BY CHRISTOPHER MURRAY | So, do you watch these Broadway-themed hit reality shows?
“Lifestyles of the Bitchiest on Broadway,” “Celebrity Accompanist,” “The Voice Coach,” “Keeping Up with the KarSmashians,” “America’s Got High C’s,” “The Real Understudies of Broadway,” “Don’t Tell Mama in Hell’s Kitchen,” “The Biggest Loser Who Was Robbed of That Tony Award,” “So You Think You Can Do a Time Step?” or “So You Wanna Be Paul Castree’s Understudy?”
Of course, you don’t, they don’t exist. Yet. But any one of them could be created from the raw material of “Seth’s Broadway Diary, Volume I” just published by Dress Circle Publishing — in time to buy for your grandmother for Christmas. Take that, football!
If you’ve been to a musical on the Great White Way in the last 25 years, this book is as addictive as potato chips. You can’t read just one entry.
Luckily, there are dozens, with italicized updates from the present and referrals to YouTube.com videos of Tony broadcast performances and OCRs, or “Original Cast Recordings” — not “soundtracks,” that’s just for movies, thank you very much. It’s like the textbook for a Yale survey class “Musical Theater Queen 101.”
The Broadway Boswell in question is Seth Rudetsky, whom the diva Audra McDonald — record holder for six Tony wins, more than any other actor — calls “The Mayor of Broadway.” Rudetsky is convinced everyone has an inner musical theater queen.
“I don’t think Broadway is just for gay men,” he said to Gay City News recently. “It’s for everybody. Possibly, gay men don’t have some of the constrictions that straight men do — that have gotten actually worse. The idea that singing and dancing is just for girls is moronic. I don’t know where this thing began that the arts are just for gay people.”
Rudetsky’s performed a veritable A, B, Cs of theater jobs: actor, audition accompanist, Broadway orchestra pit musician, casting coach, director, not to mention hosting his Sirius XM Broadway radio show and his “Seth Rudetsky's Broadway Chatterbox” each week at Midtown’s Don’t Tell Mama cabaret. He even has his own subscription Internet media empire: SethTV.com. He’s regularly at the piano for the concerts of stars like Betty Buckley, Ana Gasteyer, Jennifer Holliday, Patti LuPone, Andrea McArdle, and Chita Rivera, among many.
After playing “You’re The One That I Want” — as he reports — “at least a 1,000 times” from the pit for the Broadway revival of “Grease” featuring Rosie O’Donnell as Rizzo, he became a writer for her television talk show. There he earned three daytime Emmy Award nominations. He also wrote the Tony Award broadcast opening number for two of the three years O’Donnell hosted.
And Rudetsky, married since 2012 to James Wesley, with whom he raises their seven-year-old daughter Juli, helped organize Rosie’s R Family Vacation cruises and now puts together and hosts the playbill.com Broadway cruises featuring a bushel and a peck — anyone? — of Broadway stars sailing the “High C’s.” Yuk, yuk.
Besides its sheer entertainment value, the book is a record of cultural change for gay lives, seen in the quotidian detail of shared professional and personal lives and moving from the dark days of the AIDS crisis into the brave new world of marriage equality. One of the most telling and moving details is when Seth casually signs off an entry with, “Okay, this week is a salon for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS and I’m also going with Juli’s class to the Bronx Zoo. Peace out!”
Raised in North Woodmere on Long Island’s South Shore, and trained in classical piano performance at Oberlin College, Seth — in the book’s columns, on his radio show, and in casual conversation — comes off as intensely motivated, encyclopedically smart, and possessed of a razor sharp and lightning fast wit that can be just a touch bitchy. He is also a true sweetheart, an Olympic-class fan, and someone who appreciates, even savors talent and the joys of friendship.
His first book, “The Q Guide to Broadway” was published by Alyson Books, and the sequel to his Random House novel for young people, “My Awesome/ Awful Popularity Plan,” is due out next summer. Meanwhile, his musical satire “Disaster!” written with Jack Plotnick and in which Rudetsky also acts, appeared Off-Broadway last year at St. Luke’s Theatre to generally favorable reviews and seems headed for Broadway in 2015. He’s clearly got a good thing going. Anyone?
“Broadway Diary” is an unalloyed pleasure, making you feel like a real insider with access to a trove of Broadway and musical lore. If you haven’t had a crush on Jonathan Groff or can’t complete the sentence “Everyone hates me, yes, yes. Being the ________” (the first lyric to Angela Lansbury’s opening number in Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle,” anyone?), then a fair amount might whiz over your head, despite Seth’s admirable efforts to clue you in to terms like “sitzprobe” (the first time the cast of a show rehearses with the full orchestra).
Rudetsky’s popular “deconstructions” of musical theater performances take what we all know of the experience of being a 13-year-old in their bedroom driving their family crazy by listening to the same song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” over and over and over again. And over again. But he ennobles such obsessive fandom, showing how it presages the emergence of professional artists — how that kid in her bedroom wailing at the top of her adolescent lungs and sounding like a dying chimpanzee is, in fact, practicing, sucking up knowledge of style and technique that will form the basis of their adult technique married to that youthful passion and sheer joy of expression.
Take a look at a “deconstruction” from last summer as he was preparing to head to London for one of his live on-stage “deconstruction” events. Below, he analyzes diva Elaine Paige’s London triumph in the title role of “Evita,” showing us point by point the elements of vocal technique that created her thrilling performance, and in doing so, “performs” the number “Rainbow High.”
He’s quite literally giving a master class on vocal and performance technique, but in essence, teaching us how to love something he loves. I don’t think there is a greater gift one human being can offer to another; it’s deeply intimate and generous. And he is a wonderful teacher and performer, full of passion and commitment, even when, as on YouTube, channeling that gayest of art forms, the drag lip sync.
SETH’S BROADWAY DIARY, VOLUME I | By Seth Rudetsky | Dress Circle Publishing | $20 | 306 pages