There’s no business like show business, especially when it comes to the Broadway stage! With hit shows like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, Broadway is making a big splash with young fans. For inside secrets on Broadway’s biggest hits, YEM spoke with Broadway legend and Sirius XM radio host Seth Rudetsky. Seth has worked as the music director and/or pianist for some of Broadway’s biggest stars, and has recently released his third book revolving around the best behind-the-scenes secrets and stores of Broadway. His newest release is called “Seth’s Broadway Diary Vol. 3: The Inside Scoop on (almost) Every Broadway Show & Star,” the third in a series. Seth spoke with Young Entertainment Mag about making it in the business and what it’s like to work with Broadway’s biggest names!
Young Entertainment Mag: What was the first Broadway show you ever saw when you were young? Was there a specific show that made you want to be a part of the world of theatre?
Seth Rudstsky: My parents love Broadway and took me to see my first show when I was four-years-old. Was it Peter Pan you’re asking? No, it was not. It was Hair! Yes, my parents were super cool open-minded liberals and brought the whole family. I could only see my mother’s palm firmly planted over my eyes. Regardless, the music was so great! This is why I encourage parents to take their kids to all types of Broadway shows! When I was growing up, there were no kids shows on Broadway. Kids went to all types of musicals and loved them! The show that made me become obsessed with theater was The Pajama Game which they took me to when I was 7. I went home and listened to the cast album every day.
YEM: Your “Seth’s Broadway Diary” books are a musical theatre fans dream come true! Where did you get the idea to start chronicling your Broadway experiences through books?
Seth: I love love love hearing inside Broadway stories. I’m always frustrated when Broadway stars go on talk shows and tell little two minute stories like “I auditioned and got that part!” I want to know what did you sing at your audition, did you crack on any high notes, where did you find out that you got cast etc. I’m lucky that I have a radio show on SiriusXM where I can ask Broadway folks all those questions. And I get so much info that no one knows! Bebe Neuwirth (namedrop) said that I have a way of making people think they’re not talking in public and therefore reveal things they never would reveal. And then I put it all in a book!
YEM: What advice would you give for kids that want to get involved in theatre and dream of being on Broadway one day?
Seth: Take every opportunity you can. Be in the school choir. Be in the chorus of the musical. Help out backstage. And if you’re school isn’t doing a show, put one up yourself. Patti LuPone told me she used to do musicals with her friends in the theater group called “The Patio Players”. They were called that because they performed on a patio! And please go to YouTube and watch old Broadway performances. Not just shows from the last three years. There are so many amazing performers and songs you should know. Just watching them will help you learn how to perform. And don’t be lazy: learn how to read music!
YEM: You’ve previously worked with Tina Fey and her husband Jeff Richmond. How excited are you for the new Mean Girls musical?
Seth: SO excited! I was invited to the final run through in the rehearsal studio and OMG it was so good. And those leads are going to become stars! It’s also great because even though Jeff and Tina are so successful in film and TV, I know their big love is Broadway. I know it means so much to them to have a show on Broadway. Also! I’m so happy for Kerry Butler! We’ve worked together since we were kids (yes, she’s younger….but whatevs) and she starred in Disaster! the Broadway musical I co-wrote. She plays three different roles in Mean Girls and she’s so great!
(Seth with Tina Fey and her husband Jeff Richmond. Photo credit: Broadway.com)
YEM: What movie musical adaptation are you most excited for? In the Heights? Wicked? West Side Story?
Seth: In The Heights! I saw that show 10 times from one of the first workshops, through Off-Broadway and then Broadway… and every time I would cry. The music, the characters, the humanity, I am flipping it out that it’s going to happen. I only wish the so-called Heights could refer to Brooklyn Heights so I could play the Jewish Usnavi.
YEM: You’ve previously worked with Glee stars Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff. What’s your fondest memory of them?
Seth: Jonathan is all three volumes of my Broadway Diary but I have a whole story about both of them in Seth’s Broadway Diary, Volume 1. When they were about to finish their run in Spring Awakening they decided to do a tradition they started that entails whoever leaves the cast, sleeping in the theater on the night before their last show. Of course, actors are not allowed to do that so they had to trick everyone backstage into thinking that they left the theater. Well, it wound up being up to my husband and me to be their co-conspirators! We were in their dressing room and helped them get underneath a shelf that had fabric over it so no one could see them. That was for when the stage doorman did the final dressing room check. Then James and I walked downstairs and had to lie to the doorman and return their dressing room key because “they left”. He was like “I didn’t see them leave.” And we were like “I know. So weird. Anyhoo…they left.” Then Jonathan and Lea got to spend an entire night in a pitch black theater that probably hasn’t had an exterminator since Merman was a young starlet. I was very happy I wasn’t invited for the slumber party.
(Photo by Jay Brady)
YEM: Lots of younger fans are getting interested in recent Broadway shows. What do you think this means for the future of Broadway? What does it mean for the younger generation?
Seth: There was a time in the early 90s where Broadway wasn’t grabbing the younger generation, but I think ever since Rent there has been a show that young people are obsessed with. It makes me very happy because no matter what, every one gets older. We need a whole new group of people to become the stars and creators of the next big Broadway thing.
YEM: What do you think of the Broadway scene right now? Are you surprised with the extreme success of shows such as Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen attracting fans that may not have otherwise been interested in musical theatre?
Seth: I’m not surprised by it. What’s great about Broadway is that there is room for any style of show. That’s why I go crazy when people say they don’t like musicals. That’s like saying “I don’t like food”. There are so many different styles of musicals I don’t see how it’s possible not to like one…or many! Betty Buckley said it best when she completely busted Simon Cowell who thinks being hostile is helpful to singers. He was complaining that someone sounded “too Broadway.” Betty wrote an amazing letter and stated “Broadway is not a style…it’s an address.” EXACTLY! There is operatic singing and pop singing and legit and rap and hip hop and basically any music that exists in the world!
YEM: What’s it like to see Broadway veterans having such huge success following their Broadway runs? (Like Lin-Manuel Miranda writing for Disney, Jonathon Groff staring in his own show on Netflix, etc.)
Seth: My husband and I were just talking about that! We love it! We were trying to trace the people who became huge stars directly from their appearances on Broadway. Of course, Barbra Streisand probably became the hugest of them all. But Lin and Ben Platt are on their way. (PS note to Lin and Ben: Take me along).
YEM: Finally, here’s a throwback question. Fans may remember you from the MTV reality show Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods. What was it like to be a part of an MTV series that revolved around Broadway?
(Seth and the Top 10 finalists from MTV’s Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods)
Seth: It was good and bad. I loved that it had real Broadway performers and people talented enough to be on Broadway auditioning. And a lot of the things they had to do were like real auditions. But there was faking in the editing and it really infuriated me. It’s kind of the big lie technique: show something fake but call it reality. It wasn’t reality. A lot of it was, but I wish it were literally a documentary instead of something that they felt had to be edited to be a story. I cover a lot of it, and a lot of the hilarious things that happened, in Seth’s Broadway Diary Volume 1. Of course, one of the coolest things that came out of it is when contestant Celina Carvajal eventually changed her name to Lena Hall and then won a Tony for Hedwig And The Angry Inch! She didn’t even make the final three. It should give young people courage. Sometimes you’re going to lose. But don’t give up. If you keep trying, it can really work out for you!
Seth’s Broadway Diary Vol. 3 is available from Dress Circle Publishing. For more, visit www.dresscirclepublishing.com.