What Happened When Christopher Fitzgerald Recorded a Sondheim Song in Front of Sondheim

Seth Rudetsky   What Happened When Christopher Fitzgerald Recorded a Sondheim Song in Front of Sondheim
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Tony-nominated Christopher Fitzgerald shares a very awkward encounter with Sondheim while performing on Playbill Travel's recent cruise on the Danube River.
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Broadway on the Danube Arturo Olmos

Here is Part 2 of my recent adventures on the Playbill cruise down the Danube River, which was star-studded as well as food stuffed. Arriving in Vienna, we immediately went to our cabins where the amenity that everyone talked about constantly was not the comfy beds or butler service but the toilets. Each cabin had a “smart” toilet, meaning that the second you walked into the bathroom, the top lifted up in a warm welcome. And I do mean warm. The seats were deliciously heated. Also, there was an in-bowl bidet with various temperatures and directional spouts. It basically made you only want to leave the bathroom for an emergency “abandon ship.”

Back to Broadway: The first show was Christopher Fitzgerald’s. Not surprisingly, he was hilarious. At the start, he asked if anyone had been at his first one-man show. Only his mom in the audience raised her hand because, we then found out, his first one-man show was a benefit for a theater company and he was 12. He then did a recap of all the songs he did, in the order he did them in, and showed us the actual poster where he was above the title and listed as Kif Fitzgerald. Turns out, he couldn’t pronounce “Christopher” and “Kif” was the best he could do when he was a little kid so it stuck for years. Adorable! He asked me how I pronounced “Seth” when I was little and I replied “Seth.” Anyhoo, he ended the recap of his show from the ’80s with patter claiming he had to go home to watch Family Ties and then wake up bright and early for the Iran-Contra hearings. So on-the-nose!

Chris also told a (devastating) story from his time Off-Broadway in Saturday Night, which was written by Stephen Sondheim. The cast recorded the album after the show closed and following his first take, Sondheim approached him. Yay! He was going to tell Chris how amazing he sounded! Not really. Instead, Sondheim told him that he was singing part of the melody incorrectly. The first devastating ending of that story is that Chris had been singing it that way eight times a week for weeks. How much anger had Sondheim internalized throughout the run? Not since Sweeny Todd’s “Epiphany.” Then, to add to Chris’ mortification, after Sondheim told him the melody was wrong, Chris quickly asked, “Oh! Can you plunk it out on the piano for me?” Sondheim, always the brilliant wordsmith, replied with a succinct, “No.” And, typical Sondheim, he was able to use just one word to mean not only “Are you seriously asking me that question?” but also “I am not your rehearsal pianist, dear.” Bravo!

Chris also performed his best/worst audition song (that I think is brilliant!), which is featured on this Obsessed video. (Also highlighting what I think is one of his best features.)

The next show starred Marc Kudisch, who sang a plethora of styles, from a cut song his character once sang in The Wild Party to his audition song for Bye Bye Birdie (which got him his first big job) to a beautiful version of “Close Every Door to Me”—while accompanying himself on guitar—that he had performed in Israel. Speaking of Israel, he talked about being Jewish but not looking it. He once went to a synagogue on the Upper West Side and asked to come into the sanctuary to pray. The man who answered the door informed him that there was a church down the block. Marc then said, “I’m Jewish” to which the man answered “Not so much.” (P.S. That story is in opposition to a review I once got after my downtown comedy show that said I looked like an “Ultra-Jewish David Duchovny.” Wonderful. Match.com profile?)

I've known Kudisch since the early ’90s when he was cast as the bass in Forever Plaid. And speaking of basses, here we are in a face-off about low notes.

Marc also told us that he grew up with fellow Playbill cruiser and Tony Award winner Rachel Bay Jones. He remembers first meeting her at a local theater company in Florida and recalled she was totally goth with long black hair. I asked Rachel to clarify: She’s blonde now and Marc said she had black hair. Which color is natural? She replied, “Brown.” Brava! Third time’s the charm?

Superstar Michael Feinstein did the next show and, wow, is he a fantastic performer. Such a world-class musician and such a fount of knowledge. And man, he does an incredible imitation of Paul Lynde! He told many stories about him (when we would all hang out after the shows), including the time he was playing piano at a party and Paul walked by, spilled his drink into the piano and intoned, in his signature Paul Lynde line reading, “Pick up the tempo.”

Back to Marc Kudisch: His wife is the fabulous dancer-choreographer Shannon Lewis, and she was regaling me with amazing Gwen Verdon stories. Shannon was one of the stars of Fosse and worked very closely with Gwen. She told me that Gwen had these beautiful blue earings that looked like diamonds. No one knew the H they were made of. They were diamonds but also blue? Elizabeth Taylor-style? Finally, one day someone asked Gwen what they actually were and she revealed they were indeed diamonds. Blue diamonds? No. Gwen revealed that she never liked diamonds so every morning she colored them blue… with a magic marker! Wowza! Not since my Mom would “hem” my pants by folding them under and keeping them up by putting masking tape inside each leg. Not joking.

Shannon performed the fabulous "I Gotcha" in Fosse back in 1999. Take a gander!

OK, there is a lot more cruise to cover so tune back in next week! And if you’re in NYC this Monday, November 20, come see me and my Broadway pals at Barnes and Noble reading from my new Seth’s Broadway Diary (and singing up a storm!). Peace out!

Tickets are also now on sale for Playbill’s Broadway on the High Seas July 2018 cruise to Iceland, accompanied by Judy Kuhn, Christine Ebersole, Rob McClure, Jarrod Spector, Carmen Cusack, and Sierra Boggess. Visit PlaybillTravel.com for booking and information.

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