A GoPride Interview

Seth Rudetsky

Seth Rudetsky interview with ChicagoPride.com

Fri. October 28, 2011  by Michael J. Roberts

Seth Rudetsky
The a-mah-zing Seth Rudetsky is coming back to Chicago with his hilarious show ‘Deconstructing Broadway' where he will give us his insights on some of Broadway's greatest performers and performances. Seth will also hold an exclusive auditioning master class for local performers where participants will learn all the tricks of auditioning for musical theater productions and how to get hired on Broadway. ShowbizQ's Michael J. Roberts talked with Seth about his hilarious show, as well as his thoughts about the state of Broadway today, his influences and his love of teaching.

MJR: Hi Seth! Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule for this interview. I must tell you that I have been a huge fan of your for years. For those who are not familiar, why don't you tell our readers what a ‘deconstruction' actually is.

SR: I would say essentially it is a marriage between America's Funniest Home Videos combined with a history of the most amazing and most horrific Broadway performers. It is for those who know all about Broadway and for those who know nothing about Broadway.

MJR: What is the first musical you saw as a child that transformed you into wanting to be involved with musical theatre and Broadway?

SR: Well, my parents took me to see my first Broadway show when I was four and that was ‘Hair'. I used to sort of bust them (my parents) for having no boundaries but at the same time I think it is cool that they took me to see it and I certainly love the music. But I certainly didn't become obsessed until I was seven when I saw a short lived production of the ‘Pajama Game'. I would listen to the cast album every single day.

MJR: ‘The Pajama Game' is quite a production for a seven year old.

SR: I have to tell you Michael, I get really irritated now with these Broadway shows that are suppose to be kid shows. I just don't understand why there needs to be a special niche for children. When I was a kid I lived near Manhattan and my elementary school, junior high school and high school would go and see Broadway shows. There were no kid shows, just Broadway shows. I don't understand this idiocy where these shows have to be made for children with the thinking behind it that children are morons. We all just saw Broadway shows. So regardless, ‘Pajama Game' is what got me completely obsessed.

MJR: I agree with you about the new regime of "children's" shows. The first show I ever saw that got me obsessed was a touring production of ‘Man of La Mancha' with Richard Kiley back in the early 1970's in Toronto. I was also about seven or eight. That is quite the introduction to theatre but I still remember it to this day. Then came Patti LuPone on the Merv Griffin show singing ‘Don't Cry For Me, Argentina' and that sealed the deal!

SR: Wow, I totally remember her performance on Merv Griffin as well. That proves my point. Theatre is supposed to transcend those types of age boundaries. Being exposed to that type of art form nurtures who we become much more then a stupid show specifically geared for kids.

MJR: Let's talk a little about some of the more recent film adaptations of musicals. Why do you think the directors of these film musicals tend to cast non-singers in major roles?

SR: That is really nothing new. My god, there was Lucille Ball in ‘Mame'!! Then before that there was Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood. The studios just think that the film musicals won't attract any audience without a big name star behind it. I don't think anything is any different nowadays then it was fifty years ago.

MJR: I was referring more towards some of the sung through musicals like ‘Evita' with Madonna and ‘Phantom Of The Opera' with Gerard Butler.

SR: I think the same outline applies. Madonna is known as a singer and she wasn't that bad in the role. There have been some exceptions. They got John Travolta for ‘Hairspray'. The reverse is now actually said of Broadway shows. People constantly complain about the large number of film and television stars appearing on Broadway. The producers want to sell tickets, it is that simple. I think it is always going to be the case, whether I agree with it or not.

MJR: What in your opinion makes a diva?

SR: I'm glad you asked me that because I think that word is so misused. I don't even like that word, even though I use it in my show (laughing). I can certainly tell you what makes a good singer; it is a unique, thrilling sound. There are a lot of strong singers out there. Friends are always saying to me "listen to this great belter". The thing is that when I hear a belter, the voice usually isn't unique. Betty Buckley's voice is unique; Patti LuPone's voice is unique; Nell Carter, unique and so on. It is not just the power behind it but it is the actual tone. That is what differentiates an ensemble singer who may have a great voice and an actual star where you want to hear their unique qualities.

MJR: Let's talk about a few of Broadway's biggest stars and talk about what makes their voice unique: First, my favorite, Betty Buckley.

SR: Betty has got that piercingness that is amazing.

MJR: Patti LuPone?

SR: Patti has such power but also a warmth. Each one has a particular quality but more than that, it is these women who have changed the sound of Broadway belting. It is Betty Buckley and Melba Moore changed it in the 1960's then Laurie Beachman and Patti in the 1970's. Everything was taken up musically because of them. Before them you had belters like Susan Johnson (The Most Happy Fella), who was my favorite singer when I was a little kid, but once Betty came along, everything was taken up a third.

MJR: How have you seen Broadway change since you started working in it?

SR: Unfortunately there is much more lip-syncing then before. Shows are cutting down on ensembles and the way they make up for it is by playing a tape during the show of singing which the cast sings along with. Ears have now been trained to believe that that is they way shows should sound. That is why a show like ‘Glee' with all its auto-tuning is changing peoples' ears to think that it what live singing sounds like when it doesn't. So that is one of the things that are changing on Broadway that is devastating to me and that I am rallying against.

The other is the destruction of the live orchestra and the raising of ticket prices. All these shows are being revived on Broadway with half the orchestra and nobody is saying anything. The critics aren't saying anything and audiences keep coming because no one is comparing it to the original. All you have to do is listen to the original recording to know how awful the reduced orchestras of these shows sound.

To make matters worse, ticket prices are higher then they have ever been with this stupid ‘Premier' seating which every new show is using. What we need is a revolution on Broadway, just like Occupy Wall Street, only this one should be against the producers of some of these shows because of how ridiculously they spend their money for the stupidest of things. Producers would rather spend money on custom made shoes or wigs for the entire cast! I have an idea, how about they not wig the entire cast and have a string section instead.

MJR: A few years ago you were the vocal coach on the "Legally Blond, The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods" reality show where they where casting a replacement for Laura Bell Bundy. What qualities do you look for when you are casting a role?

SR: Oh, please! That wasn't reality. A reality show is not real. But when I am casting the bottom line for me is talent. I always tell people "if you are not going to be famous, you have to be amazing." That is why when I did my "Funny Girl" concert I had famous people that were amazing; people like Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel but then I had people like Julia Murney, this was before ‘Wicked', but I knew she would be amazing. She came out and sang the classic song and the audience went crazy. Talent is the bottom line. What I am happy about is the people who were not famous when I started working with them and then became famous. People like Julia Murney, Montego Glover and Jennifer Hudson, who was famous from American Idol, but she wasn't an Oscar winner when I put her in my ‘Hair' concert.

MJR: What is the hardest score you have ever played on Broadway?

SR: Oddly enough, ‘Victor/Victoria' is a very difficult score to play. ‘The Fantastics' was amazing to play, and Harvey Schmidt who wrote it was my coach. What was hard about it was playing it the way he wanted me to play it. And how can I forget ‘A Chorus Line' which has one famous moment in the opening ballet section where the scale down is in thirds and most pianists get wiped out doing it. ‘Ragtime' was also a bear to learn.

MJR: What shows on Broadway can you recommend right now?

SR: I love ‘The Book of Mormon", "Memphis", "Anything Goes" and "How To Succeed" are all on my must see list. You know I did the revival of "How To Succeed" in the 90's and I was dreading seeing this production but I ended up loving it.

MJR: You are also doing a Master Class on November 5th. Tell me a little bit about that.

SR: I have to say, I think my Master Class is amazing!

It really just seems to change everyone's performance. I think a lot of people don't know how to teach. A lot of famous actors who are amazing performers give master classes, but that doesn't mean they know how to teach. That is why I think my deconstructions take performers by surprise because they always say "I didn't know I was doing that".

That is why I think I am a good teacher because I can analyze and teach them how to act a performance. I will give you a perfect example: I was coaching one of the Elphaba's on Broadway and she was having a hard time with the last note of ‘The Wizard and I' which is a big belty note that is held forever. Most people were just telling her to make sure she breathes through her diaphragm and that's it. I had a totally different approach; I told her that while she is holding the note she has to first visualize and imagine the she is meeting the Wizard; second that he is going to take away all her green; and third, image that she will one day rule the country. I told her it doesn't matter whether the audiences realizes what she is imagining or not, because her face will be changing and more important, her mind is not obsessing in hitting and holding the note. So that is what my Master Class is about, making choices to make a performance better.

MJR: What do you want the audience know about your show, ‘Deconstructing Broadway'?

SR: I really want people to know that this is a comedy show. A lot of people think that only Broadway insiders will love it. I got a great review in Boston which said the show is perfect for Broadway know-it-alls as well as people who know nothing about it. That is what I love about the show is that it is first and foremost a comedy show. It is for people who know everything about Broadway and for those who know nothing about Broadway.

MJR: How is your ‘Sirius Live On Broadway' Radio show going?

SR: It is going great! And you know I have a new talk show now called ‘Seth Speaks' which is on Sirius/XM Stars every Sunday and repeats throughout the week. I really wanted to branch out from Broadway. It is so fun for me because I have all the people on that I obsessed about growing up. I just had Bonnie Franklin on the show as well Martin Short and Paul Schaffer. So, I'm loving my Broadway radio show everyday and loving my talk show once a week! It's delicious.

MJR: Thank you so much for the interview and I look forward to seeing you.

SR: Thank you for everything!

Seth Rudetsky in Deconstructing Broadway at Mayne Stage, 1328 Morse Ave., Friday, November 4 at 8 p.m. Tickets $40, available online at www.maynestage.com. For more on Seth Rudetsky visit


Interviewed by Michael J. Roberts. Michael J. Roberts is theatre editor for the ChicagoPride.com covering Chicago's diverse arts and entertainment scene.