What Would Dear Evan Hansen Tony Winner Rachel Bay Jones Be If She Weren’t an Actor?

Seth Rudetsky   What Would Dear Evan Hansen Tony Winner Rachel Bay Jones Be If She Weren’t an Actor?
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth learns where Jones would be if not on the stage, plus inside scoop from the original Zach in A Chorus Line Robert LuPone.
Rachel Bay Jones
Rachel Bay Jones Courtesy Rachel Bay Jones

Hello from Hubbard Glacier! I’m on a cruise to Alaska and loving it. I know it’s been super hot in NYC so I guess I’m feeling #SorryNotSorry… as the kids say. I began the week in Colorado Springs performing Deconstructing Broadway, which I love doing. I’ve been “deconstructing” in my house ever since I was a little kid and it’s so great I get to do it around the country now. I have so many videos online, and it’s always nice when people tell me I deconstructed one of their favorites, but I love it even more when I deconstruct something that someone never heard of and then they fall in love with it! For instance, do you know this? I love it!

While I was in Colorado, I watched rehearsal for the Youth Rep Ensemble production of Disaster!. They had some really funny added moments. My favorite included a young girl in the ensemble who broke her ankle on the last day of the school year. Well, they added such a fantastic moment featuring her: In the song, “Never Can Say Goodbye” the nun with the gambling addiction is battling her desire to play the Hawaii 5-0 slot machine. She really wants to, but she’s torn because she’s sworn off gambling. Near the end of the song, she sings the phrase “No, no, no” three times. During one of the phrases, the girl with the broken ankle approaches the slot machine in her wheelchair and was about to play. When the nun saw that the girl was going to use the slot machine, she had a fit, grabbed the wheelchair and—while singing “No, no, NO!”—turned her away from the slot machine and violently pushed her wheelchair so the girl went careening across the stage. It was hilarious! Get tickets here.

Speaking of hilarious and the nun, here’s my deconstruction of the brilliant Jenn Simard doing it on Broadway:

Yesterday we were in Sitka, Alaska, which is beautiful. James and I always like to visit an animal shelter when we’re on a cruise (that’s how we got our last two doggies: Mateo from San Juan and Chrissy from Aruba) and this time James discovered a place called Fortress Of The Bear, which is a sanctuary/rehab for orphaned bear cubs. When a bear cub is orphaned, they haven’t learned yet how to get food and fully function, so there is a devastating protocol in Alaska that they have to kill the cubs. Fortress of the Bear takes the cubs and raises them into healthy adults. The place was incredible…but also so extremely sad because they gave us the back stories on each cub. Two of the cubs were living with their mom in a dump and the mother died from eating too much plastic, which they said is a painful death. The good news is, Fortress of the Bear is now raising these bears along with many other bears who all hang out (and play) together.

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Right now, by law, the bears aren’t allowed to be released into the wild, but they’re working on changing that law so they can rehab cubs and then release them back into the wild. I got an amazing video of the bears playing with a ball that they spin around in the water and every so often, food comes out of it. It’s literally the kind of toy my doggie Mandy plays with!

Of course, I had fantasies of taking a cub or two home with us, but that was kiboshed when the guide told us that male bears never stop growing! They get bigger and bigger apparently, forever. I thought that only applied to my love handles. Anyhoo, Fortress Of The Bear gets no government funding so they have to rely only on donations and admissions costs! Please support them (and plan a trip to visit) at FortressOfTheBear.org.

Speaking of Sitka, it’s a town I’ve never heard of. Well, Rachel Bay Jones is with us and not only has she heard of it, she was going to spend four years there! If you don’t know, Rachel came to New York when she was 18 and immediately got cast in Meet Me In St. Louis. Then she was cast as one of the three operators in the national tour of Grand Hotel. She came back to New York and had a horrific audition experience and decided to leave the business and go to college. In Sitka, Alaska!!! Seriously! She wanted to be a marine biologist. Eventually, she faded out on the marine biology and went back to performing (hence, her Tony Award).

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Rachel Bay Jones Jenny Anderson/Getty Images

What’s crazy is that James had arranged for the bus taking us to Fortress of the Bear to stop so we could all take a scenic photo. Where did it stop? In front of the University of Alaska that Rachel was planning on attending! Being there was very “Sliding Doors”…facing another life she almost had. The other bizarre thing that happened when the bus passed by the town’s church. Our guide told us to look at the stained glass window because there was a mistake. The story is that the church ordered a stain glass window, and because the town is so remote, it took two years for the window to get there. When it finally arrived, they realized that the wrong window had been delivered, but it would have taken two years to send back and two years to get the correct one. So, instead of waiting four years for the proper window, they just installed it. So, now the town church has a large window right in the front… with a giant Star of David!

I had Robert LuPone on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM radio talk show. Bob grew up dancing (often teaming up with his twin brother and his sister, Patti LuPone!) and eventually became a dance major at Juilliard. Sadly, he sustained an injury that prevented him from pursuing a “serious” dance career, but he was able to dance well enough for Broadway! He was cast by Michael Bennett in the workshop production of A Chorus Line as Al (the one who is married to Kristine and sings the song “Sing”).

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Donna McKechnie and Robert Lupone Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

The original Zach was Barry Bostwick, who had just played Danny in the original cast of Grease, but after a short amount of time, Barry left the workshop and Bob told Michael he could play Zach. Michael gave him the part…and thus everything changed. Bob said that when he was Al, he was one of the gang and Michael Bennett was super friendly. When he took over the role of Zach, however, Michael became cold and distant and often angry. Bob had no idea why. He later realized, much later, that the role of Zach was based on Michael. He was essentially playing Michael Bennett and it made Michael shut him out. At one point, Bob experimented with playing Zach obviously gay and Michael didn’t talk to him for a week!

Regardless, the show became a huge hit and Bob was nominated for a Tony Award (which went to his co-star Sammy Williams who played Paul). If you don’t know, all of A Chorus Line is supposed to be an audition and everyone onstage is supposed to be in that nervous “I really need this job” state throughout. Bob, however, started to notice that the actors became relaxed after a while. He therefore figured out a way to keep them nervous: After the opening dance audition, Zach starts asking various people on the line about their childhood, starting with Mike. Well, if he sensed the cast was too relaxed, he would say “Let’s start with Val!” and suddenly everyone would snap to attention. He’d bring it back to the script, but it was a great way to get everyone to be in the moment. The famous Zach-making-everyone-feel-it’s-an-audition story I know about happened during the European tour.

Before the dancers are cut during the opening number, the dialogue is
ZACH: (To female dancer) Any Broadway shows?
DANCER: Touring company!
But this Zach (like Bob) wanted to shake things up and make people feel they were really at an audition and one day, he added a line which didn’t work out the way he wanted. Here’s what happened
ZACH: (To female dancer) Any Broadway shows?
DANCER: Touring company
ZACH: Really? What show?
DANCER (In a panic because she literally cannot think of the name of a show) Um….A Chorus Line?
That’s right, the only show title she could think of, was the show was in at that moment. The audience was like, “We’re watching the show…but we’re also in the show? Are we watching a surreal play by Satre?”
Regardless, here’s the opening number featuring Bob as Zach in the groovy ’70s sweater.

Peace out!

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