Broadway Gossip has Heard it All Before, and Wants to Share

Seth Rudetsky photo 1.jpg
Seth Rudetsky, host of “Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox” (among many other programs), is trading Broadway for the Avenue of the Arts when he comes to the Merriam Theatre Oct. 7.

Chita Rivera once had a bruise on her forehead and she didn’t know where it came from.

Eventually, the acclaimed actress learned it was actually the result of kicking herself in the face during a performance of “America” in West Side Story. This is only one story Seth Rudetsky has heard — from none other than Rivera herself — during his tenure as the leading go-to man for behind-the-scenes dish.

There’s no business like show business, and Rudetsky knows all about it.

The host of “Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox” (among many other programs) is trading Broadway for the Avenue of the Arts when he comes to the Merriam Theatre Oct. 7 to spend an evening interviewing and performing with six-time Tony Award winner, two-time Grammy winner and all-around queen Audra McDonald.

McDonald is set to begin another run on the Broadway stage in Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed in 2016.

Rudetsky, originally from Long Island, N.Y., got his start at — where else? — a Jewish summer day camp while in third grade doing productions of The Wizard of Oz and Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado.

His first introduction to the theater occurred when he was 4 years old and went to see a production of Hair, which has one scene where the cast just happens to be full frontal nude.

“I remember my mom’s hand on my face when they were naked,” he recalled. “I kind of don’t remember much about that show except a hand on my face.” The music is great, though, he added, and the story isn’t really about naked people.

His career as the booster for Broadway began after he finished school at Oberlin College, where he studied classical piano performance. That led him to playing in the pit for multiple Broadway productions including Les Miserables, Ragtime and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

His mother had also encouraged him to do a radio show about Broadway, which was not common at the time.

“My mom always said, ‘You should do a Broadway radio show!’” Rudetsky recalled. “I said, ‘Where, on the moon?’ There isn’t such a thing as a Broadway radio show.”

Despite these protests and doubts, she kept pushing the idea in the “typical Jewish mother style,” he said.

Now, he hosts “Seth’s Big Fat Broadway” and “Seth Speaks Broadway” on SiriusXM Channel 72, which came about quite by accident.

He had written a play that ran off-Broadway and was interviewed about it on SiriusXM. Someone on the Broadway channel heard the interview and told him he sounded great on the radio, he said. “It was one of those weird things where I wasn’t trying for it at all.”

He gave them a recording as a sort of audition for his own segment on the channel and they gave him the Saturday night and Sunday night shifts, which he was so excited for at first — until he discovered they were the graveyard shifts.

Today, he hosts his shows every weekday starting at 3 p.m.

His career has some definite perks aside from just interviewing stars. It’s a chance to share his love for Broadway with others who might not have the same access to it that he does.

“They learn to love all these Broadway songs they wouldn’t necessarily know,” he said. “I get emails from parents that say they love listening to the show with their kids. [It’s like] I’m passing on the family love of Broadway.”

The show also allows him to bring Broadway back into the mainstream conversation, which it might have strayed from recently, he added.

“I just feel Broadway has gotten a bad rap over the last 25 years,” he explained. “Pop music and Broadway really separated. Broadway hasn’t changed, Broadway has stayed the same — fortunately or unfortunately.”

He added that pop music has changed quite a bit and continues to evolve: “In the old days, [Broadway] was played on the radio; now it’s not. Now, it’s a genre.”

His radio show, as well as so many of the other projects he has been involved with, has given him access to stories and secrets from the stars who used to seem so foreign to him — and still do to many of us.

One such star who he spent his childhood listening to and interviewed later is Patti LuPone, who mentioned to him that she doesn’t like hearing the sound of her own voice.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, what? How do you not listen to yourself and be like, “Oh my God, I’m amazing,”’” he exclaimed, adding that if he had her voice, “I’d be singing to myself all the time — which I do anyway.”

LuPone is just one of the many talents from the Great White Way with whom he has done this program — others include Christine Ebersole, Megan Mullally and Sutton Foster (who will join Rudetsky again at the Merriam Theatre in 2016 in addition to other evenings at the venue with Megan Hilty and Kelli O’Hara).

The interviews provide patter and banter for the audience, and the guests never know what to expect. During Sutton Foster’s interview a few years ago, she had mentioned that her first show was Annie, so he ran to the piano and made her sing an impromptu rendition of “Tomorrow.”

“All my interviews have a casual, off-the-cuff, ‘you’re listening to a private convo’ kind of vibe,” he said. “We’ll be talking about something and I’ll run to the piano. You never know what I’m going to force you to do.”

For McDonald’s interview, he is excited to show the audience how funny she is, which may be a surprise for many given that she is known for her more dramatic roles, such as the lead female role in Porgy and Bess or more recently as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. (Her portrayal of Holiday resulted in her sixth Tony award in 2014.) Or she may be familiar because of her TV appearances such as in Private Practice.

“The audience is most surprised when they find out Audra is hilarious,” he said, given that she usually plays “someone who dies in the middle of Act Two.”

If you saw her last year on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where the late night host asked McDonald to sing the most ridiculous Yahoo! Answers as he accompanied her on the piano, her knack for hilarity might not be too big a surprise.

Rudetsky estimated he has known McDonald for about 25 years. In that time, he has gotten to know her quite well and he has plenty of stories to ask her about during their interview.

The patter is completely unplanned, he reiterated, so don’t be surprised if he prompts McDonald to tell the story about the time her wig fell off during Ragtime.

He is excited for the audience to hear some amazing music, witness some “crazy, brilliant acting” and “laugh their Philadelphia arses off.”

Perhaps one day he will get his dream interview with Barbra Streisand, but in the meantime, what would be his dream show?

Answer: a Jewish version of Dreamgirls so he could play Effie White. “I wouldn’t have to gain that much weight,” he quipped.

And what would that be called?

“Maybe Dreamgoys? I’ll get back to you on that.”

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740.


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