by Andrew Barrett
There is no one on this planet who can get access to and get intimate with Broadway's greatest artists like Seth Rudetsky can. And this he does every Thursday afternoon at 6pm at Don't Tell Mama. With an impressive guest list - from performers like Betty Buckley and Audra McDonald, to composer/lyricists like Michael John LaChiusa and Jason Robert Brown -- the one hour "Chatterbox" is devoted to the whirlwind of a mouth, Seth Rudetsky, and his unequaled skill for letting an audience into the private world of Broadway. During this hour his victims, I mean willing celebrity volunteers, contribute loving stories of their careers and lives for an equally willing audience. There is more love in the back room at Don't Tell Mama than at the clambake in Carousel!
But sometimes it is tough love. Sometimes Seth has to bring everyone down to reality and just tell it like it is. After all, we weren't all born stars. Some, like the stunning Andrea Burns (Lucille Frank in the recent tour of Parade), got their fins wet at French Woods summer camp where 13 year old boys and girls pranced about on the stage in the most heartfelt version of Cats that you ever did see! Did Andrea want us to see this humiliating moment? Yes. And No. And Yes. It is the present and the past that make up the essence of "Chatterbox", which Seth dreams to be an archival collection.
It's always so easy to dish it out, but Seth can take it, too. He is currently starring in his own one-man autobiographical show, Rhapsody in Seth, at HERE on Saturday nights at 11pm. Through Seth's maniacally musical way of speaking and delivering a joke, we are passionately brought into a life with a lesson that is for everyone.
So now I have the pleasure of archiving a bit of Seth off the stage and out of the lights. We met for a brief conversation after an episode of "Chatterbox" and this wonderfully joyous man, who loves the theater more than anyone you will ever meet, answered a few questions for me. Seth, like the divas he worships, should be experienced live. I knew going into this interview it would be very difficult to capture his sheer kinetic energy on paper. So I decided if I do not edit his words, as so many print interviews do, and let his natural rhythm flow through his words, then maybe, just maybe, you can all enjoy Seth as much as I did.
Seth Rudetsky: I realized that ... my favorite thing is going out to dinner with all my friends and just like - "What happened at the show?" I just love, "What was the latest mess that just happened." Plus anytime I ever met all those people I was obsessed with, like Priscilla Lopez, it's always like I'm pumping them, over and over, "What was the first rehearsal like?"
I was doing a show once and David Friedman came and he said after the show, "You're such a good performer but you're also such a fan". And I thought, I am a fan! I love talented people and I love talking to them, and then I just decided to put it all together.
AB: When was the moment you knew you had a gift for interviewing?
SR: I had no idea. I will say that I decided I really needed to do something more ... you know, I was writing for Rosie behind the scenes and then one day she was sick and she couldn't do the rehearsal and I did this scene with Martin Short and everyone was like, "Oh my God, you were so great!" And then I was like, "Wait. I do like performing. What am I doing just being a writer?" And I was thinking I have to do something. "What's special about me?" I mean I could play the piano, and I began thinking maybe I could do a talk show. Then I was talking to my agent and I told him, "I want to do a TV Talk show." And he said, "Just do it live and we'll bring people to see it." So I just did it. I scheduled the thing at Don't Tell Mama ... we had no idea what I was going to do! Everyone was like, "You have to have a hook, something different about yours." I just thought of the idea about having the video clips. That became my specialty. Everyone has to bring a mortifying video clip. I did it and I just told funny stories. It's funny because, I had a few friends come to see it and they were like, "Oh yeah, the show was fine" And I thought, "Wait a minute. It was good!" Then other people I didn't know were like "It's amazing!" I realized it's essentially what I was doing in my living room with my friends. I was always like "Oooh listen to this high note! Watch this tape!" And they were always like, "Yeah. Whatever." But people were never saying that now, they were saying, "It was so much fun." I don't know if it's a gift or not but I got really good feedback and I began to get comfortable.
SR: Paul Castree - because I was friends with him and I know we have sort of funny stories that we've always told about "Forever Plaid". I love Orfeh's voice and I was dying for her to sing "Nights on Broadway" but that's a duet so I booked Paige Price, too. So I booked the three of them and I really didn't know what it was going to be like.
AB: Who is your dream interview?
SR: Well, Betty Buckley was obviously, but I've had her. Patti LuPone. And she's going to do it. She is definitely going to do it. I've spoken with her and she's told me this story she is going to be telling and she has a video clip.
AB: What could you possibly do to completely humiliate yourself if you got to interview Patti LuPone?
SR: Well, I already humiliated myself when I first met her backstage at "Grease." I was playing [Seth played keyboards for the revival] and she came to see it. I was like "Act maturely. Act maturely." And then I was like, "I love you." [This is one of those moments you had to see how Seth said this. He thrust forward like someone was hitting him on the back. The look of utter terror was on his face like that of a cartoon character plummeting to the concrete below] "I love you." [singing] "I was DE-vistated!"
AB: Of those who are dead, which Broadway artists would you most like to interview and why?
SR: I'm really mad I never got Gwen (Vernon). I was so bad because I kept putting it off. Who did I grow up obsessed with that's no longer around? Definitely Ethel (Merman). You know I would be very curious to talk to her about "Gypsy". Leonard Bernstein, oh god, I would love to talk to him. There's a lot of people who are alive I just don't know. Like Susan Johnson who did "The Most Happy Fella". I'm dying to get her.