Rhapsody in Seth
by Nancy Rosati
Primarily known to Talkin' Broadway readers as the sassy host of Seth's Broadway Chatterbox, Seth Rudetsky has quite an extensive list of theatrical credits. He's played in the pit of over 15 Broadway shows and currently subs for 42nd Street, The Full Monty, Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia! and The Producers. For two years he was a member of the comedy writing team of The Rosie O'Donnell Show and he wrote the lyrics for the opening number of the 1998 and 2000 Tony Awards. Last year he was the Artistic Producer of the "Dreamgirls - The 20th Anniversary Concert" which raised one million dollars for the Actors' Fund.
This month Seth is bringing his newest show, Rhapsody in Seth, to the Ars Nova Theater on four consecutive Sunday evenings.
Nancy Rosati: Tell me about this show you're doing.
Seth Rudetsky: It's a telling of my childhood years and growing up with everyone lauding me for my piano but also HATING me for "acting gay." There was this crazy dichotomy of being the king of chorus and acting class and yet being on the lowest rung of the school's caste system. I talk about the lawsuit I filed against my high school. It's about how I survived it because I knew that after I got out of school and got to Broadway, things would be different. I did a professional production of Oliver with Shani Wallis when I was 12 and that's when I caught a glimpse of what my life would be like if I could survive school. I knew my life in the theatre would be fab but I had to make it through high school first.
NR: Do others appear with you?
SR: No, it's a one-man show. It's called Rhapsody in Seth because I was obsessed with "Rhapsody in Blue" when I was 11.
I was also obsessed with high belting divas. They were my version of sports heroes. I say in the show, "Other kids could quote batting averages, I could quote how high each diva belted in what song. (Patti got up to a G in "A New Argentina", Barbra hits an F in Funny Lady's "Great Day," Nell hits an E at the end of "Cash for your Trash" etc ...)" They, and their cast albums, got me through my childhood and now I'm working with them! It's amazing.
NR: Didn't you do this show before?
SR: I put it together by myself as a workshop a year ago. Now I finally have a producer. We want to start small and build up some buzz about it. Eventually we'll produce it fully. We're going to start with once a week and hopefully keep expanding.
The show is a blast. I have video footage of myself when I was 16 jazz dancing in floppy jazz pants. It all becomes clear. (laughs) There are a lot of audio/visual aids and it's really funny. People who grew up in my age range will really enjoy it because it's very 70s and 80s.
NR: You're also working on the Funny Girl benefit. Tell me about that.
SR: I conceived it and music directed the Dreamgirls benefit last year. I'm doing the same thing this year. We're now calling me the Artistic Producer. Peter Flynn is the Director. He's also directing Rhapsody in Seth for me and he's fabulous. We have the Associate Choreographers from Dreamgirls, Robert Tatad and Dev Janki. We all got together to shoot around ideas for all the different Fannys. We have a different Fanny for each song.
NR: What was the idea behind using multiple Fannys?
SR: I think it's more fun to have different people who wouldn't normally get to play the role of Fanny get a chance to sing it. I felt that making the whole concert rely on just one person was moronic. Most of the women we've cast are wrong for Fanny but that's the point of the concert. I've read criticism about that idea and I don't understand it. It gets me so frustrated when people say, "But she's not Jewish. She can't play Fanny." I want to see women who would never be cast in the role. That's what makes it interesting. It's a concert. It's not the show.
The two choreographers and I were talking a couple years ago about doing a series of standard shows with non-traditional casts. The reality is that there are very few roles for black people or for Asians. It's so unfair to me that the famous roles like Mama Rose are all white. We decided we could do something like Funny Girl and make it as non-traditional as possible. That's where the idea initially came from. We'd love to do My Fair Lady, Gypsy, Mame - do them all. It's much better than it was ten years ago but I think it's still terrible. It's a shame to see someone like Lillias White not working in a show. I think she's amazing, but what roles are there for her right now on Broadway? Nothing. That's another reason why I'm doing it. I was trying to make an opportunity for people like her to do these better roles. Audra's always wanted to do Fanny but Audra would never get cast as Fanny.
NR: You worked with Rosie for a long time. Now that her show has ended, and the other talk shows don't seem all that interested, do you think there's anyone who's going to step up and promote Broadway?
SR: I don't know, but it's a good question. What I liked about Rosie was I felt that when she promoted it, she showed Broadway for what it is. Even now, you hear that shows are going to the studios to record for the Tony Awards. That's why people hate Broadway. No one wants to see people on TV lip-synching. That's not Broadway, that's Las Vegas. What I like about Rosie is that no one from Broadway ever lip-synched on that show. It was all real and raw.
I don't know what's going to happen, but network execs feel that people don't enjoy Broadway. I think they don't enjoy it because it's never presented correctly on TV in a very raw way. I don't know who'll step up. Maybe Regis but I don't think so. We tried to get Dreamgirls on that show and they weren't interested.
NR: Going back to your high school experience - obviously that's still going on, though there has been some progress made. A high school in my area recently started a chapter of the Gay/Straight Alliance but it's been a bumpy road. I'm wondering if you have any advice for the kid in school who's being picked on today.
SR: This is what this show is about. When I did Oliver, I got a glimpse of my future and I realized that once I was in show business, everything would be amazing. That's how I got through school. I kept thinking that one day I would be back in this amazing world. The kids who don't have something professional to look forward to start thinking of suicide. It's very difficult when you don't see the point and think you might as well kill yourself. Kids have to realize that even if they're not going to become Broadway musicians, there are still areas in the world where they can flourish and be accepted. They have to know that they just have to get through high school.
That's the beauty of the Internet - they can talk to other people. In the 80s when I was growing up, a lot of people didn't even know that there were gay people anywhere else. I was somewhat lucky because I was in New York. It's nice that they can go on the Internet and find other gay people, and know that there's a place where they will eventually be able to fit in.
It's really, really difficult. I don't know how people do it. I would never, ever want to relive those days. They're horrific. Like I tell people in the show, "I'm Jewish and when I went to my parents and said, Kids make fun of me for being Jewish' they would say, We're Jewish too' and we were united." When you're gay, you're isolated. You can't talk about it with anybody. You can't go to your parents and have them say, "We're also gay. We're with you." You feel like you're by yourself.
The only advice I can give is to go on the Internet for support and realize that one day there will be an area where you can fit in. Thank God things are getting better. I'm glad they have that organization in your high school. That's fantastic.
NR: There's good reason for it. There are kids who feel they are constantly being picked on and some are even afraid of being physically hurt.
SR: That's the worst. Thank God I never had anything physical. It was just emotional. It's really hard.
NR: It bothers me to see that it's still going on, although of course, it's always going to happen. I wasn't gay or Jewish and kids made fun of me in high school too.
SR: Exactly. A lot of people that see my show can identify with that. They had the same things that I did - mean teachers and kids who made fun of them. The show appeals to people in that way, and at the same time it's very specific to being gay. The story's never really been told about what it's like to grow up gay. I was 4 when I knew I was gay. I wanted to tell people what it felt like. I wanted to pull down the curtain and expose all this for people so they understood what it's like. Some people will say, "I was made fun of too because I got bad test grades" but it's not the same thing. You know that what you're being called is true. You're being called a "fag" and you know that it's true. That's the worst thing in the world. It's very difficult.
NR: It must be. You've made some good suggestions though.
And now for that frequently asked question, is there any hope that Chatterbox tapes will be made available to people who cannot get to the shows?
SR: If someone from Talkin' Broadway volunteers to do it for me, that would be fine. I can't handle making the copies and sending them out. It wears me out. If someone wants to volunteer I'll mail them a master tape and they can start doing it. It's so hard. You saw what happened with my Mamma Mia! guests. They had to cancel at the last minute and I went through my whole phone book desperately trying to get a celeb. I called Marc Kudisch at 11:00 pm and he came through for me. It's really tough. I would love to do it but I just can't, so if someone wants to volunteer that would be great.
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