The used Subaru Outback I bought from a retiring real estate agent in Tesuque came with Sirius/XM Radio, the satellite radio service that offers a mind-boggling lineup of commercial-free themed channels. It’s my car, but other members of the family have their own buttons. There is “1st Wave: Classic Alternative,” the channel preferred by my husband; “XMU, Indie & Beyond,” the favorite music of our millennial family member; and “On Broadway” (along with NPR, Classical Music, and Coffeehouse acoustic) for me. The best thing about “On Broadway,” Sirius channel 77, is Seth Rudetsky.
Rudetsky has been one of the show’s on-air DJ personalities for years. His voice is distinctive, a mile-a-minute New York nasal overload of information, gossip, aw-shucks fandom, and heart. On the air, he plays every kind of Broadway, from 1940s revues to the Tony-winning best shows of the minute to lounge acts by lesser-known Broadway stars. Between numbers, he talks about himself and all things Broadway. There’s nothing better than backstage gossip and trivia, and Rudetsky is a never-ending font of all that and more.
Openly and outrageously gay, Rudetsky regularly recounts stories of his husband and daughter, his weight loss regimen, and working travels on Broadway-themed cruises with his mother. He co-wrote and starred in Disaster!, an off-Broadway spoof of disaster movies and songs from the ’70s. The show moved to the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway in 2016 for 32 preview and 72 regular performances.
Rudetsky will be offering up Broadway Confidential, an evening with Broadway, movie, and Saturday Night Live star Ana Gasteyer at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, May 10. We exchanged emails while he lounged on a cruise liner somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.
Pasatiempo: As a longtime listener of Sirius XM, I’ve heard plenty of your live shows in which you feature an artist and they sing and you talk and play the piano. How is Broadway Confidential different?
SETH RUDETSKY: My show in Santa Fe will be different from my radio show in the sense that there will be a lot more music! Ana is going to sing hits from her albums, as well as her songs from when she starred in Wicked and, [in] one of her most amazing roles, when she played Fanny Brice in Funny Girl! The similarity to my radio show is that it will be a spontaneous interview between each song. I don’t like scripted patter, so the fun part about my concert is that I ask the star questions that they don’t know I’m going to ask. And, of course with Ana, the answers will be hilarious.
PASA: Tell me about Ana Gasteyer. Is the goal to showcase her singing voice, play off her comic persona, or just create a good show?
RUDETSKY: All of the above! She’s a brilliant comedienne, as anyone knows who saw her play Céline Dion, Martha Stewart, or one of the NPR ladies on SNL. But she’s an incredible B-way vocalist. Sometimes producers will cast a TV star on Broadway in a role that doesn’t require much performance skill. But Ana starred as [Elphaba] in [the original 2005 Chicago cast of] Wicked. That role is one of the most difficult roles that has ever been on Broadway. You have to have such an incredible voice to do it, and Ana performed it eight times a week for more than a year! She is incredible and people will be blown away by what a fantastic performer she is.
PASA: How did you segue from playing the piano in the pit to becoming the de facto Rona Barrett of Broadway?
RUDETSKY: [He laughs.] I’ve always been a performer, as well as a pianist, so I’ve always straddled both worlds. One of the most fun things about doing a show on Broadway is going out after the show and telling funny stories. I decided to turn those funny stories from stars into a weekly live series that I began doing in New York as a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids. We raised lots and lots of money for that charity and then that show turned into my radio show. And then I began taking that type of show around the country!
PASA: How did you first become obsessed with Broadway?
RUDETSKY: My parents took me to my first B-way show when I was 4. People think it was a show like Peter Pan. But it was actually Hair. No joke! I became hooked on Broadway soon after and begged them to take me to see B-way shows all the time. I started auditioning for professional theater soon after and had some success. The most exciting gig was when I performed in a NY nightclub every week when I was a teen. I was right there opposite so many kids that were performing on Broadway, including the fabulous Sarah Jessica Parker who had just played Annie. That’s how I first met her, and she did one of my Broadway Confidential concerts like Ana is doing!
PASA: Who are your favorite artists to schmooze with on the air and why?
RUDETSKY: The best people to talk to you are the ones who really open up. It’s so incredible to get the inside scoop about what things are really like in the trenches … and that’s why I love talking to Ana. She has an amazing story about imitating Céline Dion at an actual Céline Dion concert!!! I’m going to manipulate her to tell the story in front of our Santa Fe audience if everyone promises to keep it on the down-low!
PASA: Talk about the pandemic and Broadway. Your radio show never stopped, but there wasn’t a whole lot for you to talk about for a long while. What were you hearing from the performers out of work?
RUDETSKY: As soon as the pandemic hit, my husband and I knew that The Actors Fund would be doling out lots of money because work had completely stopped. The Actors Fund is for anybody in the arts … not just actors. Everybody behind the scenes, opera singers, ballet dancers, music teachers, people in the orchestra pit, ushers, stage managers, etc. James [Wesley] and I began doing two shows a day on March 13, 2020. [They created a live-streamed web series, Stars in the House, to benefit The Actors Fund.] At this point, we’ve raised more than $1 million for The Actors Fund.
PASA: What does it feel like to be in a theater again?
RUDETSKY: Fabulous! It was so hard to perform with no audience. How do you know if the joke is funny when you hear complete silence after every joke? It’s so fantastic to hear laughs and applause again.
PASA: Movie houses seem doomed with all the Netflix/Amazon/Apple/Disney+ streaming competition. Are there any potential technological game changers in the pipeline that might affect live theater?
RUDETSKY: The only horrible thing about Broadway is the fact that orchestras are getting smaller and smaller. And audiences don’t seem to be complaining about it. Listen to the original cast albums in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s and hear how fantastic those orchestras sounded. Now there is so much electronic sound on Broadway. It is really ruining the traditional sound of Broadway that makes live theater so thrilling.
PASA: Are young people still moving to NYC with a dream in their hearts?
RUDETSKY: Of course, Broadway is alive and luring young hopefuls every day.