by Eric Andrews-Katz -
SGN A&E Writer
CONCERT FOR AMERICA:
STAND UP, SING OUT!
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Seth Rudetsky is best known for his work on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio's program, 'Seth's Big Fat Broadway.' He has been nominated for an Emmy Award (three times) for his writing on the 'Rosie O'Donnell Show,' has appeared on Broadway, written books (fiction) about theatrical life, and has played in the orchestra 'pit' for several Broadway shows. Aside from putting on the Broadway Concert of Dreamgirls, Seth, along with his husband James Wesley, have also put together Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out!, a concert traveling across America and appearing in different cities, with different artists. The 7th edition of Concert for America is coming to Seattle on Thursday, July 6.
Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in the Broadway theatre?
Seth Rudetsky: The first voice I became obsessed with was Susan Johnson in The Most Happy Fella. I do a 'deconstruction' [that can be found on line]. [Seth Rudetsky's 'Deconstructing Broadway' can be seen on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/zonkzink.] After that, my next big obsession was A Chorus Line.
James Wesley: Seth had the benefit of growing up in the New York City area, but I grew up in San Francisco. I saw touring companies, and they didn't get as many 'big names.' Most of my [musical] influences were from movies and the biggest was Barbra Streisand. I'd say she and another woman, who has done many of our concerts, Chita Rivera were the most influential.
Andrews-Katz: What was the first show that gave you the theatre bug?
Rudetsky: That's very easy; it was a one-month revival of The Pajama Game. When I was in the second grade, my family stayed home for the Winter Holiday, and they took us to see three shows. Since I was a small kid, I fell asleep in them, but the one that I became obsessed with was The Pajama Game. I was obsessed with the opening number. The best thing I love about musical theatre are the scenes that are musicalized; I love the fight scene from Dreamgirls, the baseball scene from Falsettos, so I was obsessed with the opening scene of The Pajama Game.
Wesley: For me it was a regional theatre of The Wizard of Oz. I remember everything including exactly where I was sitting in the theatre.
Andrews-Katz: What was the first show you played piano for?
Rudetsky: It was My Favorite Year (or as I like to call it, My Favorite Week because of how short it ran). I have been obsessed with Andrea Martin since SCTV days. I feel very lucky that every person I was obsessed with as a child, I got to work with later on in life. I got to meet Andrea Martin, and flipped out. In those days I did a lot of 'sub' work playing piano for these shows. My Favorite Year led to Les Miserables, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Phantom. I enjoy subbing since I play one show for the matinee and then another in the evening.
Andrews-Katz: Seth, you have worked on many Broadway shows. What is your favorite Broadway memory and what is your worst one?
Rudetsky: My favorite was when I was conducting for The Producers on Broadway. At the end of the song, 'I Want to be a Producer,' the ladies come out of the file cabinets, and I'd conduct the final beat of the song. It was so theatrically thrilling because the lights would change, and the music would swell, and it was an exciting moment of Broadway synchronicity for me. And I got to be a part of that.
My second memory was that I wanted to conduct Dreamgirls with Lilias White (and eventually did for the Broadway Concert). When she sang 'I Am Changing' at the end, I was in charge of bringing the music up to change the scene. I use to delay for a few seconds to allow her to get the applause she deserved for that number. It's an amazing memory.
My worst memory is because I am such a baby about insects. I was playing for Seussical, the Musical, and above me was a giant water bug. Since the orchestra pit is below the floor of the stage, the actors would be dancing above and the bug was clinging above me, shaking and vibrating. I couldn't stop playing and I was terrified the bug was going to fall on me. I remember watching it and being completely terrified.
Andrews-Katz: How did the two of you meet?
Rudetsky: We met at a mutual friends' game night in December 2006. It was a single's game night, but James claims he didn't know that. We've had mutual friends over the years, but never met. I had just broken off a long-term relationship and looked forward to having a year to be a 'tramp.' James was one of the many guys that I called after the party, and we went out on two dates before I had conflicting feelings. I remember being happy because I knew we were going to be together, but I was looking forward to my year of being a tramp.
Wesley: Seth knew it was a single's night but I didn't. I had been to this friend's game nights before, so I didn't think anything of it. I went to it late. I was previously out with a friend for dinner and a movie, and thought I'd stop by afterwards. There was Seth with all of these single gay guys, and I still didn't realize it was a single's party. We all had numbers around our necks (and I still didn't get it). I got the clue when I saw the contact sheet for all the guys who attended.
Andrews-Katz: You two have worked together on concerts as well as the Broadway homage musical, Disaster. What is the most challenging thing about working together as a couple?
Rudetsky: We are always working on it [the concerts] even when we aren't in the office. We'll be out to dinner and have to make it a point to say, 'let's NOT talk about something related to the concert.' Literally, we are together twelve hours a day, our date nights have often changed to becoming discussions about the concerts.
Wesley: It's difficult to turn it off. You are with each other so much. We may have dinner or go to a movie, or be on the subway and an idea pops into my head. We'll start having a discussion.
Andrews-Katz: The first Concert for America was performed in January 2017 and is now touring the country. What made you decide to put this show together?
Rudetsky: James came up with the idea first, and I said forget it, it's not going to happen. Then he called me and said, 'we have to do this.' Once that was said, I agreed. We only had about three weeks to get it going, but James convinced me and we just did it. I trust James so much, that I listen when he says stuff.
Wesley: For me it was a method of survival for one's mental health.
Rudetsky: I agree.
Wesley: That was the initial reasoning behind the show, and now it's expanded. In the aftermath of the election, we looked at each other and said, 'This is something we can do well.' We made a list of our friends and a few days later we started to contact people. There were rumors that a major concert event was happening with Pop Stars, and that it was going to be performing across the country. It turns out they were rumors, but we decided to do it. We raise money for organizations, but it's more about giving these great charities publicity for the wonderful work they do. There is an American gay man that wants to marry his fiancé (who happens to be from a Muslim country where there is a travel ban going on). Not only can they NOT get married now, but they can't even visit because one of their countries is banned from immigration to the U.S., and if the American travels there, he'll be killed for being a gay man. That helped me understand the reason for all of what we are trying to do. Most of the concert's beneficiaries focus on gay rights and the undermining of hate groups. Our concerts give them a platform to say what they do, as well as being entertaining for the audiences.
Andrews-Katz: Every city across America has a different line up of stars performing. How does it get decided which play at what venues?
Rudetsky: There will be no sad love songs in the show. We want everyone to leave feeling happy and uplifted.
Wesley: We have our set of friends that we've known for years, and friends that are new because of the concert. We'll reach out (or they will reach out to us) and say, 'these are the upcoming dates, where would you like to fit in?' A lot of it depends on the locality of the performer. For Seattle, we have lined up the pop star Maureen McGovern. Not only was she on Broadway (Little Women, Three Penny Opera) but her song 'There's Got To Be A Morning After' has lyrics that are very relevant in recognizing what is going on today. Under all the negativity, there is still an optimism and positivity, and it's all about the joy.
Andrews-Katz: The performers are mostly Broadway talents. Will they be singing songs from the theatre or songs from a more traditional Americana songbook?
Rudetsky: If we are lucky to have the performer that originated a song (example, Marissa Jaret Winokur singing 'Good Morning, Baltimore' from Hairspray) we always like them to present that. But in San Francisco, we had 'Last Dance,' and 'I Will Survive.' James and I are big Pop fans as well, but it's Pop from the 1970s and '80s. We always like to have a mix.
Andrews-Katz: Is the concert made up of songs only or will there be other acts involved?
Rudetsky: We do it all. We'll have a song, then a (four minute) conversation about one of the beneficiaries, then another song or a comedy act. We keep it very entertaining.
Wesley: We don't have a standup comic in Seattle, but it is the first stop we'll have a dance crew performing.
Andrews-Katz: You have worked with practically every notable name on Broadway. Is there a favorite person you like to work with, and is there a person you'd like to avoid working with in the future?
Rudetsky: My favorite person(s)... I'd have to say a lot of them have to do with my childhood. I love the new stars as well, Jesse Mueller, Gavin Creel or Norm Lewis (Gavin and Norm are my favorite male performers). When I play for Patti LuPone, or Betty Buckley, or Andrea McArdle, it's a thrill because these were people I never saw performing these great roles when I was a child, but now I get to sit with them, chat and hear them perform these great songs live. I'd also have to say I love working with Audra McDonald; we've known each other since our 20's.
I don't think there is anyone I'd avoid working with ... I tend to have a good reputation with people deemed as 'being difficult.' They know that I'm so obsessed with musical theatre that they know I'm going to make them look good because of it.
The star lineup for Seattle's concert includes: Maureen McGovern, Sierra Boggess, Kerry Butler, Dinah Manoff, Shoshana Bean, Megan Hilty, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Billie Wildrick and several other talented artists.
Concert for America started on January 20, 2017 at The Town Hall in New York City. The mission is to 'raise money and infuse fellow Americans with hope and inspiration and the desire to become more active citizens.' There are five beneficiaries for Concert for America, all working to protect human rights: Southern Poverty Law Center, National Immigration Law Center, The Sierra Club Foundation, NAACP, and National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Tickets ranging from $250 (VIP seating with Meet/Greet with the cast) to $25 are available through the 5th Avenue Theatre at the box office (1308 5th Avenue), by phone at 206-625-1900, or online at https://www.5thavenue.org/
For more information, please go to: http://www.concertsforamerica.com
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!