music directing October 14. Get tickets at 54Below.com.

Peace out!

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