Lauren Kennedy
Seth RudetskyLauren Kennedy
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The Chosen Ones: An Interview with Seth Rudetsky

The Broadway legend on hating Long Island, singing at shul, and just who goes to the theater these days

Periel Aschenbrand
December 14, 2017
Lauren Kennedy
Seth RudetskyLauren Kennedy

If you love Broadway musicals, then you already know who Seth Rudetsky is. And if you don’t, you should.

He has worked as the music director of Broadway’s biggest stars—from Patti LuPone to Kristin Chenoweth and many, many more. And for years as a pianist playing in Les Miserables, The Producers, and Ragtime. He’s the host of “Seth Speaks” on Sirius radio and travels throughout the US performing his show, Deconstructing Broadway. His Broadway musical Disaster!, was a New York Times “Critics Pick,” and his third book, Seth’s Broadway Diary Volume 3, was recently released.

I literally don’t know anything about Broadway musicals, so I’ll defer to someone who does. According to Lin-Manuel Miranda, “If Seth Rudetsky didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him. He is the friend who points out everything glorious and silly about your favorite shows. He leaves you laughing helplessly and in awe of his gifts and time management skills. Read this book and see how much Seth gets done in a day. It will make you reach for more.”

His “Deconstructing Broadway” series videos are high octane and insane and amazing (especially if you’re a fan of Broadway) and rack up views in the tens of thousands. As he attests in the book, he has “the inside scoop on (almost) every Broadway show and star.” I met him in the back of a bar called Don’t Tell Mama to get the inside scoop on him.

Periel Aschenbrand: I like your Provincetown sweatshirt. Do you spend a lot of time there?

Seth Rudetsky: Yeah! Are you kidding me? Every summer I do a Broadway series there.

PA: Really? How long have you been doing that for?

SR: I started vacationing there twenty years ago but I started this series like ten years ago. We bring up Broadway stars every week and do a show with them. I’m trying to think of who we’ve had… Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone. It’s so beautiful there.

PA: It is. I used to teach a summer program and I would take the kids there during Bear Week.

SR: Oh. I hate that whole labeling thing.

PA: Go on.

SR: It’s dumb. It’s immature. I think it’s very high school-y to be like, I’m a “blah-blah-blah” type. Why do you have to have a weekend of your type? I don’t get it.

PA: Personally, I’m a pretty huge fan of the bears, but fair enough.

SR: But I do love Provincetown. It’s so open to everybody and there are so many great families there and there are gay people there and there are single people there and I just think it’s a really nice variety. It’s very artistic. I’ve been bringing my kid there since she was six.

PA: That’s so nice. And what are you working on right now?

SR: That’s a good question.

PA: Thank you. I’m kind of a professional.

SR: The show I did on Broadway called Disaster, I’m working on taking on that to London. And I’m writing a show about a community theatre and a bunch of women who are over fifty who are putting on a benefit but the richest woman in town was just murdered and all three of them are suspects and are being investigated by the police. Its’ really just a reason for me to write a show for women who I love who are over fifty that want to work because I love them so much.

PA: That sounds fascinating.

SR: I’m having a really good time writing it. Community theatre is looked down upon a lot and that’s kind of the whole theme of the show. There’s this myth that if you’re talented, you make it on Broadway. Like, not every talented person moves to New York and makes it on Broadway. There are talented people all over the country! That’s kind of the subtheme.

PA: That’s interesting.

SR: Thank you. I travel all over the country doing my own show so I’m always seeing other communities and this whole theory that if you’re playing on Broadway it’s a “Broadway audience” is ridiculous. A “Broadway audience” is people from out of town! So when you go out of town, you’re playing to the same audience! So that’s also the point of the show.

PA: What’s it called?

SR: I don’t know yet. I literally just started writing it. And Broadway is amazing. But there is amazingness everywhere.

PA: Agreed.

SR: I mean, there’s crappy shit too.

PA: That’s true too.

SR: There’s crappy shit on Broadway too.

PA: Of course. It’s just really interesting to hear because I guess Broadway really is thought of as like the crème de la crème, if you will. What’s a successful run on Broadway?

SR: It’s completely changed.

PA: How long have you been doing this?

SR: Working on Broadway?

PA: Yeah.

SR: I don’t know… Twenty years.

PA: Wow.

SR: Back in the day, it was like three years was considered a crazy long run. But ever since the eighties, when these British mega musicals came in, it’s like if your show doesn’t last twenty years you’re a flop.

PA: Where did you grow up?

SR: Long Island.

PA: Where?

SR: Five Towns.

PA: Which one?

SR: North Woodmere. Which is really Valley Stream. And I went to Hewlett High School.

PA: What was that like?

SR: It was horrible! I hated Long Island.

PA: Why?

SR: It was just a bunch of anti-gay people. But looking back, there was so much art in my school that I just took for granted that is being cut everywhere. To me, it didn’t seem very artistic at all, but looking back, I had chorus, orchestra, band. I had so much. Now it’s like, schools have nothing. I volunteer as a chorus teacher at my kids school on the wealthy Upper West Side in a crazy wealthy neighborhood because they have no chorus program! So anyway, yes, I hated growing up in Long Island but the good part was that I was near NYC so I got to see Broadway shows all the time and there was plenty of arts even though I didn’t think so at the time.

PA: It was anti-gay?

SR: I mean, it was the eighties. It was much harder back then for sure. It’s not as acceptable now to be anti gay, when back then it totally was.

PA: I didn’t know you were gay.

SR: I am.

PA: I’m kidding. Were you out in high school?

SR: No. Nobody was in the eighties. It’s not even about being gay. People hate women and anyone who acts quote unquote like a woman, meaning like in the arts, is hated. So that’s what it really is. It’s not even anti-gay. It’s just like, we hate women. That’s the subtext of America. And the world, basically. So I wasn’t out but I played the piano. And I did theatre so therefore, we get to make fun of you.

PA: Systemic, institutionalized racism and patriarchy.

SR: And what’s considered masculine and feminine. That’s why it makes me crazy when I have a Broadway radio show and people consistently say to me, “I listen to your show all the time and I’m straight,” and I’m like, “Great, because I don’t have a gay radio show so I don’t even know why I’m supposed to be impressed.” Like, what is your fucking point? Ed Sullivan was straight and he was a crazy right wing nut job and he had Broadway on every single week. What is this idiotic theory that gay people like the arts and straight people don’t? It’s just stupid. It’s infuriating and stupid. And because of that theory, that’s why the arts are being cut. Because they are considered feminine and gay and thus, they are easy to cut. Because of the hatred of women. Enough said. Love, Seth.

PA: I love that. I mean, I hate that, but that’s really an important thing to say. And you’re right. And what about being Jewish?

SR: My dad is from the Bronx, my mom is from Brooklyn.

PA: Grandparents? How does being Jewish factor into your life?

SR: My grandparents were immigrants but as babies. Because of a trauma in my family, my family became very religious. My sister is ba’al tshuva and married to a chazzan, which is great because they love music and they come to my shows. My nieces were raised in Yeshivas and they grew up loving Broadway shows.

PA: But you are not religious. . .

SR: What I like about Judaism and I think is really good is that there is so much celebration of art and music and certainly for me what I loved about my Bar Mitzvah was that I got to sing that whole Parshah. So whenever I go home to my mom’s shul, I always sing Anim Zemiros because I think it’s such a great melody. And I like that you can be religious and still appreciate the secular things.

PA: And now, for you?

SR: We do holidays. And I go to shul. But let’s face it, shul is boring unless you have a great rabbi. And I’ve done a lot of fundraisers for the gay and lesbian synagogue in New York, Beit Simchas Torah. And a lot of times I would celebrate gay Jewish composers.

PA: That’s amazing.

SR: So I love that synagogue and Sharon Kleinbaum is UH-MAZING. She is such a good speaker and she is hilarious. And we have something in common, too, which is horrible rhyming names with our siblings. My sister’s name is Beth and all you would ever hear in my house is my mother screaming, ‘ETTTHHHHH.’

PA: OH MY GOD. That is hilarious.

SR: And Sharon’s brother’s name is Aaron so that’s how we first connected.

PA: I’m dying. But I have to change the subject! What’s your favorite drink?

SR: Start by knowing that I hate any favorite anything.

PA: Okay so I’m going to rephrase these for you. Is there a drink that you like at the moment?

SR: I’d say on my Starbuck’ app, a Venti Latte but with almond milk.

PA: Wait. You hate favorites but you like Starbucks?

SR: It’s just so convenient. If there were more, I would go!

PA: Hmmmm. How do you eat your eggs?

SR: I am the king of five egg whites and one yolk.

PA: Okay so I know how you drink your coffee. What’s a Jewish Holiday you enjoy more than others?

SR: Rosh Hashanah.

PA: And we know you had a bar mitzvah. What shampoo do you use?

SR: I am the king of looking for the bunny. As long as it’s not tested on animals. There’s something called the Beagle Freedom Project which people should join because those are the ones getting tested on.

PA: So evil. Anyone who tests cosmetics on animals should be shot. Gefilte fish or lox?

SR: Vegetarian.

PA: Pair of shoes you enjoy wearing?

SR: I never learned how to tie shoes so these sneakers I just got that I’m obsessed with.

PA: Who makes them?

SR: OC. So they are not made in China and they are not leather. Which takes SO MUCH work, by the way, being green.

Periel Aschenbrand, a comedian at heart, is the author of On My Kneesand The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own.