The Broadway Encyclopedia Seth Rudetsky Next Matches Musical Spirit With Lillias White
Versatile Broadway pianist/composer/host Seth Rudetsky returns to The Wallis with his signature concert series, this time with Tony Award winner Lillias White on November 3, 2022. Seth, still hard at work, managed to spare a few moments to answer some of my questions. .
Thanks for taking the time for this interview, Seth! And a belated thank you to you and your husband James for the hours of comfort you have given me and millions of others during the pandemic months with your Stars in the House podcasts.
You’ve done many a Broadway Star’s Evening “…With Seth Rudetsky.” Your Broadway Babies contact list must be endless. How did this episode with Lillias White come about? Did you just send him a text to ask him if he’s available?
This one was born because of The Wallis! They went through the list of amazing people I’ve had the honor to work with and asked for Lillias. I was so happy when they asked me because she is, hands down, one of my favorite Broadway stars.
What about your thousands of guests on Star in the House? A simple sms or email? Or have you been rippled with offers popping up on your Zoom?
Stars in the House was crazy! My husband James Wesley and I decided to raise money for the Actors Fund as soon as Broadway closed. We knew that almost everyone in entertainment would suddenly have no income and the Actors Fund would be inundated with requests for money. We were doing shows at 2 and 8 p.m. every day and you’re right: it was constant texting and emailing the stars to see if they would join. Fortunately, they all said yes. The best was when a star fixed it all; like I texted Kerry Butler and she arranged for the cast of Beetlejuice to join. Or James emailed Rachel Bloom and she brought in the cast of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And the most amazing thing was when people made offers that we hadn’t thought of; we had a Desperate Housewives reunion. At the end, Marcia Cross told us she could get the Melrose Place cast if we wanted. Dana Delaney told us she would find us the cast of China Beach. It shows how the people doing the real entertainment are really stepping up for charity work and it’s paying off; we are now over $1.1 million raised. I don’t think we thought we would ever get to that number. The lockdown was only supposed to last a few weeks, so we thought we’d put on the show and harvest what we could for a month. But the need had been there for much, much longer. And it’s still that. Brian Stokes Mitchell, chairman of the Entertainment Community Fund (formerly The Actors Fund), said it would take most people at the company five years to recover. So James and I always go there. We recently hosted two hilarious game nights with Chicago stars and some of Come From Away’s closing cast (and writers). But if your question is how to book things, the definitive answer is texting. Almost my entire Broadway show CATASTROPHE! was thrown by me texting the stars!
Can you tell us about the first time you crossed paths with Lillias?
I first saw Lillias White when she played Effie in the late 80s Broadway of Dreamgirls. I liked it! Then I saw her amazing act at The Triad with my friend Andrea Burns. Andréa and I are still talking about when Lillias told everyone she wasn’t allowed to sing “Mem’ry” the way she wanted during the CATS broadcast and the audience insisted that she let us know. show. It was amazing! I saw Lillias perform in the amazing off-Broadway Back To Bachrach and David, as well as her performance as Dinah Washing in Dinah Was. Everything phenomenal. Then I was in the band on and off for How To Succeed when she brought the house down in act two. She approached me through friends to go with her for a small benefit and that’s when I first played for her.
My love of obsession came to a head in 1997. I decided to fundraise for the Gay/Lesbian Synagogue (Beth Simchat Torah) featuring gay/Jewish composers. I had a lot of David Friedman and Henry Krieger songs. I wanted to do the end of the Act One Fight scene from Dreamgirls. Lillias was in technical rehearsal for The Life but told me she would come on afterwards. Already, it was incredible. We all know how exhausting technology is, but she always wanted to help. Anyway…she was singing that score so amazing that I decided I had to do Dreamgirls on Broadway with a full orchestra with Lillias as Effie. I ended up doing it as an Actors Fund benefit with the other ladies being Audra McDonald and Heather Headley and we raised $1,000,000. And Lillias ended the show with “I Am Changing”. I DEFINITELY anticipate her doing this at The Wallis.
When I interviewed Kelli O’Hara earlier this year for your “…With Seth Rudetsky” with her too at Wallis, she said you had a “wonderful memory”. Do you have a photographic memory? How do you keep all the Broadway facts and trivia seemingly at your fingertips?
People say it a lot. My family spent time at dinner telling stories about our day, the beginning, the middle, and the end. So my mind is trained to remember my favorite stories. One of my favorite things to do on my Broadway cruise is having the audience shout out a Broadway star’s name and tell a story about them. I think I love Broadway and I have a giant space in my head for my favorite tales.
What was your original three-line pitch for “…With Seth Rudetsky”?
A combination of Inside The Actors Studio…but funny and a concert with a Broadway legend singing his greatest hits…and songs you never thought they’d sing!
And your piano accompaniments? One try with a guest and you’re good to go?
A review? Sometimes NO passage. If someone’s music is clearly marked, I’m good to go. Especially with Lillias. I know all of his music, so just a quick sound check. In addition, it should be noted that these concerts often feature songs that the artist had not planned to do. They are very free-form, depending on what we end up talking about. When Sutton Foster revealed she was playing Annie as a girl, you KNOW I made her sing “Tomorrow” even though we never intended.
What makes your favorite place in Los Angeles the Wallis?
I love Valais. It’s big but so intimate. My type of show feels like you’re hanging out with me in my apartment and that’s how the Wallis feels. But with incredible lighting and sound!
Stars in the House has raised over $1 million for the Actors’ Fund. When you started zooming your show, did you ever think you’d hit close to a million?
Zoom??? Stars in the House began by using Streamyard to get people around the world to join the show. We were able to do an ER reunion even though we were in New York, most of the actors were in LA and George Clooney was in London. Now we’ve got everyone together in our Upper West Side apartment (after a COVID test) but we’re still using Streamyard to stream.
Your two-plus years of weekly broadcasts included theme nights, game nights, and stage and TV cast meetings. Do you and James have an all-time favorite episode of Stars in the House? And why?
As for the house’s favorite stars, James always says it’s Free to Be You & Me starring Marlo Thomas and super fans like Debra Messing and Audra McDonald. For me it is so much! Original casts of A Chorus Line, Ragtime, Carrie and in TV terms, My Comedy Idols; SCTV.
When you were growing up, what did you see yourself doing? Play piano? Compose music ? Being a comfortable and welcoming host that you are?
I think I only thought I would be an artist while I was growing up. I was studying classical piano so there was a side that thought I would be a concert pianist, but I wasn’t really interested. I also loved to write, and my first “play” was Killer Girlfriend and her character name was Miss Mazepa. Go to court? Through it all, I thought I would need a day job and it would be a school psychologist! Anyway, when I got to Oberlin, I started being able to pursue all of my diverse interests and that led to what I’m doing now: I was hosting a Broadway radio show in Oberlin, but I I was also directing the musicals, I was in the musicals, and co-hosting and writing the big student comedy show!
If there’s still someone you haven’t worked with that you’d like to accompany and/or share the stage with?
I’m still waiting to do a show with Barbra Streisand. Amazingly, she came to my deconstruction show when I was at Largo in LA and I actually did my “Wah wah mule” deconstruction of “Cornet Man”. She was such a great sport, and it was a dream come true to have her in the house. But I want to do a full show with her!!! Barbara, can you hear me?
What future for Seth Rudetsky?
The future for me is forcing myself to finish editing Musical Theater For Dummies that I was hired to do some time ago. They pushed back the release date twice because of my ADD! Luckily I’m almost done and it’s actually available to order on Amazon! My Broadway cruises have grown a lot and I have one every three months or so. The Caribbean, Alaska and Spain, Portugal ALL feature a lot of my favorite Bway stars. In addition, I do the kind of concerts that I do at Wallis every Sunday live from my home studio. As soon as I get back to New York, I have Javier Muñoz, Nikki James, Sis, Andrea McArdle and Claybourne Elder all coming to TheSethConcertSeries. And finally, I’m working on various writing projects that I still have to finish once the ritalin is on!
Thanks again Seth! I look forward to seeing you and Lillias at the Wallis on November 3.
To get tickets for this live evening, click on the button below:
Comments are closed.