By Barry Reszel
Sure, it helps that Chicago Theatre Workshop will announce his Broadway show, Disaster! will be part of its second year production lineup. But that’s not the real reason.
Truth is, Seth Rudetsky is the male Ado Annie: He’s just a guy who “Cain’t say, No.”
And that’s great news for Chicagoland musical theatre aficionados who want to see Seth’s “Deconstructing Broadway.” Because he’s headed to Andersonville’s Mary’s Attic for two shows on Oct. 28 to benefit the young Chicago Theatre Workshop, where Artistic Director Tom Mullen will also announce the rest of the company’s second-year lineup.
It’s frustratingly impossible to easily title Seth. Music Director (Dreamgirls with Audra MacDonald, Hair with Jennifer Hudson)…); Pianist (Ragtime, Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera…); Actor (Broadway, Off-Broadway and TV); Radio Host (Sirius/XM); Writer (books, columns, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, musicals); Cruise Host (Broadway Playbill); Husband (James); Dad (Juli); Activist; Comic…and all-around frenetically great human being.
Suffice it to say, when Seth speaks, Broadway listens. And when Seth listens, particularly to an invitation for which he has an open moment on his calendar, he says, “Yes.”
Catching up with him somewhere between his New York home and a gig in California he told ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com, “There are very few benefits I turn down. If I’m asked to do it, I usually do it unless I’m busy that night. I guess my biggest causes are social justice and animals. Especially animals! They’re literally helpless and rely on us for kindness in their lives.”
So why Chicago in October to help Tom and CTW?
“I’ve always loved performing in Chicago. I did my deconstruction show twice there produced by Missy Greenberg, and it went amazingly well. Just recently my husband and I did Concert in America in Chicago and that audience was incredible. I think Chita (Rivera) got the biggest applause of anywhere we’ve gone.
“I recently started my concert series at Steppenwolf and the debut last year was sold out and amazing. So I was extra excited when he asked because I know this audience loves theater. I love supporting new theater companies and after I said yes he then told me he got the rights to my Broadway show Disaster and they’re doing it soon. However, he did not offer me the role I played on Broadway. #NotCool.”
So you have a long connection to the Windy City. Any fun stories to share?
“My first visit was around 10 years ago. I was playing for Jennifer Hudson a lot when Dreamgirls came out. We were on Oprah and the movie studio didn’t want Jennifer to sing “And I Am Telling You.” They wanted people to come to the movie to see that. Instead, she sang “I Am Changing.” Well, Oprah introduced us in a way that implied she could not believe Jennifer wasn’t singing “And I’m Telling You.” It was a lot of, “I wanted her to sing that song…but I was told she couldn’t sing that song…I don’t know why she can’t sing that song…” I don’t think she’s told “no” very often!”
How do you see Chicago vis-à-vis the professional musical theatre world today? Is there a particular vibe or role this city plays?
“Chicago has become a big try-out city for Broadway shows…much like the way Philly, DC and Boston were. I love that! And Chicago has an amazing musical theater scene. I have a lot of friends from NYC who did tons of shows in Chicago…David Bedella, Kenny Ingram, Aisha and Darius deHaas..and of course Jessie Mueller.”
What’s the background behind Deconstructing Broadway?
“I have always played songs for my friends and obsessed over amazing notes…or things that gave me a headache. I did the same things with videos. I remember having my mind blown when I got the video of Cher performing West Side Story on TV and playing all the roles.
“I always did a bit of ‘deconstructing’ during my stand-up act. One year, I did a Barbra Streisand and Bea Arthur deconstruction on Broadway. Rosie O’Donnell saw it and told me I should do an entire show of just deconstructing. So I did, and I’ve been performing it ever since. And I do it everywhere! I love it! I won the Irne Award in Boston and got five-star reviews in London. But the most amazing/terrifying thing was in LA when I deconstructed tons of Broadway and Barbra Streisand in front of Barbra Streisand. Luckily, she loved it and actually hung out with my family and me backstage after. Phew!”
The Chicago show, according to Seth’s website, promises, “See me deconstruct the best (and worst) of: Evita (Patti vs. Madonna) the brilliant belting of Betty Buckley, Gavin Creel, Billy Porter etc.; The SHOCKING medley from Fiddler on The Roof sung by the Osmonds, West Side Story by Cher and MORE!”
Most importantly, the one-night, two-show deconstruction is to benefit CTW in its second year of programming as it strives to be “a revolutionary theatre company dedicated to the creation of work that challenges our perceptions of art and music through workshops, full productions and a landmark digital agreement with Actors Equity,” says Tom. “With a hybrid development and production model, CTW acta as an incubator for emerging talent and their work and help provide the resources needed for commercial success. Artists’ work will also reach global audiences through a digital platform where select productions will be made available for streaming.”
And a little more than a year into this new venture, the artistic director happily reflects on surprises and challenges.
“I think some of the great surprises have been how many incredible people, designers, directors, actors and crew that are really behind the workshop mission of helping the originating artists, the composer, the writer, the lyricist, to get their work on its feet,” he says. “Our mission requires putting aside your own creative wants as an actor or designer and focusing on what is most important for the piece.
“I would say one of the hardest things is getting the press and others to understand what we do. CTW produces shows in all of their gritty glory. It will never be about focusing on awards or notoriety as our mission is to give originating artists a platform to develop. Also, the press keeps calling us ‘musical theatre’ and our mission is to develop work where music plays an integral part of the fabric of the production but could be in many different forms.”
Perhaps that’s where Seth’s show comes to the rescue. While his Oberlin music degree and Broadway credentials make music integral to his one-man show, on Oct. 28 in Chicago, this Music Director; Pianist; Actor; Radio Host; Writer; Cruise Host; Husband; Dad; Activist; Comic; and all-around frenetically great human being will be doing what he loves most.
“I love it all!” Seth told ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com. “But I guess live performing is the most fun because…I know everyone says this…because of the live audience reaction. It’s so immediate! On the radio it’s just me in a tiny room, a book is written by yourself and then sent out to the universe etc. But performing is so immediate. I love it!”
Join Chicago Theatre Workshop on October 28th for its Fall benefit featuring Seth Rudetsky in his one-man show Deconstructing Broadway. Ticket prices are $35 General Admission and $60 VIP seats that include drink tickets and premium cocktail table seating. There are two shows: 7 pm and 8:30 pm, Mary’s Attic in Andersonville, 5400 N. Clark Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.