What Character Was Cut From Broadway’s Original Chicago?

Seth Rudetsky   What Character Was Cut From Broadway’s Original Chicago?
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Chita Rivera reveals the story behind a cut song, Judy Kuhn survives a backstage injury, and Seth announces upcoming guests for his concert series.
Chicago_Broadway_Production_Photo_1975_Mary McCarty as Matron Mama Morton & Chita Rivera _HR.jpg
Mary McCarty and Chita Rivera Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

Hello on a chilly Fall day! We’re in our new house and the weather is perfect to light our fireplace. That’s why we have the fireplace people coming over today to fix the fireplace. AGAIN. It’s a gas fireplace and the last time they “fixed” it, it not only didn’t light, it also leaked a wonderful amount of propane gas in the air. To misquote Airplane, I picked a good week to give up smoking. #HouseExplosion.

Anyhoo, I’m sure it will finally work this time because everyone knows the fifth time’s the charm.

(NOTE: While writing this column they came and went. And, end of story, they’re going to come back once they figure out why the batteries that make the fireplace turn on have completely melted. Let’s hope the sixth time’s the charm.)

OK! Let me now talk about the perils of backstage. I was doing a show with the great Judy Kuhn and we did a sound check around an hour before our 8PM curtain. Afterwards, I stayed at the piano to practice a little bit and watched Judy go backstage to get to her dressing room. Very quickly I heard thump and a moan. Turns out, the backstage area was extremely dark and Judy tripped over something on the floor and landed on her arm! The producer and I took her dressing room and she told us that she wanted to do the show…she just couldn’t unbend her arm. Hm. That didn’t sound promising.

The audience was now filing into the theatre and we did an audience search for a doctor to check her out. Finally, at around 7:50, I brought Joe Kelberman, my sister Beth’s friend who’s a chiropractor, backstage. He felt around Judy’s arm and told her she needed to get it X-ray’d ASAP. She wanted to do the show and then get it X-ray’d, but we all put the kibosh on that idea and sent her off.

Seth Rudetsky_10.19.18

It was now after 8PM and the theatre was filled! The show they were there for was just me and Judy. No understudy! Was I going to have to go out there and sing Cosette from Les Miz? I knew there was no way I’d sound as amazing as she on the pianissimo high B flat. Watch here.

Well, here’s the beauty of the internet: I knew the audience had to have a show SO I told the theatre producer that I could do Deconstructing Broadway for everyone. How? Because I had all my sound cues stored in Dropbox! We both came out onstage, told people what had happened and then told them they could stay and watch my show instead!

Watch: SETH RUDETSKY DECONSTRUCTS HAMILTON’S ‘THE SCHUYLER SISTERS’

Well, after I glared at the ten people who walked out (still furious) I had a great time doing my show and the audience was fantastic! Meanwhile, I was waiting to hear what happened to poor Judy.

Well, turns out Joe was right; she broke her elbow! UGH! She told me that, even though it broke, it would be fine in a short time if she just wore a sling. I was very relieved because I (secretly) knew that she had just been cast as Golde in the upcoming Trevor Nunn production of Fiddler On The Roof in London that was about to begin rehearsals. I joked with her that she had to get better because bossy Golde has a lot of staging that involves pointing. Well, the next day, she went to a doctor in NYC for a full examination and was told the sling actually wouldn’t be enough; she needed surgery!

I felt so bad for her because I thought she’d have to give up Fiddler. After a tense few days, she found out that she would indeed need surgery but she’d be well enough to fly to London and open Fidder after all! Phew! She’s there now and loving it!

P.S. Referencing back to people leaving the theatre when they announced Judy wouldn’t be there, I’m reminded of Megan Mullally when we did Grease together. She played Marty but also understudied Rosie O’Donnell who played Rizzo. Megan was asked in the middle of the run to start understudying and didn’t want to do it, but Rosie assured her she would never miss a show. Well, basically the next day, Rosie was out.

Carlos Lopez, Jason Opsahl, Jessica Stone, Sam Harris, Ricky Paull Goldin, Megan Mullally, Hunter Foster, Heather Stokes and Rosie O'Donnell in the 1994 revival of <i>Grease</i>
Carlos Lopez, Jason Opsahl, Jessica Stone, Sam Harris, Ricky Paull Goldin, Megan Mullally, Hunter Foster, Heather Stokes and Rosie O'Donnell in the 1994 revival of Grease Stan Schnier and Carmen Schiavone

Megan told me that she made the mistake of keeping on the intercom in her dressing room (the so-called “squawk box”) before the show started. As Megan was putting on her Rizzo makeup she heard the announcement that was being broadcast in the theater. “At today’s performance of Grease, the role of Rizzo usually played by Rosie O’Donnell will be played by Megan Mullally.” Well, that’s not all she heard. She claims she could hear, clear as a bell, the audience’s full fury replete with “DAMMIT!” and “Son of a—’!” mixed with the sound of Playbills being flung on the floor, seats flapping back as patrons stood up in outrage and then the clamor of a parade of shoes storming up the aisle on their way to the box office to demand their money back. From then on, the squawk box was switched to off.

Last week, I did two shows at the fabulous Huntington Theatre in Boston with the legendary Chita Rivera and had a great time. I was talking about the skill of directing an original show and how it’s different from directing a revival. A revival of a hit show is honed during the rehearsal process and previews whereas an original show is being drastically changed during that period. Songs are being written, scenes moved around because the director is figuring out how to make the show work…whereas with the revival of a hit show, the director already knows the show works. Chita was agreeing and mentioned the character of the agent in the original Chicago. I knew there was a song that was cut about an agent commission, but always thought it had been sung by Jerry Orbach. No!

Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera in Chicago.
Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera in Chicago. Martha Swope / The New York Public Library

Turns out, Chita’s character (Velma Kelly) had an agent played by David Rounds who had a great song called “Ten Per Cent.” Chita told us that Bob Fosse, who directed and choreoraphed, realized there couldn’t be the agent character and Matron Mama Morton. He had to choose between both characters and the Matron won. That meant the entire character of the agent was cut. The pressure! What if he had made the wrong decision? Obviously he didn’t but oy. The cool part is, after Chita and I talked about it, I found a recording of the agent’s song with Chita from an out-of-town tryout! You must watch it here.

Over the last two weeks, James and I put together two amazing political salons. First, we went to a stunning apartment in midtown and I brought my Broadway peeps to perform for candidate Gina Ortiz Jones, who also made a fantastic speech. She’s running in San Antonio and is the daughter of an immigrant from the Philippines. She’s an out and proud Iraq War veteran and she’s got it going on!

She’s part of a fantastic commercial that also stars a lot of great women running. Watch this!

At the salon, I was most impressed with Stephanie J. Block who came right after rehearsal for The Cher Show and still was able to belt her face off. We thought it was super-appropriate for her to do “Woman” from The Pirate Queen and it was! Here’s some of the performance!

Then James and I joined Lindsay Lavin and Javier Colon and hauled it out to New Jersey to do a fundraiser for candidate Tom Malinowski. I was so impressed to read that Tom was praised by members of both parties for his defense of human rights and work to end torture when he was the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human rights and Labor (appointed by Obama). Yes to reaching across the aisle (not storming up the aisle when Megan Mullally is on).

Seth Rudetsky_10.19.18
Melissa, Javier, Lindsay, James, me and Sue Holder

Melissa Manchester flew in from L.A. because she wanted to help flip the 7th congressional district in New York to blue and sang up a storm. She ended her set with this Marvin Hamlisch/Alan and Marilyn Bergman classic “Through The Eyes of Love,” which she also performed on the Oscars. Here’s the song from YouTube and I took the liberty of not posting the version that had this comment underneath filled with information I didn’t need to know.

(The coment was: “This is me and my husbands "song". LOVE IT! It will be played at MY funeral AND His. And we make love to it....” Wonderful.)

And let me end by saying, I’m bringing my Broadway concert series here to NYC at the Town Hall starring Audra McDonald, Kelli O’Hara, and Jeremy Jordan. I always tell people that these concerts are very off-the-cuff and unplanned and I found this amazing clip of me surprising Audra with a modulation in the middle of “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Watch it here.

You can tell by her classy gesture to me that she was indeed taken by surprise! The new key then made her end the song on a high D flat! Watch! Then buy tickets! Peace out!

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