The Truth Behind Bohemian Rhapsody: Untold Stories From Freddie Mercury’s Manager

Seth Rudetsky   The Truth Behind Bohemian Rhapsody: Untold Stories From Freddie Mercury’s Manager
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from Avenue Q’s Ann Harada and music manager John Reid.
Rami Malek
Rami Malek

Hello from the beginning of a seven-hour plane ride from Heathrow to JFK. There’s a lot of flying this week! I’m hopping on a plane Monday morning (the day you’re probably reading this) and flying to Pittsburgh because I’m doing Rhapsody in Seth Monday and Tuesday night.Get thee tickets here.

The thing I’m nervous about is…I’ve been on European time for two weeks! My show begins at 7:30PM which will feel like after midnight. I’ve never fallen asleep in the middle of one of my shows, but I’m sort of looking forward to it.

We had a great week in London. The strangest moment was walking around Leicester Square and randomly running into Ann Harada! We saw her husband taking a bizarre photo of her (she later said it was her version of Agatha Christie) and we all went out to eat.

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She’s here with her family seeing tons of shows because it’s school break for her son. Here’s her son doing an interview with our daughter for Playbill!

Ann told us that back in 2005 the London production of Avenue Q was about to start rehearsals when the woman playing Christmas Eve got a TV show. They called Ann frantically and asked her if she could get to London within a few days! They were really in a jam so they were extremely generous—a.k.a. she was able to bring her entire family (including her parents!). The hilarious part was how Ann re-enacted everyone in the cast/production team being so impressed and reverential because she was an original cast member. It was a lot of “Right this way, Miss Harada!” She was not used to being treated, as she described it, “like Elaine Stritch.”

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Ann is spending this week seeing various shows that have former Avenue Q cast members. For instance, she’s about to see Ghost Stories because it features the amazing Simon Lipkin, who played Rod/Trekkie Monster. James, Jack Plotnick, and I also saw Ghost Stories to see Simon because when we did our one night benefit of Disaster! for MADtrust in London, Simon played Tony (the Roger Bart role). We also saw it because it was co-written by my new pal Andy Nyman!

End of story: It’s really scary! It was a lot of me clutching James throughout the show and then a lot of my laying (lying?) in bed that night and thinking through the show and the extremely horrific ending. Yay?

Speaking of Andy Nyman, we also saw his critically acclaimed performance as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, which recently transferred to the West End from the Menier Chocolate Factory. What a fantastic show and performance! Andy told me that he was in Manhattan before he began rehearsals and was able to set up a visit with Sheldon Harnick, the brilliant Fiddler lyricist. He went to Sheldon’s building and took the elevator up to Sheldon’s New York apartment. He was ushered in by an assistant and waited. He knows that Sheldon is over 90 and he assumed that the assistant was getting him ready to receive visitors. Andy hoped he wasn’t waking Sheldon from his much-needed rest. Well, a few minutes after Andy arrived, he heard movement, but it wasn’t from the bedroom area. It was from outside. Suddenly, the front door flew open and Sheldon and his wife came charging in. Turns out, he wasn’t taking an old man nap, he had been out shopping and they were laden with various Zabar’s bags! End of story: Sheldon’s #StillGotIt!

Andy’s written a book about acting that’s not really about acting. It’s about the business and mostly about how to stay happy and enjoy it all. It’s so fantastic! One of the things he emphasizes is something my friend Jack has been teaching to all of his students: It’s about rephrasing how you feel before an audition or a performance and realizing that nervousness is the same thing as excitement. It really takes the negative spin off of your heart racing, palms sweating, etc. The one piece of advice I wished I had always followed was to have a written/typed database about every audition/meeting saying what the show and role was, how you did and, most importantly, who you met! I’m always running into people I’ve met, and I have no memory of the specifics of where the H I know them from!

Back to Ann Harada. We finished our visit by posing like our ’80s headshots: #HandsOnChin.
And speaking of that time period, I’m still obsessed with Ann’s reenactment of her horrific auditioning.

Since I was in London, I wanted to do a real British interview for Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. I met with my old pal John Reid, who is now Hollywood famous, because he’s featured as a character in two movies! He was the manager of Queen (played by Aidan Gillen in Bohemian Rhapsody) and the manager of Elton John (soon to be played by Richard Madden in Rocket Man). I asked him for the real story about how the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” came to be released and he told me the version he remembers:

Queen had recorded a song that really didn’t fit into any genre and was super-long. John brought it home to play for Elton (he and Elton were also a couple) and Elton said “Are you f-ing crazy? You’ll never get this played on the radio!” There was a lot of debate amongst the band and the record company about whether the song was ready to be released; should it be edited? And if so, where should it edited? John was basically having none of it. He thought it was amazing the way it was and he told the engineers to just press the record as is. They pressed it, DJ Kenny Everett played it and hence the song we know and love is almost six minutes long!

John told me a hilarious/mortifying story about when he first started managing the group. He was having dinner with Freddie Mercury and noticed that Freddie seemed to pull his lips over his teeth, indicating that he was slightly embarrassed by them. John suggested that perhaps Freddie should use some of his newfound money to get his teeth fixed. Freddie yelled, “F*ck you! They already were fixed!” Yes. That’s what his teeth looked like after!

Then I asked John about some of the inaccuracies in the film Bohemian Rhapsody. First of all, the whole Freddie firing John by kicking him out of the car never happened. Furthermore, there’s a scene where the band leaves an A&R meeting at EMI, the record company not supporting “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and a few minutes later a brick comes flying through the window and Freddie yells, “You’ll be remembered as the person who turned down Queen!” or something like that. That moment didn’t happen. But something very similar did happen.

One day, John had told the band not to do any interviews without clearing them through him. Well, that night they went out to dinner and Freddie told him he had just done an interview! As John puts it, “So, we had an argument. He told me to f*ck off… and off I f*cked and went home.” A little while later, a brick came through John’s window! John looked out the window and there was Freddie with his hands on his hips yelling, “Don’t you ever f*ing leave me in a restaurant again!” And more. John invited him in to talk it through and, as he tells it, from that point on they had a great relationship! Maybe it’s different in England; if all it takes to have a great relationship is one person acting completely crazy, then I should have a great relationship with all of my ex-boyfriends. Spoiler alert: I do not.

After doing Rhapsody In Seth in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Monday and Tuesday, I’m taking it to Los Angeles next Monday April 29 for a return to Largo! Tickets here.

I found these fun pics of me from the first production, back in 2003. Here I am, lamenting the use of head voice. Nothing has changed.

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And finally, we took our new Aruba rescue doggie, Chrissy, home! More on that in next week’s column, but I’ll leave you with this pic of her on our bed for the first time!

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Peace out!

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