The Crazy Story of How Terrence Mann Became Broadway’s Original Rum Tum Tugger | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky The Crazy Story of How Terrence Mann Became Broadway’s Original Rum Tum Tugger This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth tells tales from Disaster! in Connecticut, Terrence Mann’s career backstory, and more.
Terrence Mann (center) in the original Broadway production of Cats.
Terrence Mann (center) in the original Broadway production of Cats. Martha Swope / The New York Public Library

Hello from a dark, dark theatre. We just started tech rehearsals for Disaster! at Connecticut Repertory Theater in Storrs, Connecticut. OMG. Tech is so difficult for someone with ADD like me. It’s all about things like focusing lights, who moves the set where, and adjusting costumes. Nothing about comic timing or high notes. In other words, torture.

Not surprisingly, I’m always the one who is told to “stop talking, please” and to “please just stand where you’re supposed to be,” the same comments first uttered to me by my first grade teacher and re-copywrighted every year by various authority figures in my life. Anyhoo, this production is so great. The set is amazing and Tim Brown, our amazing set designer, was able to add a major hilarious/destructive moment during the earthquake that I’m obsessed with!

During off time, we’ve been sitting around telling theatre stories. Our choreographer Mary Ann Lamb has so many great tales! She has had the pleasure (and trauma) of working with Tony winner Scott Wise on many different Broadway shows. If you don’t know, he is Broadway’s biggest prankster. I had heard about one of the many ways he’s sabotaged quick changes, which involved his sewing skills.

Disaster CT Rep

During Song And Dance, people would run off the stage, have ten seconds to put on a new pair of pants and they wouldn’t be able to…because he had an sewn the pants legs closed! Well, Mary Ann added this: At one point, they all had to strip and put on an entire new costume, including G-strings. Well, up until the quick change, he would have the G-strings stored in the freezer! Mary Ann said it was a nightmare once they were on. Once, he hid green dye in their shoes so when they danced in them and their feet sweat, the dye would be released and their feet were green for weeks! Scott lives near Mary Ann in Connecticut and he’s so notorious for his pranks that when she and her husband saw a bear on their property, her husband seriously asked if it was Scott in a bear costume.

We were laughing about the Chorus Line moment when Paul gets injured and Cassie says to everybody, “Does anybody have a darvon or a valium?” and immediately hard-as-nails Sheila says, “I do.” Mary Ann then told us about a real female choreographer she worked with on the West Coast who had a bit of a drug problem; a dancer was having a problem doing a move because of back pain and the choreographer told her to take a vicodin.

DANCER: Really? I don’t think I can dance after taking a vicodin.
CHOREOGRAPHER: (emphatically) Yes, you can!

Mary Ann was also recounting doing Cats and told us about the understudies who sang all the songs from a booth backstage during the show. They would watch the show on video and one night Jane Bodle saw one of the cats she understudied get injured. Jane jumped up, put on her entire cat costume and went charging towards the stage. Right before she got onstage she was stopped abruptly; yes, she did have her full costume on but no cat makeup! The audience almost saw someone in full head-to-toe yak hair with a pale, pale face sticking out. Of course, if she had David Hibbard’s makeup skills, she could have been onstage in three minutes. Watch!

Anne Nathan, with whom I first worked on Ragtime and then Thoroughly Modern Millie, plays Shirley in our Disaster! production. First of all, her tap dance in Act 2 (when she taps out morse code to save the ingenues) is so fantastic. Not since Ann Miller!

When Anne heard the Cats makeup story, she told us her own: She was in Les Miz on Broadway and, in the middle of her run, she was able to sit in the audience and watch the show. That’s when she saw how dark the lighting was for the ensemble. Her fellow ensemble people would painstakingly apply dirt to their faces to appear poverty-stricken, but Ann then saw it wasn’t really being seen. She therefore used that knowledge and decided to cut her post-show prep time for any hot dates. If she happened to have a rendezvous planned after the show, she would do the finale of the show in full beat! Eyes, blush, lips…everything dazzling. Anytime someone from the cast looked at her quizzically she’d say, “Have you seen the lighting?”

Speaking of Rum Tum Tugger, our Connecticut Repertory Theater’s artistic director is the Broadway original himself: Terrance Mann! He’s going on my SiriusXM radio show, Seth Speaks, Tuesday morning at 7AM and again Wednesday at noon. He tells his amazing story about how he got Cats.

If you don’t know, here ‘tis: Back in the early '80s, his friend Dirk Lombard had just been to London and told Terry that he was perfect for a role in Cats. Terry tried to get an audition but could not. His then-wife (before Charlotte) was British and knew someone involved with the West End production. Through that person, Terry found out there was going to be a rehearsal coming up that Gillian Lynne (the choreographer) and more of the staff would be at. Terry flew to London on his own dime (on his own thruppence?). On the day of the rehearsal, he went to the stage door. He told the stage doorman that he was there to audition. He approached the choreographer Gillian Lynne, who told him that they weren't having auditions because (as she pointed to the stage) they had enough cats. He told her that he wanted to be in the American production. She considered it, but then told him the pianist was at lunch. Terry told her he could accompany himself. She agreed and then made this bizarre announcement to the others around her: "Everyone! An American is going to entertain us!" Terry then sang and played Elton John's "Take Me To the Pilot." (And he performed it on my SiriusXM show!)

Cut to, he was asked to come to a call back in NYC and got the role of Rum Tum Tugger! No reimbursement for the plane fare. It’s a great story about not allowing “NO” to stand in your way if you think you’re right for a role! The role also led to this video, in which his hips are a size zero but his natural perm is a size 20. P.S. It features Jane Bodle…with cat makeup!

And finally, I recently made a deconstruction where I call out folks who sing with open vowels and I show the brilliance of a pure vowel by showcasing Betty Buckley in Sunset Boulevard.

I followed that with a fake rehearsal video from Disaster! featuring Leanne Antonio who plays Levora Verona, the disco star who is bankrupt and will do anything to win big at the casino. The video supposedly features how long I can tolerate open vowels. (Answer: not long at all).

Peace out and come see Disaster!.

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