by Andrew Barrett
Also see Andrew's 2001 Interview with Seth
Back in 2001 I had the pleasure of sitting down with the incomparable Seth Rudetsky to discuss his burgeoning career. He was coming off the success of The Rosie O'Donnell Daytime Talk Show (on TV, not Taboo!), causing a sensation with his Thursday night "Chatterbox" series, and opening a one man show, Rhapsody in Seth. Six years have passed and his star continues to sky rocket upwards; from his towel-clad performance in the upcoming Roundabout Theater revival of Terrance McNally's Broadway farce, The Ritz, to his daily DJ'ing on Sirius Radio's Broadway Best to his hysterical new book due this month from Alyson Books, Broadway Nights: A Romp of Life, Love, and Musical Theatre (pick up his first book The Q Guide to Broadway: Stuff You Didn't Even Know You Wanted to Know...about the Hits, Flops the Tony's, and Life upon the Wicked Stage also published by Alyson Books).
The man has hardly aged a day, despite having a schedule that would rival a Presidential candidate (I wonder who his front runner is right now?). So, once again, I have the pleasure of sitting down with someone I admire, am a fan of, and feel inspired by - Seth Rudetsky.
Andrew Barrett: Seth, it's such a pleasure to re-connect after all these years. Let's begin with Sirius Radio. How did you end up becoming a DJ on Channel 77 Broadway's Best? (Note: Seth is also a DJ on Sirius' dance station, The Beat Channel 36)
Seth Rudetsky: I was a guest on Sirius when I was doing Rhapsody in Seth. I thought I was awful because it was super early and I had Elaine Stritch's range. Secondly, the host waited till we were on the air to 'apologize' to me because he fell asleep during my show!!!!! So I was annoyed the whole time. But there was a guy named Ray Romano (seriously) who worked there and he said he thought I'd be great on the radio. I guess my basso profundo/irritated self was a hit. I didn't hear anything till a few months later when they asked me to start hosting the graveyard radio shift (weekend nights) and two weeks after that I started hosting seven days a week!
AB: How did "Studio A Cabaret" on Sirius Radio come about?
SR: Sirius asked me if I would interview Christine Andreas. I was so excited to do it because I love doing my Chatterbox interview show and I wanted to do something like that on the air. Anyhoo, Christine went well and soon it became a regular thing for me to have a different guest each week. And now it airs four times a week on Broadway's Best and once a week on OutQ (Channel 109)!
AB: Can you tell me three highlights of your "Studio A Cabaret"?
SR: It's always fun when a guest is booked who doesn't know me and then goes into shock when they realize how obsessed I am. When Chita Rivera came I told her how much I loved her vibrato on the last note of the song "An English Teacher" (from Bye, Bye Birdie) and how I love her slight vowel change (she doesn't sing "wife", she sings "wah-ife"). I also love finding out info that I never knew. Like Burt Bacharach told me that Hal David got pneumonia while they were writing Promises, Promises and that's why they give it a tip o' the hat in the song "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" (" ... What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia ...").
Also, I always begin the show with a little song I make up to the tune of one of the hit songs my guest has sung. When I had Ben Vereen on I was gonna sing something to "Heaven on Their Minds" (from Jesus Christ Superstar). I began playing the piano vamp and suddenly Ben began singing "My mind is clearer now ..." He just launched right into it! I literally got to play "Heaven on Their Minds" for him! It was amazing!
AB: How does "Studio A Cabaret" differ from your live Thursday night Chatterbox series (at Don't Tell Mama in NYC)?
SR: Well, at first I was nervous because "Studio A" has no live audience. It's just me and the interviewee, but, thankfully, it works! Plus, during the "Studio A" show there's much more music. If I ask Betty Buckley how she came up with adding that E to the end of "Writing on the Wall" (it was spur of the moment during a backers audition). I can then cut right to the song. [Note: That song is from The Mystery of Edwin Drood]
AB: Back in 2001, Patti Lupone was your dream Chatterbox interview. Who is your dream interview this year for either "Studio A Cabaret" or Chatterbox?
SR: I must get Barbra! No one has asked her the in-depth questions about Broadway that must be asked: Why did she allow them to use the version of "Don't Rain on My Parade" [from Funny Girl] when she cracks? Did she really get up to audition, sit down, and stick gum under her chair? How come when the chair was checked there was no gum? I want answers!!!!!
AB: When I interviewed you back in 2001 you were hoping to get Chatterbox on TV. Is that still a goal?
SR: Well, it's happened, but it ain't on NBC. For years, I've wanted to get it on public access but was way too lazy to figure out how to apply. My boyfriend James researched it and forced me to get all the paperwork done and put the pilot on film. So, now it's on Channel 56 here in NYC every Tuesday at 12:30 in the afternoon and online at the same time at www.mnn.org!
AB: TV played a vital part in your early career, working as a writer on The Rosie O'Donnell daytime talk Show. Tell me about your continuing relationship with Rosie, particularly your work on The R Family Cruises. How did you become affiliated?
Now we meet a few months before the cruise and hash out what the entertainment 'grid' is gonna look like. The most exciting thing for me so far was doing the concert of Annie with Andrea McArdle as Annie. I, of course, cast myself as an orphan, and it was amazing to be onstage and hear her brilliant voice singing. The only scary thing is now I feel like we've created a monster. We have to keep topping that concert! How? Funny Girl with Barbra!?!?!?!!
AB: With all of these amazing things going on in your career I want to ask how on earth did you find the time to write a second book? But instead I'll ask, "What prompted you to write a second book?"
SR: I was in the bookstore and saw "The Nanny Diaries" on the shelf and thought, "Why are people reading about the inside world of nannies? What about the inside world of Broadway!" I sat at the computer and started writing. I didn't know all the ins and outs of what would happen with the characters when I began, but I knew what the lead character would learn. While I was writing it I was constantly showing it to people backstage to get feedback; my friends in the pits and especially Andrea Burns who was doing The Full Monty at the time, and Jack Plotnick and Anika Larsen. It took around a year and a half to write.
Photo: Joan Marcus
AB: So you are about to appear on Broadway in the revival of Terrance McNally's The Ritz. Can you tell me what the play is about?
SR: It's about a guy who's running away from a hit man and he picks the least likely place he'd ever be found in: a gay bathhouse. It's essentially an old-school hilarious farce.
AB: How did you land your role?
SR: I don't know! I know that Joe Mantello (the director) saw me film a pilot for Brava two years ago and that he reads my column on Playbill.com. But out of the blue The Roundabout Theater called me and asked me to do a one day reading of The Ritz. It went great and then Joe called and said that it was happening and he wanted me to be Sheldon. He also asked me if I wanted to create Googie's medley. I said 'yes' and was doubly excited when he said that Chris Gattelli would choreograph, since we did so many Easter Bonnet opening numbers together. When Joe offered me The Ritz I asked if I could understudy Brooks (Ashmanskas) and he told me I could audition. Ouch. Anyhoo, I went in and got it!
So now I have this really fun little part and I'm understudying a really fun big part! And the patrons watch Googie's number from the box seats. So every night I get to watch the audience as they're laughing up a storm!
AB: Can you share with me an anecdote from a recent preview?
SR: Well, Joe Mantello asked me when my boyfriend and his daughter were coming. I said that I was nervous to bring her because she's six and he said it would probably go over her head. I thought it through and pretty much decided she would just see it as a big chase. So, James and Juli came and, turns out, she loved it. Cut to the next day, someone posted on All That Chat how inappropriate it was that a ten year old girl was in the audience and there are better shows for a toddler to see! First of all, since when is a ten year old a toddler? And she's six! Although, that's probably even more inappropriate. Whatever ... our health insurance covers therapy!
AB: Since you bring it up, and since this interview will be posted on Talkin' Broadway, the home of the popular yet controversial All That Chat message board, can you share with me your thoughts on the constantly intriguing debate of internet chat?
SR: The thing I'm most fascinated with is that I think there should be a psychological study done on the effects of reading posts about yourself. It's something that has never existed before. Yes, people would read gossip columns about themselves, but they're not the same things. It's now essentially like being able to hear everything that's being said behind your back and I wonder what kind of psychological impact it has on people. As for All That Chat, I enjoy it. When someone has an opinion that's well expressed I think its super valuable. I like that it's made critics a little less important.
AB: Are you professionally where you had hoped you would be back in 2001?
SR: In many ways, yes. I was so nervous the book would never be published, so I'm thrilled it's actually happening. My mother always told me I should do a radio show, and I would tell her that she was crazy because I didn't know of any Broadway Radio shows. So, getting Sirius has been a happy surprise ... and further proof that she's always right.
AB: Where do you professionally hope to be in another 6 years?
AB: I'd like to ask a few questions that stray from your professional career. Anyone who knows you (either personally or professional) knows you live proudly and openly. I believe you are an invaluable role model for the gay community. But I've always wondered how your religious mother (Jewish) reconciles her beliefs about homosexuality. Can you talk a little about that?
SR: Well, we grew up secular. She didn't become religious until I was nineteen so her opinions were pretty well formed by then. And I think if you're truly a religious/spiritual person, it means that you're open-minded and not dogmatic in your beliefs. Suffice it to say, she's a big gay rights supporter and comes on all the Rosie cruises!
AB: Who are your personal role models and why?
AB: Do you believe in gay marriage and why?
SR: It's called marriage equality because that's what it is. Why should I not have the rights that other citizens have? My boyfriend adopted a daughter. Why can't she have two parents who are married? What about if he's in the hospital? Why am I not next of kin? It's disgusting that this is even being debated and it's shameful that America doesn't give equal rights to all of its citizens.
AB: How is Maggie (your dog) recovering from her summer vacation?
SR: She went on a great vacation where she ran around for two days straight, she then slept for two days straight and now she wants to go on vaca again. She's a good girl!
Andrew Barrett is a native New Yorker who used to cut high school on Wednesdays to catch Broadway matinees. He now resides in Los Angeles where writing for television (as a staff writer on the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated series Sleeper Cell) affords him the opportunity to continue his pursuit of playwriting (his most recent musical The Confessions of Julian Po was a critical and audience hit at this summer's Edinburgh Fringe Festival).