Where to begin in this epic adventure? We are about to be deluged with Broadway stars over the course of the summer, one by one, and sometimes two together. Vanessa Williams, Megan Hilty, and Audra McDonald and Will Swenson will be accompanied by funny man, pianist, and Broadway insider Seth Rudetsky, who’ll schmooze them for their juiciest stories, and coax them into singing songs in and out of their comfort zones.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of hanging out with theater folk, they are, inarguably, the most entertaining (duh) people around: jokers, song warblers, silly-foreign-accent spouters, each one with a roster of stories about showbiz icons, such as the Barbra Streisand beaut I actually have in my own arsenal, and shared with Mr. Rudetsky during our recent phone interview. (Cross my heart, I’ll pass the Streisand anecdote along to you anon …)
Vanessa Williams appears first at the Performing Arts Center on July 9. If I know our thrill-seeking local audiences, both Islanders and summerlings, many of you will want to catch each of the six shows. On the phone with Ms. Williams the other day — as I tried to keep my star-struckness in check — she said she visits the Vineyard at every opportunity. This time, she’ll stay at the Harbor View, but she also has dear friends here, including Broadway heavy hitter James Lapine, and President Obama’s pal Michael Smith, the man who designed the interior of elite restaurant State Road.
You might remember Ms. William’s first splash of fame back in 1983, when, with her caramel skin and azure eyes, she became the first African American woman to be crowned Miss America, only to have her crown snatched away when it became known that naked photos of her were forthcoming from Penthouse magazine. Does that not seem silly today? As a sign of changing times, today’s director of the Miss America contest recently apologized, formally, to the Queen-for-a-Day.
Of course, Ms. Williams went on to huge success on stage and screen, with nominations for Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Awards. She is now best known as Wilhelmina Slater on the TV series “Ugly Betty.”
On the PAC stage on July 9, the effervescent Mr. Rudetsky and Ms. Williams will sit across from one another on canvas chairs, and he’ll cajole her to spill the beans about her life, her career, ups and downs, joys and concerns (think Barbara Walters with wit and hilarity). Mr. Rudetsky explains his interview style thusly: “If someone gives me a too-careful answer, I start digging for the real story.” As an example, if an actor answers the question, “How did you get your start?” and the answer is a vague, “I auditioned,” Mr. Rudetsky will get up in his or her face: “Come on! What was your first audition like? Were you sweating like a pig?” That’s when the real tragicomedy tumbles out.
Mr. Rudetsky avows he’s always engaged people this way, popping up and down from the piano in between fun, truthful, and revealing hobnobbing. Now he pedals his artistry pretty much nonstop on Broadway, radio, and television. When he’s not globetrotting, he lives on the Upper West Side.
Megan Hilty, also reached by phone, says she’s been working joyfully with Seth Rudetsky for two years. Ms. Hilty is the breakout star of NBC TV’s “Smash” and “Sean Saves the World,” and on Broadway, “Noises Off” and “Wicked.” She adores the Rudetsky method of songs-and-chitchat, and rattles around the world performing this show, from Provincetown to London to San Francisco, most of the time accompanied by her 2-year-old daughter, Viola. Ms. Hilty has never sampled the Vineyard before, nor will she this time around, even after her touchdown on July 16. “No time to sightsee,” she sighs. “I have to fly to L.A. to shoot a pilot.”
This concert concept started with producer Mark Cortale, habitué of Provincetown, New York, and other entertainment hot spots. He launched the fledgling Broadway@The Art House in Ptown in 2011, then franchised the Broadway@ brand as he moved from resort towns to big cities, magnetizing big stars along the way.
You’ll want to keep your eye on the Calendar section, but after Ms. Williams and Ms. Hilty step into the PAC lights, the lineup is as follows: Kristin Chenoweth on August 14, Audra McDonald and Will Swanson on August 22, Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman on August 29, and the fabled Patti LuPone on Sept. 2.
Now here’s my Barbra Streisand story: My beloved ex-husband Marty Nadler, back in the late ’70s in L.A., was friends with a young producer named Steve Tisch who, while he’d lucked into a high-end showbiz family (yes, THOSE Tisches), was just starting out, and had only made a single low-budget, largely neglected indie film. One day he received a call from Barbra Streisand’s secretary: Could he come to lunch with Barbra and Peter (yes, THAT Peter) at their house in Malibu?
He arrived at the appointed time. They sat down to lunch facing the sea, a butler oiling in with trays of fancy food, while the royal couple told Steve Tisch how much they loved his work. They also raved endlessly about the recent hit movie “Breaking Away.” Suddenly it dawned on Steve Tisch that they thought he was Steve Tesich, screenwriter of “Breaking Away.” He blurted out the mixup. Their faces went blank. They excused themselves, and vanished into one of the many interior rooms of the house. Young Tisch spent another 10 minutes poking at the remains of his lunch, and eying the waves. The butler came in and asked if there were anything else he required. The young producer shook his head sadly, got up, gently pushed in his chair, and saw himself out.
The reason I told Seth Rudetsky this story is because I asked him if he had in mind any single singing star in the world he hadn’t yet worked with, but who would represent the jewel in the crown of his repertoire.
Guess who he named? Go for it, Seth Rudetsky! She might think you’re Seth Rogen!
For tickets and more information on the series, visit vineyardbroadway.com.