Tonight I’m performing in the yearly benefit for Only Make Believe, the wonderful organization that brings theatre to hospitalized children. It’s such a great organization. Actors put on shows that kids love, they have the kids join in with crazy costume pieces and it’s especially wonderful for the parents who get to see their children forget about being sick and just enjoy art! I’ve been doing this benefit for years and it began Off-Broadway in a small space, then a larger one, and now it’s one-night-only on Broadway at Schoenfeld Theatre and it’s sold out! Brava!
TV alert: Tomorrow is The Little Mermaid LIVE on ABC at 8 PM ET. It’s a really interesting concept: They’re going to show the animated film, but all the songs will be performed live! It’s this mix of animation and live performance. (Check out a preview here.) For Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show, I chatted with John Stamos, who is playing the Chef (“Les Poissons”). I first met John when I was the rehearsal pianist for the revival How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and he was replacing Matthew Broderick. I played his rehearsals while JoAnn Hunter, the dance captain, taught him the part. Thinking about it, it feels like yesterday, but it was 1995! Instead of constantly being yelled at for being on my iPhone throughout rehearsal, I was getting yelled at for reading a novel. Same yelling, different medium.
Anyhoo, I was obsessed with that version of “Brotherhood Of Man” that Ted Sperling arranged. Lillias White is unsurpassed and, of course, I had to deconstruct it:
Then, I found this version with John playing Finch and Lillias is even more amazing! Listen to the extra high notes in “Your lifelong membership is free!” (And, P.S., I had to rewind four times to watch Jerome Vivona’s double tour at the end. It’s so high pressure because he has to do it in just two counts and then nail the last pose. And even though he’s wearing dress shoes, he’s fully pointing!) WATCH!
Back to John: He was 18-years-old and working at his dad’s restaurant when he got an audition for General Hospital. He went in on Monday, got cast, shot the episode on a Wednesday and by the next week, he was a soap star. His dad didn’t think it would necessarily last, so John not only kept living at home but he also kept working at his dad’s restaurant on Sundays! There were so many famous guest stars on General Hospital (including Elizabeth Taylor!), but one of the coolest moments was with Sammy Davis Jr.
John plays drums and always wanted his character to play some music, but they never let him. Sammy was doing a scene where he was going to play piano, and John mentioned that he played drums but they never let him. Sammy looked at him and said, “Do what I say…”. The scene began and out-of-the-blue, Sammy said, “Blackie? You play drums, don’t you?” I just watched it and you can tell it’s totally unplanned because John’s mic isn’t on when he responds and then they’re talking over each other onstage. But it’s so great! Watch!
I also had Graham Phillips, who’s playing Prince Eric, on Seth Speaks and I haven’t spoken to him since he was starring in 13 in 2008. Again, it feels like yesterday…yet he’s now 26! He was so great in that show and I was asking him about the teen drama backstage. He said that when they did the workshop at Goodspeed, the producers had the “reality show worthy” idea to put all the kids in the same house. He opted out (along with Ariana Grande and Aaron Simon Gross), but it sounds like the house was an episode of The Real World. Speaking of him and Ariana, they wound up being a couple for years…and here they are singing up a storm as teens:
Even though he left Broadway to do TV (he was on The Good Wife right after 13) ,he still loves singing and recently played Tony in the workshop of the film version of West Side Story directed by Steven Spielberg. It “killed” him when he didn’t get it, but he said it was still an amazing experience and he’s so happy he did it because it reminded him how much he loves to sing! As for 13, such great music and such great performances. Watch:
On Monday December 9 and Tuesday December 10, I’m going to host Red Bucket Follies again for Broadway Cares. I love doing that show so much! If you’re available in the afternoon, get thee to BroadwayCares.org!!! On that first night (December 9), right after I host, I’ll be hightailing from the theatre to host a big concert for Beit Simchat Torah, the Gay/Lesbian Synagogue at 7 PM. I have an amazing bunch of ladies joining me: Stephanie J. Block, Jenn Colella, Beth Leavel, Julia Murney, and Christine Pedi! Info here!
SO! Back in Fall of 1999, I was music directing and hosting a benefit at Don’t Tell Mama (I can’t remember what it was for!). I was chatting with the singers onstage before they sang…like mini-interviews…and afterwards I spoke with composer-conductor David Friedman, who was very complimentary. He specifically told me told me how great I was talking to the singers because not only was I an insider, I was also such a fan. It really stuck with me and it coincided with a time when I was getting back into performing. I had spent the previous year-and-a-half as a comedy writer on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, working behind the scenes. One day, Rosie couldn’t rehearse a duet with Martin Short, so I was asked to step in. We did the number for “camera blocking” and the video feed was sent to the writer’s room. When I got back, the writers were all very complimentary and asked me why I didn’t perform. I thought, “Why don’t I perform? And if I did, what the hell should I perform?” I thought that I should do something that showed my personality, and talk shows were a good medium for that. I was also so frustrated with how theatre people were interviewed on TV.
I remember a story Faith Prince had told about how she cooks when she’s nervous, to calm herself down. So during Guys and Dolls, when she was waiting to hear if she was nominated for a Tony Award, she was making pancakes. Well, when I watched Jay Leno, he had obviously been prepped to ask her where she was when she was waiting to hear if she was nominated for a Tony Award, and instead he asked the bizarre, “Where were you when you won The Tony Award?” What? Not only did most talk show hosts not know anything about theatre, but theatre people were only allotted three minutes to tell their stories. I wanted DETAILS! I decided that I wanted to do a talk show just about Broadway. I went to Sidney Myer at Don’t Tell Mama and he generously offered me a weekly show. I wanted to keep it cheap so I charged $10 cover/two drinks and figured since it was all Broadway people onstage, the money should all go to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids. The point of all of this is: I did the very first Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox in December 1999 so that means it’s about to be the 20-year anniversary! I’m going to celebrate by doing it again!
Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox is coming back for an anniversary show on Sunday, December 1 at 3 PM, featuring the three Broadway peeps who were in my very first one: Paul Castree, Paige Price, and Orfeh! Plus some special guests!
I took some time off and then came back, but if I were to guess, I’ve probably done around 500 shows!
I’ve heard so many hilarious Broadway stories from so many years doing the show. Here’s just one of them (from Michael McGrath about Martin Short):
And, of course, I’ve hosted so many amazing performances. There will definitely be performances at this anniversary Chatterbox. There have been so many special ones—like when Raúl Esparza brought his audition book and we randomly did “Defying Gravity” or the one below where Sutton Foster was putting together a benefit of Snoopy for the Pied Piper Children’s Theatre and they used the Chatterbox to practice. So fabulous!
To make a reservation for the anniversary show, go to DontTellMamaNYC.com or just call 212-757-0788. Peace out!!!