Seth Rudetsky is a true “Broadway baby.” The New York native is the host of Sirius XM’s Broadway channel, a playwright, music director, and author of Seth’s Broadway Diary. He’ll be appearing on stage at the Gershman Y in Philadelphia on March 8, and he took time out of his schedule to talk with WJW about his popular radio show, his Jewish upbringing and his memories from the Great White Way.
Where did the idea for the satellite radio show come from?
I was doing a play in New York City that I wrote and got interviewed for Sirius. The head of the Broadway channel heard me and said I sounded really good on the radio. I was really annoyed at the interview and tired, so I thought that was bizarre. But here I am.
Did you have any experience in radio?
I had a radio show at Oberlin. I had fun. My mother, for years, said I should host a show for public radio. It was a crazy comment because it didn’t exist at the time, this kind of show. I told her, “maybe I should fly to the moon.” My mother was right.
Big stars listen to you, including, of all people, Alice Cooper. Do you feel the need to censor yourself?
I don’t think the purpose of me doing this show is to be dishy. I have my own ethics. I will call people out on things that are ethically wrong. Call out Broadway shows for cutting the orchestra. It upsets me. In a movie musical these days, they auto tune the songs so much, they, no joke, they change the melody. That’s the kind of stuff I will talk about. This is hurting the art. I will be dishy about that kind of stuff, affecting the art form. I’m not going to say someone’s hairstyle looks bad. You never know who’s listening.
What do you love about your job?
This gig is a great gig in a lot of ways. I’m being paid for what I do anyway, talking about why a song is amazing because of this or that. I love getting emails from people who say, “I listen with my kids.”
What was your worst gig on Broadway?
I have had a lot of bad jobs. It’s bizarre, because it’s a big show, but one of the worst pits I played in was The Producers. I have played certain Broadway shows, flops, like Seussical, but it was an amazing piano part. In this pit, there were no headphones. The sound from my synthesizer went directly to the audience. I could hear maybe 40 percent of what I was playing. I could hear the sound of my fingers hitting the keys. Playing it felt like I was at a typewriter. It was unsatisfying musically.
Are there any famous flops you secretly love? I am a huge fan of Chess.
I did the [PBS] concert of Chess with Josh Groban and Adam Pascal. It was great, an amazing score. It’s not that the show is horrible. There’s an element that doesn’t work sometimes. It’s not a great script. Coming after the Cold War, it didn’t make a lot of sense. A flop musical is not like a flop movie, horrific. A flop musical can be amazing. Carrie, Chess, Wild Party – there are tons of show that are great, and lasted a week. It’s not because they aren’t good shows. Mack and Mabel has an amazing score by Jerry Herman. Critics are idiots.
When did you catch the musical theater bug?
My parents just loved it. They took me to my first Broadway show, Hair, at 4. It’s mature in a lot of ways, but it goes over a kid’s head. I didn’t know it was about drugs. This was before personal headphones. The record would play all over the whole house, fill the whole house. They loved the arts, as Americans used to. It has been whittled away. There is a myth now that Broadway is only for gays [Rudetsky is openly gay]. It’s an American institution. Ed Sullivan wasn’t gay. Why is the arts for gay people? That’s so stupid. The arts are for everyone. Broadway is a multimillion dollar industry.
What is the gig you dream of landing and haven’t?
30 Rock. I auditioned five times. Tina Fay came to see [my play] Disaster. She said, “You’re on the show, right?” I said: “Noooo.” I would love to be on that show or The Mindy Project. That would be amazingly cool.
Did being Jewish make it easier for you to get into music?
Growing up on Long Island, I went to yeshiva for two years, and I didn’t mind it, but it annoyed me that there was no music, no art. It was so frustrating. I begged my parents to go to public school. I wanted to be in the orchestra, the band. Why would they not encourage music when the world’s greatest artists are Jewish?
How is the rising cost of living in New York affecting show people?
It’s very depressing. It’s so expensive it’s hurting people. A lot of the great artists left Broadway to go to Hollywood, to make more money. There’s a constant exodus.
What’s your live show about?
Deconstructing Broadway, as in: Do you recognize this chorus person in Fiddler? It’s Bette Midler! Do you hear the difference between Patti LuPone versus Madonna in Evita? If you can’t sustain a note, it doesn’t work for me.
Are there exceptions?
Elaine Stritch [Company] was a horrible singer but it works for me. You can have a great voice and be boring on stage. You can have star quality and a bad voice like Elaine Stritch and make it work. Or star quality and a great voice like Patti LuPone. I give singers acting notes, not musical notes. What helps you leave the chorus and get great roles, is acting.