ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Peter Gallagher Makes Music; Lonny Price Talks Company
By Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Hello. Yes, I am writing this on a computer. Sadly, it is a new computer. That's right, I still have not found my backpack (containing my laptop) that I left in a cab last week at JFK so I went out and bought a new computer. The "fun" part is that the computer I left in the cab is only a year old and just two months ago I spent $250 replacing the broken screen. To add to the "fun," my backpack also had my checkbook. Yay! However, I still have a small shred of hope that I'll get everything back because the computer has iCloud which tells you if it's gone online and so far it's been offline so I think it's sitting in some random lost and found. The question is, "Where?" The answer is I may never know. The subtext is constant anxiety.
What else? Oh, right! I had Peter Gallagher as a guest on my SiriusXM talk show "Seth Speaks." I've known Peter ever since I left him a note at the stage door of Noises Off asking him to do my "Chatterbox" 11 years ago. He had never met me, but he called me, said yes and I found out what a nice guy he is! A year later, I asked him to be Nicky Arnstein in my Actors Fund Funny Girl concert, and he was so fantastic. Not only such a great actor and singer (and so good looking), but because my concept for the concert was having a different Fanny Brice for each scene/song, he had to rehearse and perform with a multitude of women. He was so gracious and supportive with every single one. All of those ladies felt the pressure of having just one scene/song to bring down the house, and he was their rock. The weirdest part for him was Julia Murney, with whom he did the scene that led into "People." In the show, it's Fanny Brice's first kiss and they both acted the moment so beautifully. But Peter Flynn (the director) and I had made sure we cast the show with the Fannys getting progressively older. Not only was Julia much younger than Peter, Peter remembered that back in the 1970s he used to play with her father when she was just a little kid! And now he was smooching with her on Broadway. Not since Frederick Egerman (see plot of A Little Night Music). Here's the evidence.
I told Peter that when he was cast in Jerry Zaks' Guys and Dolls I had only known him from "sex, lies and videotapes," and judged him as a Hollywood actor trying to infiltrate Broadway. I didn't know he was a Broadway baby back in the 1970s. He told me that his first open call was for the revival of Hair, and he wound up being cast as the understudy for Claude as well as the soloist in "Electric Blues" (he sang "An old fashioned me-e-e-e-elody…."). Well, when he was in previews for Hair he was also in callbacks for Grease. He didn't have an agent at that point and no one had told him you probably shouldn't be auditioning for other shows when the current show you're in hasn't even opened yet. He wound up being cast as Danny Zuko in the bus and truck tour. He went up to the director and creators of Hair and told them that he had this great opportunity to play the lead in the tour of Grease and asked if they would mind if he quit. He added that not only had he never seen the country before, he had never even been on an airplane. They thought about it and, two days later, released him from his contract. But before he left, the director asked him if he wanted to go on as Claude! I thought that was such an amazing offer to get, but Peter told him that he had never had a rehearsal and he would be way too terrified to do it. Peter was replaced and went on to do the Grease tour and the Broadway company.
Speaking of replacements, Donna Murphy told me that when she was at NYU, she auditioned to be a replacement in the Hair revival and her audition went really well. She pretty much knew she was cast, and just had to wait for the official phone call. Well, she went back to her dorm and obsessively kept asking the dorm monitor if she had gotten any phone calls. No. This went on for days. She was devastated! She was so certain she was cast and then had no contact from them. It was like an amazing first date followed by complete silence (AKA me in my 20s). Finally, Donna found out the reason why her phone was silent; the show had closed! It reminded me of the early '90s when I was asked to come learn the piano part to Cy Coleman's Welcome to the Club on Broadway and was mind-boggled that the stage door was so hard to open. I pulled and pulled but it wouldn't budge. Rude. Finally, I checked the main doors to the theatre and saw the notice that the show had closed the night before. Thanks for telling me! Where was I supposed to go dressed all in black? An open call for Masha in The Three Sisters?
P.S., that's a call-back to my previous column's mention of my AP English teacher. We had a meeting about my report on The Three Sisters and she kept asking me about the characters and I sat silently. I remember the conversation went:
Mrs. Jaffe: "Who's always dressed in black?"
I told Peter how great he was in "American Beauty," and also how much older he looked! Turns out, he felt his real estate king character should have grey in his hair, but his hair is so black that when you strip it to dye it, it turns yellow. So, they decided to wig him. He was nervous they wouldn't find a wig for him because he thinks he has a really big head. Well, they tried one wig on him and it was way too big for his head! He asked why there was a wig for someone who obviously had a non-human sized head. The wig designer sheepishly told him that it had been a wig for Charlton Heston. That still didn't make sense until she explained further: Turns out, Charlton Heston wore a toupee but didn't want people to know. Therefore, all of his wigs had to be big enough to fit over his head and the wig he was wearing. I guess whenever Charlton was in a film, his toupée became a two-pée! Yeah! Now we're having pun!
Peter did musicals in college, too, and his college was the first to get the rights to Follies right after it closed! They invited Stephen Sondheim to see it, but he wrote them back a great letter saying, "We lost $800,000 on our production. I hope your does better!" When Peter got to meet Hal Prince a few years later, he told him the story. Peter decidedly did not get the big laugh he thought he'd get from Hal. Instead he got a glare while Hal walked away muttering, "We did not lose $800,000!" Yowza. Don't make "investors-lose-massive-amounts-of-money" jokes with a producer.
I also interviewed Lonny Price who was promoting the DVD of the Company concert, which was just released. This is the all-star version (with the New York Philharmonic) that he directed, with Neil Patrick Harris as Bobby. Lonny also said he would never do something like that again! I thought he meant a one-night concert, but he more specifically meant a one-night concert where everyone had tons of other commitments. Everyone had to be rehearsed completely separately. It was essentially a rehearsal period for people with intimacy issues (just like Bobby!) P.S., just last week was the 32nd anniversary (!) of Merrily We Roll Along opening on Broadway. And a few days later was the anniversary of the closing. How crazy that a show with such a brilliant score would close after just a few performances. Can't people just ignore whatever didn't work and revel in what did? Hmph. I did a deconstruction of "Opening Doors," and I sent it to Lonny. He gave me some inside scoop on one of the things I pointed out: For some reason, in one section, Lonny says, "Yeah!" two octaves above his speaking voice. I thought it was simply an odd, random choice with no subtext. He informed me that, in actuality, it was his private homage to…Angela Lansbury! He loved her in Sweeney Todd and that was his (bizarre) way of paying tribute to her. He told me that he tried to make the "yeah" sound like the way she would do it (a la "Worst Pies in London") and he kept waiting for it to get cut. It stayed and became immortalized on the record! And now that 30 years have passed, the statute of limitations is off and the secret has been revealed: Lonny Price is Nelly Lovett.
OK. I'm on a flight to New York from Las Vegas, where I was asked to be part of fancy and shmancy conference about young adult books! It was my very cool to walk around with my nametag that also said "Random House." I kept the whole "Almost kicked out of AP English in high school" thing under wraps. If you still haven't gotten an autographed copy of my youth novel "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan" or "Broadway Nights," get thee to my SethTV.com shop ASAP. Happy Thanksgiving!
(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)
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