Influences: Broadway maven Seth Rudetsky
For most of this decade, Rudetsky has been casting his discerning eye on musicals and the performances that drive them. Online and on stage, his trademark “deconstructions” -- in which he plays a recording and, while expressively miming the singing, leads viewers through the nuances of what makes the vocalist specifically special -- are both instructive and entertaining as hell.
Mind you, Rudetsky isn’t just some Broadway fan or wannabe -- his incisive commentary derives from having played piano in the pit for about 15 Broadway shows through the years. A CD of the musical “Hair” that he organized in support of the Actors Fund was a 2005 Grammy nominee, and he was on the writing staff of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” when it received three Emmy nominations. He’s currently heard from noon to 6 p.m. six days a week on Sirius XM Radio, hosting his “Broadway’s Best." "Seth's Sassy Blog" at SethRudetsky.com has a compendium of dozens of Broadway performance deconstructions.
Rudetsky will be in Los Angeles Monday, providing piano accompaniment and some of his trademark theater deconstructions with Betty Buckley at her appearance at the Reprise Theatre Company’s “Broadway by Request” series. We caught up with Rudetsky by phone in New York and asked him to talk about his influences. As a bonus we've included his related deconstructions.
Ed and Sally (my parents): They blasted Broadway albums through the house while I was growing up. It completely formed my early Broadway taste and knowledge. What other 12-year-old uses the opening number from “The Most Happy Fella” as his/her audition song?
Patti LuPone (singer): Thankfully, when I was bar mitzvahed, my friend Allan Hahn knew I didn't want a check or the de rigueur Cross pen set -- he got me the double album of "Evita." One of the reasons I didn't lose my bar mitzvah gut for a year is because I sat on the couch next to my record player for hours every day listening to Patti belt higher than anyone I had ever heard! P.S., let's not discuss Madonna's movie version: What it lacked in vibrato, it made up for in transposing the keys down four steps. Cut!
“Hair” (the musical): My parents took me to see my first Broadway show when I was 4, right before it closed. It's one of the few Broadway scores where every song is fantastic. And a side note to other parents: Please stop thinking you have to take your kids to so-called kids shows! In my day, we just saw Broadway shows!
Betty Buckley (singer): Broadway musicals in the golden age featured women belting to a B flat or C -- suddenly, a 21-year-old Betty came along in “1776” and brought it to a whole new level by belting high Ds! Yes, Ds! If I knew when I was a teen and obsessively listening to "He Plays the Violin" that I would one day be in L.A. accompanying Betty while she sang that very song, my scream would have topped any high-belter’s high note!
“A Chorus Line” (musical): It was the best of every world: a musical about a musical! My favorite thing in the world about my favorite thing in the world! I was in the third grade when I watched them do that fantastic opening number on the Tony Awards. Kids today don't know how great they have it -- we didn't have YouTube and DVD players in the '70s. In my day, we could only see a performance once and we had to try to retain the choreography in our heads so we could re-create it while listening to the record for hours. My memory stank and my version of "I Hope I Get It" was filled with as many choreographic holes as my version of "Cabaret's" "Mein Herr.”
-- Christopher Smith
Photo: Seth Rudetsky. Credit: Jay Brady