Which Tony Nominee Surprised The West Wing Cast During Their Virtual Reunion? | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky Which Tony Nominee Surprised The West Wing Cast During Their Virtual Reunion? This week, Seth hangs out with Wicked star Kerry Ellis, Ashley Spencer and Jeremy Jordan, and more.
Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, and Martin Sheen in The West Wing Warner Bros. Television

Well, another week another live concert. I had the hi-larious Jackie Hoffman last Sunday who sang hilarious songs like “They All Know Me (at the Rite-Aid)” and “Immersive Theater” which has lyrics like “Theater that’s immersive / Nothing could be worse-ive.” Brava!

This coming Sunday, I have Ashley Spencer, who I first became obsessed with on the Grease: You’re the One That I Want! reality show. She’ll be joined by her neighbor, Newsies star Kara Lindsay. And, there’s going to be a special appearance by Ashley’s husband—and Lindsay's Newsies co-star—Jeremy Jordan. I couldn’t find a clip of Ashley and Kara together, but here’s Kara belting and tapping. And here’s Ashley with Jeremy sounding great in one of my favorite songs. Get thee to TheSethConcertSeries.com for tix!

Ashley Spencer and Jeremy Jordan Joseph Marzullo/WENN

WOWZA, what a week! We had our one-year anniversary broadcast of Stars in the House followed by an amazing array of reunions: Head Over Heels, Little House On The Prairie, The West Wing, and ThirtySomething. The generosity towards The Actors Fund from our viewers has been so tremendous. In the last month, we’ve raised $100,000, bringing our new total to $800,000.

Here are some highlights from the week: Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie on Prairie, spoke of the episode where she faked being paralyzed (her character was a nightmare). Eventually, Laura Ingalls, played by Melissa Gilbert, figures it out and pushes her wheelchair down a giant hill and Nellie somersaults into a lake. I assumed Alison had a stunt double, and she did, but only for the somersault. She really was in that wheelchair that careened down the hill. There was no seatbelt—and her arm was actually broken while she did it. It was so ‘70s in terms of safety on set.

Everyone in the cast was so generous and donated amazing things like signed books and Zoom chats that we wound up raising $14,000 just during the show. Alison told everyone that she would put on the Nellie wig for $1,000. Two people donated and she sure did. It’s amazing how once she has the wig on, she transfigures right into Nellie.

Alan Alda

The West Wing cast was so funny. There was a running gag of busting Josh Malina throughout the show because he wasn’t able to be on the live stream. At one point, Timothy Busfield made an amazing offer: he would do an hour-long Zoom directing or acting class with anyone for a $500 donation to The Actors Fund. Immediately Bradley Whitford said, “I’ll pay for Malina to take it.” We wound up surprising the whole cast with a cast member they did not expect: Alan Alda (a three-time Tony nominee and six-time Emmy winner), who played Arnold Vinick in the show's final season.

Bradley told us that he was in the trailer next to Alan one day on a shoot and he could Alan vocalizing in his trailer. He thought, “You’re warming up? You’re Alan Alda! You’re 70-years-old. You’re warm!!!” Later, Alda talked about his character running for president and how he didn’t know what the result of the election on The West Wing would be. Turns out, the actors didn’t know what would happen week-to-week, so as his campaign progressed on the show, Alan got super-invested in winning. He kept telling us how he really wanted to win (Spoiler: he didn’t). However, this was his sort-of happy ending.

On our ThirtySomething reunion, I had a great time finding clips of the actors in their early roles (Melanie Mayron on Rhoda, Mel Harris on a Tide commercial, etc). I showed a clip of Tim Busfield in the old series The Paper Chase, and he told us that he was so thrilled to be working the great actor John Houseman. After Tim did his close-ups, it was time for John’s close-ups. Normally, when an actor is getting his close-up, the other actor can stand right opposite him to run lines. Tim was so excited to be able to do that for John and therefore be able to act right next to him. Right before they filmed, however, they wheeled in a giant monitor that had all of John’s lines scrolling and planted it right in front of John. Tim had to stand behind it reading his lines in the scene. They told Tim to do full-out acting with hand and arm gestures….but do it completely behind a monitor. Yay? Here’s Tim with his idol.

This week, one of our staffers Margie Verdon came on our live stream to talk about her experience COVID-19. Dr. LaPook then came on our show to ask us to separate socializing from eating, meaning eat by yourself and then chitchat. Please continue to support restaurants, though. Order delivery from a restaurant or get it to go and then sit outside at a great distance from other people while you eat. Taking off your mask inside around anyone else is not advised.

Kerry Ellis and Helen Dallimore in the London production of Wicked. Photo by Tristram Kenton

On Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM radio show, I had Kerry Ellis who has played Elphaba in Wicked on the West End and on Broadway. I asked her the differences and one of them is pronunciation. In London, her character has a British accent but not in America. One of the things she had to modify on Broadway is to not hit the T in “Defying Gravity” as she did on the West End.

Of course, I can’t really give accent advice since whenever I go to London, I haul out a “’allo there, guvnor!” to which someone always responds “Well, if it ain’t Dick Van Dyke.” Apparently, my accent is as bad as his supposedly was in Mary Poppins. I read his book and I agree with him. He basically wrote that there were British people working on the film, so why did nobody give him notes if the accent indeed was so bad. Also, the film came out in 1964 and the U.K. is still annoyed about it? As Bernadette sang, “move on!”

Anyhoo, I asked Kerry what was hard about playing Elphaba. Usually, we audience folks don’t know what’s hard and what’s not in a show and, interestingly, she told me that the hardest thing about Wicked was doing the sections where she had to mix (like the first chorus on “Defying Gravity”). She’s really comfortable belting, so making her voice small for things like the first chorus of “Defying Gravity” or “For Good” was a chore. She recorded a version of the song produced by Brian May from QUEEN where nothing is mixed. She belts everything! #MyKindOfSong. Watch this (and take Dramamine for the early camera issues).

Kerry is going to be doing a big variety show with West End stars like herself and Broadway stars like Aaron Tveit that starts streaming this weekend and will benefit the U.K. charity Acting for Others and our own The Actors Fund. Get tix and watch at RiseUpWithArts.com.
P.S. I was thinking how hard is must be for Kerry having to modify some vowels and consonants, then thought “what about having to remember the lyrics in the three different languages!?” Willemijn Verkaik performed the show in English, German, and Dutch! I did an “Obsessed” video with her and made her sing in all of those languages. Watch and then peace out!

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