How Jessie Mueller’s Allergy Changed Broadway’s Waitress Forever

Seth Rudetsky   How Jessie Mueller’s Allergy Changed Broadway’s Waitress Forever
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from his concert with Mueller and behind-the-scenes of the original West Side Story film.
 Jessie Mueller in Waitress
Jessie Mueller in Waitress Jeremy Daniel

I have a delicious day in New York today, surrounded by all my doggies! Tomorrow I fly to Colorado Springs to do a master class by day and Deconstructing Broadway by night. Come see me!

Last week, I began in Boston at the beautiful (and historic) Emerson Colonial Theatre, where I’m doing the Seth Rudetsky Series. My first star was Jessie Mueller. Next up is Cheyenne Jackson and then Kelli O’Hara. Get tickets here!

Jessie and I loved the poster out front and took this photo, which features Jessie trying to pinch my cheek. When I posted it on Twitter, someone asked, “Why is she trying to scratch your eye out.” From The Seth Rudetsky Series to Showgirls?

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Anyhoo, the show was fantastic. Jessie can sing anything! She talked about her upcoming Lifetime film where she plays Loretta Lynn opposite Megan Hilty playing Patsy Cline. They filmed it in Nashville, and when they had scenes in Patsy Cline’s house, they were literally in Patsy Cline’s house! In our show, Jessie was able to sing a full-out country song, then Carole King pop, then Once Upon a Mattress old-skool belting, and then haul out an amazing stunning high soprano on “My White Knight.” Incredible.

Of course, she performed “She Used To Be Mine” from Waitress and afterwards, I asked her how uncomfortable it was to be pregnant for so much of the show. She told us that her ingenious dresser cut a hole in her pregnancy pouch and was able to insert a delicious ice pack! They kept her nice and cool! But speaking of ice, Jessie also told us about doing She Loves Me in Chicago (for which she won a Jeff Award) and how her hip was bothering her. She was told to use an ice pack and in the middle of Act 2, in her dressing room, she sat on the ice pack to help her hip. Well, when she got up to do the next scene, it felt like the ice pack was still there. Huh? She touched the skin on her butt and, the ice pack wasn’t there, but the skin on her butt was hard! She realized that somehow the ice must have been directly on her skin and hurt it. She went to the doctor the next day and discovered that her butt had frostbite! I guess that would have been the perfect time to audition for Frozen?

Regardless, the doctor then made her feel better by telling her that he had seen this kind of thing before…on children who go out in the snow and sit down for a long time. In conclusion, she’s a child at heart…and an iceberg at butt. Which is appropriate because next week she’s coming on my Broadway cruise to Alaska!

Jessie also talked about performing “What Baking Can Do,” which involved her baking a pie and throwing flour in the air. She noticed that after the number, she kept coughing. She asked the prop person if he would switch out the flour to gluten-free which he did and, sure enough, she stopped coughing! I asked her if the show continued to use gluten-free flour and she didn’t know. So, we went right to the source: During our concert we sent a video to Shoshana Bean, who is playing Jenna right now!

Shoshana wasn’t certain about the flour, but she asked around the theatre and, sure enough, Waitress is still gluten-free! Very on-trend for today’s eaters.

Yesterday, James and I took my mom and her sister (and her son) to see the amazing all-Yiddish Fiddler On The Roof which opened one year ago at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and is now playing Off-Broadway at Stage 42. I only know around three phrases in Yiddish and James doesn’t know any, but we both loved it so much! And my mom and her sister had Yiddish spoken in their apartment growing up, so they were especially moved. My aunt posted on Facebook that as soon as she heard the first three lines in Yiddish, she started crying.

The cast is fantastic (especially my pal, the hilarious Jackie Hoffman as a blank-faced Yente) and the group numbers sounded so great! And the band is fantastic. Before the show, we all went out to brunch and were discussing Fiddler’s director, Joel Grey. My cousin Brian and I were talking about how fantastic he was as the Emcee in Cabaret, where he didn’t even have any dialogue (except introductions to songs) but he was able to make his character so creepy! We all took a photo together at brunch and when I saw it, I busted Brian because all of us are smiling but he’s lurking in the background. He claimed he was being Joel Grey. Excellent call-back!

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The Rudetsky family: Brian, Aunt Phyllis, me, and Mom

Needless to say, everyone has to see this production. Here’s their hilarious performance at the Easter Bonnet Competition where they won first place!

Speaking of Jerome Robbins shows, I recently re-aired an episode of Seth Speaks where I was filming a BBC special on West Side Story and the late, great Martin Charnin was a guest. There were so many great Robbin’s stories from all involved! Harvey Evans played “Mouthpiece” in the film and said that they had to dance the entire song “Cool” over-and-over again.

For instance, if they needed a different angle for one shot, instead of starting from right before the shot, they did the entire song from the beginning. Or, if they were going to film something from the scene right after “Cool,” they had to first dance all of “Cool” so the scene had the emotional intensity of having just done the number. It was exhausting! Harvey remembers that when they heard they weren’t ever going to have to film it again, all the dancers got together, took out their knee pads and ritualistically set fire to them. I got anxiety hearing that story because, what if the powers-that-be changed their mind and they had to do it one more time?

It reminds me of a story Tony Roberts told me: He was featured in the film Annie Hall and had a beard for his character. When they finally wrapped, he was happy to shave off his beard because he never loved having one. Well, the next day, Woody Allen called and said he had a great idea for some more scenes with Tony and wanted to film them right away. Tony had to explain that he no longer had his beard…and hence, Tony is “featured” in Annie Hall rather than co-starring.

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Martin Charnin, Jim Borstelmann, Scott Wise, me, Harvey Evans, and Liza Gennaro

Back to the West Side Story dish from Seth Speaks: Scott Wise talked about doing the Reader’s Digest version of West Side Story in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. He called it that because that show took the West Side big dances, and put them all in a row. In order to do them like that, you needed incredible stamina. Scott remembered the very first preview (he played Riff) and after doing the “Prologue” and “Cool” and “Dance At The Gym” and “The Rumble,” he laid dead onstage for the end of Act 1 and thought “I’m going to have to do this eight times a week?” But he did. And he was never in better shape!

He also told us about his daughter, Savannah (who is now a Broadway performer), who was eight years old when Jerome Robbins’ Broadway opened. They were nervous she’d be scared seeing her daddy stabbed, so Scott explained that the show was only pretend and the knife was completely fake. Scott brought the knife to her beforehand so she could see it and not be upset when he was killed. Well, the first time she came to the show was opening night. Scott said he was onstage doing “The Rumble” and the music built and built and he finally got stabbed. There’s no music for a moment as he reels backwards. The audience was shocked and silent. Well, in that silence, Scott heard Savannah loudly announce, “Don’t be scared everyone! That’s just a fake knife!!” As Max Bialystock said in The Producers “Don’t help me.”

Enjoy Jerome Robbins’ Broadway on the Tony Awards here. Scott’s in the jacket and white T-shirt and does a crazy backflip during the “Dance At The Gym.” Peace out!

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