What Is It Like to See In-Person Theatre During COVID? | Playbill

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Seth Rudetsky What Is It Like to See In-Person Theatre During COVID? This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth and family go to the socially-distanced production of Godspell, plus stories from Liz Callaway and BD Wong.
Nicholas Edwards and cast of Godspell Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

I saw a live musical! Like…in front of me! The Berkshire Theatre Group invited me (and James and Juli) up to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to see the first Equity-approved live musical….Godspell! It was directed by Alan Filderman and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre, with music direction by Andrew Baumer.

There have been musicals performed around the country but they are not following the protocol laid out by Equity’s medical consultants. For this production: The cast had to be quarantined together and get COVID-19 tests every three days. The show is outdoors under a tent with the sides open for ventilation.

As for the staging, if someone is singing, they have to face straight out and not turn to a cast member; it’s safe to sing straight out because the audience is 25 feet away. If there are people singing in back of other people, the backup singers have to be behind a plastic partition. I have to give a special shout-out to Nathan Leigh who did the sound design and made it all sound amazing…even when people were singing behind partitions! It’s one of those things that you get used to very quickly as an audience member.


It actually reminded me of seeing the Les Miz concert that was filmed in the U.K. where the singers also had to sing completely straight out the entire time…and yet there was no COVID-19 to be scared of. Foreshadowing? Anyhoo…it was really exciting to see live performing and it shows it totally can be done! The West Coast and the South need to use this an example of how to do a show and keep people safe, and theatres on the East Coast need to do it ASAP because performing outside will be a lot harder when it gets c-o-l-d.

On Sunday, I did my weekly concert with the wonderful Liz Callaway. We went through so much of her career with songs from: her big song when she was a singing waitress (“Meadowlark”), her first Broadway show (“Like It Was” from Merrily We Roll Along), her title role in Anastasia, her big song from Miss Saigon and so many more…including a song from Song And Dance! Why? Because she was asked by Richard Maltby Jr. (the director) to be the stand-by for Bernadette Peters…until she auditioned and producer Cameron Mackintosh thought she wasn’t British enough. Liz said she was super-disappointed until she found out later that Bernadette only missed one show…and it wound up being the day of Liz’s wedding! I mean, I’m sure Liz would have put in that day as a personal day so she wouldn’t have been called…but Song And Dance might have been canceled because I think Liz would have been the only understudy.

And, P.S., that’s happened before! At the beginning of the run of Thoroughly Modern Mille, Sutton Foster got sick and Catherine Brunell, her understudy, had NO costumes and they had to cancel the show! And there was a Broadway show who’s conductor overslept the matinée and they had to cancel the show! There was no one else who could conduct the show. I know it’s true, because right after that they hired me as a standby conductor and I had to check in every show at half hour to make sure he was there.

Liz and I talked a lot about Baby, the musical she starred in, which has such a fantastic score! We did the duet in the show between she and her college boyfriend, when they find out she’s pregnant. SUCH a great song! Watch!

I was asking her how amazing it was to end Act 1 with “The Story Goes On”…such a stunning song. She loved doing it, but remembers one night where—as she was singing—her vision started getting blurry. She basically thought she was going blind and, looking back, can’t believe how dramatic she was. As she was singing, she remembers thinking to herself: “This is the last time I will sing this song… with sight.” She came offstage, told someone what she was feeling and they immediately told her it was just a migraine. She was like “Oh!” and she has since sung the song many more times with perfect vision. Here’s my deconstruction:

Liz and I have the kind of relationship summed up by what she calls me… the brother she never wanted. There’s always an extremely comic passive-aggressiveness between us. At one point, she talked about being a singing waitress and how she could only sing “Meadowlark” on Tuesdays because that was the day the “good pianist” was playing. We decided to do “Meadowlark” live and I asked her how she felt that I would be playing the song that only good pianists can play. She replied, “Well, I’m concerned….” Hilarious! Usually, these concerts only air on Sundays at 8PM and then once more, but my Liz Callaway concert can be watched for two more weeks on demand. It was so good! Please go to TheSethConcertSeries.com to watch! And this Sunday, August 16 is going to be Stephanie J. Block and then August 23 is Rachel Bay Jones!

I had BD Wong on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM radio show, and he told me such a New York story:
He had been shooting his TV show Mr. Robot all day and was excited to relax in a bath all night and eat something delicious. He got into the comfy “onesie” he wears at home, turned on his sound machine to a soothing waterfall, ordered some food and started running the water in his bath. His food got delivered and he took the elevator downstairs to get it. FYI, he has the kind of elevator that you get into, turn the key for your floor and then the elevator opens directly to your apartment. Well, as soon as he got in the elevator, he realized he forgot his key. And it was after midnight. And he had no phone. And he was wearing a onesie! What to do? He couldn’t buzz a neighbor for help, because you need a key specifically to his floor. I guess he could call a…wait a minute. He couldn’t call anyone. He had no phone. He wound up borrowing a phone from the local convenience store and called the emergency number in the elevator…but it wasn’t an official emergency number…. just a number for the company. In other words, they wouldn’t be opening til the AM. ALSO! He left the apartment with the bath running! He kept looking up wondering if he’d see water flowing out of the windows. The end of the story is: He spent the night hanging out on the street (again, wearing a onesie). That morning, the elevator people finally came to open the elevator. As soon as the elevator doors opened to his place, he heard all the rushing water from the bath. AH! He rushed like a lunatic into the bathroom to stop the flooding and….nothing had overflowed! Turns out, the water he heard was his waterfall sound machine! #TwistEnding
BD was on the show talking about his new video that he did for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It’s the song cycle Songs From An Unmade Bed (originally recorded by my pal Michael Winther) and you can watch (and donate!) here!


Don’t forget, this Sunday is Stephanie J. Block on The Seth Concert Series—tickets at TheSethConcertSeries.com.

Watch my Obsessed with her and peace out!

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