Why Jelani Remy Flew Across the Country to Perform on His Day Off | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky Why Jelani Remy Flew Across the Country to Perform on His Day Off

Plus, learn how you can tune in to Seth Rudetsky's Tony Awards watch party.

Heidi Blickenstaff, Seth Rudetsky, Jelani Remy, and Arielle Jacobs Seth Rudetsky

It’s June! I’ve been a-travelin’, but I’m finally back and enjoying the beautiful NYC weather. Thankfully, it usually doesn’t get horrifically hot until July. I still remember when I moved to NYC and couldn’t afford an air conditioner. The nights were the worst! I felt like I was lying on bedsheet that had just come out of the dryer. I remember identifying with the song "Air Conditioner" so much when I first heard it. Here’s Sutton Foster’s version:

Anyhoo! Speaking of heat, I was in sunny California for a full week, and it was hot but beautiful! First, I did a wonderful show honoring Lizzie Weiss to celebrate 10 years of her being a cantor at Temple Emmanuel. Turns out, before she ever thought of becoming a cantor, she pursued musical theatre. Fresh out o’ college, she was cast in the national tour of High School Musical. What I love is that two of her former cast mates, from 20 years ago, flew to L.A. to join in the concert. It makes me so happy that theatre provides lifelong friendships! I was even more impressed that one of her former cast mates, Jelani Remy, did a matinee of Back to the Future on Sunday, took a night flight, sang non-stop in our Monday night show, and then flew back for his Tuesday show.

I was most impressed with Arielle Jacobs, who performed Monday night with us, but then ran to a red-eye back to NYC because she had rehearsal Tuesday morning! Arielle was starring in the workshop of a new musical that I’m not sure if I’m allowed to mention by name. Let me just say it’s based on a famous movie whose title sounds like a manual about those times I want a bunch of pancakes but prefer them on the smaller side. Any guesses?

Anyhoo! I hosted and played for Lizzie, who belted up a storm throughout the show. Then, near the end, I brought out my pal Ana Gasteyer who sang “For Good” with Lizzie as the 11 o’clock number. Here is a super fun highlight reel:

Back to Arielle! Her brother, Adam, who is currently starring as Captain Walker in The Who's Tommy, was the original Aladdin on Broadway. While Adam was performing as Aladdin, Arielle got cast in the Australian production of the Disney musical. They didn’t tell their parents Arielle’s big news, and instead, told them there was a fun video to watch featuring Adam singing with the new Australian Jasmine. The siblings filmed their parents’ reaction as they realized it was Arielle. It’s so sweet!

Speaking of parental surprises, Christine Pedi did something similar years ago when she got cast as Matron Mama Morton in Chicago. She also didn’t tell her parents. But instead of a video, she invited them to see the show with her friend Michael D'Angora, under the ruse that he had “free tickets.” When her parents showed up in the lobby, Michael blocked the sign in the lobby that had Christine’s name on the cast list. He also got his hands on the previous week’s Playbill, so they’d see the previous Matron Mama Morton listed. Well, the big reveal went amazingly. Her parents were super surprised to see Christine onstage and she nailed both “When You’re Good To Mama” and “Class.” Well, except parents are parents. After the show, when Christine’s mom spoke to her, Christine quickly realized that her mom had thought this was a one-night benefit. Yes, Mrs. Pedi was shocked that Christine was actually starring in the show for 10 weeks. Christine told me that, because of her years of doing benefits, her parents couldn’t believe Christine was getting paid to perform! Surely, they thought, this was a one-night special occasion for no salary.

Speaking of Christine in benefits, a video just became available of one of her classic performances. When she was doing Forbidden Broadway (which is coming back to NYC this summer), she was asked to perform her Elaine Stritch parody song. Then, she was told that Elaine Stritch would come out onstage and sing after her! When Christine got to rehearsal that afternoon, Stritch talked through what was going to happen. Christine would sing, bow, and start to exit. When she was almost offstage, Stritch would enter on the same side that Christine was trying to exit. Stritch would then, very slowly, back Christine off across the entire stage. 

Well, that night, Christine did her brilliant interpretation of Gerard Alessandrini’s new lyrics to “Zip” and, true to what was planned, Stritch walked out right before Christine exited. Stritch started backing her across the stage, and, in order for Christine not to walk off the edge of the stage, Stritch kept her on task the whole time, in a grumbly sotto voce. Christine does an amazing imitation of what it sounded like. “That’s it. Keep going straight. That’s right. Don’t forget the mic stand.” Well, even though Stritch was murmuring helpful phrases, she had that signature Stritch glare. Christine, petrified of her, couldn’t finish the cross, and, as you’ll see below, she simply ran off! You can watch the whole thing here:

I recently had Gordon Greenberg on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. Gordon directed the current Huey Lewis musical The Heart of Rock & Roll. Gordon and I have known each other a long time. We actually met when we were teens! There was a revue called Beginnings featuring kids who worked on Broadway in shows like Evita, Annie, Peter Pan, and, in Gordon’s case, The Little Prince. And, in my case, nothing. Yes, the revue was also for kids who wanted to be in Broadway shows, like me and Kerry Butler.

Anyhoo, Gordon and I were reminiscing, and he recounted the story about when his agent changed his name. When Gordon was around 12, his agent decided that the name Gordon Greenberg was too Jewish. She thought about using his middle name, Lee, as his last name, but that sounded like an Asian name. Finally, she decided to reverse his middle and his first name, but she made the bold choice of not telling him!

So, Gordon was at an audition and the monitor kept asked for a Lee Gordon. Lee Gordon. Lee Gordon! Gordon was blank faced. Who the hell was Lee Gordon? Eventually, Gordon learned his new name, and when he got his first Broadway show, The Little Prince, Lee Gordon was the name in the Playbill.

The Little Prince Playbill Seth Rudetsky

Cut to Gordon backstage at The Little Prince, hearing someone come to the stage door. It was a young girl who he recognized as one of his mates from musical theatre summer camp. She told the stage doorman that her friend Gordon Greenberg was in the show. Ah! Gordon freaked out. He hid backstage in a panic thinking, “Oh no! They’re going to find out my real name, and then I’ll be fired!” It’s such a hilarious leap in logic, but I love it.

I don’t quite know why having a stage name would merit a firing, but Gordon’s not the only person to think that using a fake name is a capital offense.

I also had two stars from Gordon’s show, Josh Breckenridge and Zoe Jensen (both amazing singers), on Seth Speaks. I first met Josh when he was brand new to NYC and we were both cast in The Ritz. I was understudying Brooks Ashmanskas and I had a feature in Act Two:

Terrence McNally’s The Riz takes place in a gay bathhouse, and Josh was cast as one of the extremely virile young men walking around the stage in various stages of undress. I reminded Josh of the “hilarious” story of the time we were in tech rehearsal, and I had an entrance where I was costumed in a bathrobe. I had just worked out at the gym and thought, “Why keep this tied up so tight?” I figured I would open the top of my robe so the audience can get a glimpse of (what I thought) was my very muscular chest. Well, no sooner had I entered the stage, showing a smattering of skin, when I heard shoes running towards me. It was the costume designer. He was in a panic and told me, in no uncertain terms, “Keep it closed!” I guess the last thing he wanted was the audience demanding refunds based on a #PidgeonChest.

The other “hilarious” moment happened after a performance. If you watch the video I posted above, my act two moment was me singing “Magic to Do” in a unitard. After the show one night, a very famous star with whom I am friends, met me backstage and told me how funny I was. She then asked how they got the “padding” in the stomach area underneath my unitard. Wonderful. I forced a tight smile and told her that it was not added padding, it was simply my own fat. She immediately backpedaled and said, “What? You’re not fat. Look, you’re not fat!” To prove she felt that way, she kept poking me in my upper ribcage. It was a very interesting area to demonstrate a lack of fat. I told her that fat does not accumulate in the upper rib cage area on the human body. I informed her that she was simply poking a bone covered in skin. The “fun” part was I had to wear that outfit for two more months. Yay?

Here's Josh and Zoe on my show!

Seth Rudetsky, Zoe Jensen and Josh Breckenridge Seth Rudetsky

Moving on! I had a great time interviewing Maria Friedman, the British actor/director who is up for a Tony award for directing Merrily We Roll Along. 

Seth Rudetsky and Maria Friedman Seth Rudetsky

Turns out, Maria spent her early childhood years in Germany, where her violinist father was in the orchestra. She asked me to imagine how difficult it was to be Jewish, and living in Germany, only 15 years after the Holocaust ended. Amazingly, instead of hiding his Jewishness, her father changed the spelling of his last name from Freedman to Friedman to make it look more Jewish. That is so admirable! Here he is, sounding amazing, with his son, and Maria’s brother, Richard!

Speaking of the Tony Awards, I’m doing my signature Tony Award Watch Party for the fourth year! Come join me on West 72nd Street to watch the show, eat and drink a little something, win prizes, and be surrounded by theatre lovers all via livestream. More information is available here.

Seth's Tony Watch Party Seth Rudetsky

In conclusion, I will end with a contrast. 

Nowadays, Broadway shows have a very strict time limit on their performances. Let’s look back at 1974, when Charles Nelson Reilly, who wasn’t nominated for anything that year, did an eight-minute cabaret act about his career! As Reno Sweeney sang, “Times have changed!”

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