How Broadway’s Christopher Fitzgerald Nearly Played the Doctor Instead of Igor in Young Frankenstein

Seth Rudetsky   How Broadway’s Christopher Fitzgerald Nearly Played the Doctor Instead of Igor in Young Frankenstein
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from Fitzgerald—plus Liz Callaway’s The Nanny connection and more.
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Christopher Fitzgerald Paul Kolnik

Hello from a Vancouver to NYC flight. I had a great week cruising around beautiful Alaska and now I’m excited to spend time at my house with my doggies (and kitty). At night on the ship, James and I would have delicious late night snacks as we hung out with Rachel Bay Jones, Chris Fitzgerald, his wife, Jessie Stone, my good friends Jack Plotnick and Jim Hanson, and Liz Callaway and her hubby, Dan Foster. So much laughing!

One night, we were talking about collecting money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS after a show, and I mentioned the time I had just turned 40 and was doing The Ritz at the Roundabout. I was standing in the lobby, holding a bucket, and a woman approached and told me that her friend went to my high school. She told me his name and I told her that I didn’t know him. She seemed shocked that I didn’t, so I thought maybe he did indeed go to my high school, but he was a little younger or older than me. I asked her how old he was, and she pointed to me, with a look that implied, “How old is he? He’s your age,” and said—as if it didn’t need to be said at all—“50!” I remind you, I had just turned 40. Of course, standing next to me collecting while hearing it all was Brooks Ashmanskas, who later would not stop imitating her line reading. (Subtext: Hello! It’s obvious: “50!”)

From Left: Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Jessica Stone and Olivia d'Abo in <i>The Odd Couple</i>.
From Left: Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Jessica Stone and Olivia d'Abo in The Odd Couple. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Jessie was talking about collecting for BC/EFA after The Odd Couple where she played one of the Pigeon sisters, opposite Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. One sister is a redhead, and the other is a blonde. Jessie was the redhead, Cecily. After the show, a woman walked up to Jessie while she was collecting and said, “You were one of the Pigeon sisters, right?” Jessie nodded yes. The woman then asked, “Which one?” Jessie was so confused by the question; she was standing in her full costume and wig. She didn’t know how to respond so she pointed to herself, scanned her finger from her wig to her shoes and said, “This one.” So hilarious!

At one point, a bunch of us were talking soap operas, because Liz Callaway’s husband, Dan, was on All My Children. Dan did the show for a while and then his character died. About a month later, he got a call from a producer asking him to re-join the show. As the same character. Dan was completely miffed and responded, “But…I’m dead.” The man responded, “Yes, but you got a lot of positive mail.” So, Dan came right back to the show. It was never explained why he had died and why he was completely alive again.

James Wesley, Rachel Bay Jones, me, Dan Foster, Liz Callaway
James Wesley, Rachel Bay Jones, me, Dan Foster, Liz Callaway

The sad part is, I was on All My Children, and after my six-episode arc, my phone never rang. And my character wasn’t even dead! Dan asked me who I played on the show and I told him I was Rudy, a very successful choreographer in Vegas. When I came onto the show, Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) was hiding out in Vegas in a blonde wig and an alias: Desiree DuBois. As soon as I saw her in a restaurant, I knew she had to be my lead dancer. Desiree (a.k.a. Erica) agreed to star in my show (even though she was trying not to attract attention?) and her brilliant performance brought the house down. However, soon her problems back home affected her concentration and she made mistakes during the show. I naturally accused her of being a drunk and fired her. I told Dan that the role was pretty comedic, even though it was a soap opera, and on my first day there, the director told me I needed to be bigger. On my second day, we had a different director and as soon as I began running my scene he told me to pull it back. Way back. I said, “Wow! The director yesterday told me to make it bigger! Can you believe it?” He responded, directly and succinctly: “No.” At least he was honest?

Dan told us about the time he had to renew his license while he was on the show and how people warned him not to go to the DMV in New York because it would take so long. He knew there would be no wait if he went to the DMV where he was from (Rhode Island), so he took a quick flight there on the Friday before it expired. Well, when he got to the DMV in Rhode Island, there was a woman working there, but she told him it was closed. He told her that he had to get it done before he flew back to work on Monday, but she told him again, they were closed. Then she looked at him and said, “Wait…you’re on my story.” (P.S. I’m obsessed with how people called soap operas their “stories.” Now, James and I basically call every TV show we watch our stories!)

Anyhoo, once she recognized him, she got her supervisor to come over and tried to convince her to renew Dan’s license. The supervisor wasn’t as impressed…until Dan told them this: It was the time when everyone was waiting to find out who the killer was of the character Robert LuPone played on the show. The killer would be revealed the following Tuesday, but Dan already knew who did it. He told them if they renewed his license, he would write down the name of the killer on a piece of paper and fold it—but they had to promise not to open it until Monday. They agreed and that’s how he got his license renewed! On a side note, as I mentioned last week, Robert LuPone was the original Zach in A Chorus Line and on All My Children his character was named…Zach!

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Megan Mullally and Christopher Fitzgerald in Young Frankenstein Paul Kolnik

Chris Fitzgerald’s show was amazing on the ship and he told some fabulous stories. If you don’t know, the original star of Young Frankenstein was supposed to be Zachary Levi. He did the workshop as Dr. Frankenstein but when the show was finally set to open on Broadway, he found out that the TV show pilot he had filmed was picked up, and he had already signed the contract to do the series (Chuck) so he couldn’t do Broadway. At that time, Roger Bart was playing Igor, so they needed a Dr. Frankenstein. Chris’ wife Jessie was pregnant and had kidney stones, so Chris didn’t even want to go in for the audition, but Jessie convinced him to go. He auditioned for Dr. Frankenstein and they then asked him to look at Igor. He took his sweatshirt, put it over his head (Marty Feldman-style) and read Igor. Soon, he was cast and they moved Roger Bart from Igor to the Doctor. AND Chris earned his first Tony nomination for the role!

READ: How Christopher Fitzgerald Became Broadway’s Go-To Funnyman

Chris says he’ll never forget coming to rehearsal after his baby was born: He had photos of his newborn on his digital camera and showed it everyone. He was freaking out and so excited. He’d haul out the photos and everyone reacted in that “Aw! What a sweet baby” way we all do...and then drifted away.

However, it was 2008 and it also happened to be the day the iPhone came out. Those same people who only had five seconds to look at Chris’ brand new baby were suddenly screaming/gasping as they pushed and shoved their way to huddle around the one cast member who had the iPhone. Chris said he was standing by himself and saying, “You guys! I’m showing you my beautiful child! The greatest thing two people can create. A miracle who—lemme at the iPhone!

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Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones Matthew Murphy

On the last day of the cruise, the crew kept paging Rachel Bay Jones for some reason. It was so relentless and Chris did such a hilarious impression of the person paging Rachel, getting more and more irritated. His version went from “We are paging Rachel Bay Jones!” to “Again, Rachel Bay Jones” to finally an angry “DEAR! RACHEL! HANSEN!

Liz Callaway’s show was so great and she told us about her sister Ann Hampton Callaway who wrote (and sang lead) on the theme song to The Nanny. Watch!

Liz claimed that she always felt her back-up harmony on the theme song never got enough notice so she wanted to perform them for everyone so people could finally appreciate them. It was so funny. Especially, the fact that basically nothing happens at the end of the song. Watch our rehearsal!

And on that note, peace out!

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