Interview: Broadway Encyclopedia Seth Rudetsky Next Matches Musical Wits With Lillias White

Broadway pianist/ composer/ all-around host Seth Rudetsky returns to The Wallis with his signature concert series, this time with Tony Award winner Lillias White Nov. 3rd

By: Oct. 31, 2022
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Interview: Broadway Encyclopedia Seth Rudetsky Next Matches Musical Wits With Lillias White

Broadway pianist/ composer/ all-around host Seth Rudetsky returns to The Wallis with his signature concert series, this time with Tony Award winner Lillias White November 3, 2022. The always working Seth managed to spare a few moments to answer some of my queries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Seth! And a much belated thanks to you and husband James for the hours of comfort you two gave myself and millions of others during the pandemic months with your Stars in the House podcasts.

You have done many evenings of a Broadway star "... With Seth Rudetsky." Your contact list of Broadway Babies must be endless. How did this episode with Lillias White come about? Did you just text her asking her availability?

This one came about because of The Wallis! They looked through the list of the amazing people I've had the honor to work with and asked for Lillias. I was so happy when they asked me because she is, by far, one of my favorite Broadway stars.

What about your thousands of guests on Star in the House? A simple text or email? Or were you undulated with offers to appear on your Zoom?

Stars in the House was crazy! My husband James Wesley and I decided to raise money for the Actors Fund as soon as Broadway shut down. We knew almost everyone in the entire entertainment field would suddenly have no income and that the Actors Fund would be inundated with requests for money. We would do shows at 2PM and 8PM every day and you are right: it was constant texting and emailing to stars to see if they'd join. Thankfully, they all said yes. The best was when a star would arrange it all; like I texted Kerry Butler and she arranged for the cast of Beetlejuice to join. Or James emailed Rachel Bloom and she brought on the cast of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And the most amazing was when people would make offers we didn't think of; we had a reunion of the housewives from Desperate Housewives. At the end Marcia Cross told us she could get the cast of Melrose Place if we wanted. Dana Delaney told us she would get us the cast of China Beach. It shows how the people who do the actual entertaining really step up for charity work and it's paid off; we're now at over $1.1 million raised. I don't think we thought we would ever get to that number. The lockdown was only supposed to be for a few weeks, so we thought we'd do the show and raise what we could for a month. But the need was there for much, much longer. And it still it. Brian Stokes Mitchell, who's the chairman of the board of the Entertainment Community Fund (formerly The Actors Fund) said it will take five years for most people in the business to recover. So James and I are still going. We recently did two hilarious game nights with stars from Chicago and some of the closing cast (and writers) of Come From Away. But if your question is about how do I book things, the answer definite is texting. Almost my entire Broadway show DISASTER! was cast by me texting the stars!

Would you tell us about the first time you crossed paths with Lillias?

I first saw Lillias White when she played Effie in the late 80s Broadway revival of Dreamgirls. I loved it! Then I saw her amazing act at The Triad with my friend Andréa Burns. Andréa and I still talk about when Lillias told everyone she wasn't allowed to sing "Mem'ry" the way she wanted to during the run of CATS and the audience insisted she show us. It was INCREDIBLE! I saw Lillias star in the off-Broadway amazing Back To Bachrach and David, as well her performance as Dinah Washing in Dinah Was. All phenominal. Then I was in the orchestra off and on of How To Succeed when she brought down the house in Act Two. She reached out to me through friends to accompany her for a small benefit and that's when I first played for her.

My love of obsessing reached a fever pitch in 1997. I decided to do a fundraiser for the Gay/Lesbian synagogue (Beth Simchat Torah) featuring gay/Jewish composers. I had a lot of songs by David Friedman and Henry Krieger. I wanted to do the end of Act One Fight scene from Dreamgirls. Lillias was in tech rehearsals for The Life but told me she'd come by after. Already, that was amazing. We all know how exhausting tech is, but she still wanted to help out. Anyhoo... she was so incredible singing that score that I decided I had to do Dreamgirls on Broadway with a full orchestra starring Lillias as Effie. I wound up doing it as an Actors Fund benefit with the other ladies being Audra McDonald and Heather Headley and we raised $1,000,000. And Lillias stopped the show with "I Am Changing." I am DEFINITELY planning on her doing that at The Wallis.

When I interviewed Kelli O'Hara earlier this year for your "... With Seth Rudetsky" with her also at The Wallis, she said you had a "wonderful memory." Do you have a photographic memory? How do you retain all the Broadway facts and trivia seemingly right at your fingertips?

People do say that a lot. My family would spend time at dinner telling stories about our day, beginning, middle and ending. So my mind is trained to retain my favorite stories. One of my favorite things I do on my Broadway Cruise is have the audience yell out the name of a Broadway star and I tell a story about them. I think I just love Broadway and I have a giant space in my mind for my favorite tales.

Interview: Broadway Encyclopedia Seth Rudetsky Next Matches Musical Wits With Lillias White What was your original three-line pitch for "... With Seth Rudetsky"?

A combination of Inside The Actors Studio... but funny and a concert with a Broadway legend singing their greatest hits... and songs you never thought they'd sing!

How about your piano accompaniments? Only one run-through with a guest and you're good to go?

One run-through? Sometimes NO run-through. If someone's music is clearly marked, I'm good to go. Especially with Lillias. I know all of her music, so just a quick sound check. Also, it should be noted, these concerts often feature songs that the artist wasn't planning on doing. They're very free-form, depending on what we wind up talking about. When Sutton Foster revealed she played Annie as a girl, you KNOW I made her sing "Tomorrow" even though we never planned it.

What is it that makes your Los Angeles venue of choice The Wallis?

I love The Wallis. It's large but so intimate. My type of show has the feel that you're hanging out with me in my apartment and that's what the Wallis feels like. But with amazing lighting and sound!

Stars in the House has raised over one million dollars for the Actors' Fund. When you first started Zooming your show, did you ever think you would reach anywhere near one million?

Zoom??? Stars in the House began by using Streamyard to have people all over the world join the show. We were able to do a reunion of E.R. even though we were in New York, most of the cast was in L.A. and George Clooney was in London. Now, we have everyone gather in our Upper West Side apartment (after a COVID test) but we're still using Streamyard to broadcast.

Your over two years of weekly streams included theme nights, game nights, and cast reunions from stage and television. Do you and James have an all-time favorite Stars in the House episode? And why?

As for a favorite Stars in the House, James always says it's the Free to Be You & Me one with Marlo Thomas and super fans like Debra Messing and Audra McDonald. For me it's so many! Original casts of A Chorus Line, Ragtime, Carrie and in terms of TV, my comedy idols; SCTV.

When you were growing up, what did you see yourself doing? Playing the piano? Composing music? Being a comfortable welcoming host that you are?

I think I only thought I would be a performer while I was growing up. I was studying classical piano so there was a side thought I would be a concert pianist, but I wasn't really that interested. I also loved to write, and my first "play" was Killer Girlfriend and her character name was Miss Mazepa. See you in court? Through it all, I thought I'd need a day job and that would be a school psychologist! Anyhoo, when I got to Oberlin, I started to be able to pursue all of my various interests and it led to what I do now: I was hosting a Broadway radio show at Oberlin, but also conducting the musicals, being in the musicals, and co-hosting and writing the big student comedy show!

If there still anyone left that you haven't worked with that you'd love to accompany and/or share the stage with?

I'm still waiting to do a show with Barbra Streisand. Amazingly, she came to my deconstructing show when I was at Largo in L.A. and I actually did my "Wah wah mule" deconstruction of "Cornet Man." She was SUCH a great sport, and it was a dream come true having her in the house. But I want to do a full show with her!!! Barbra, can you hear me?

What's in the near future for Seth Rudetsky?

The future for me is forcing myself to finish editing Musical Theatre For Dummies which I was hired to do a while ago. They pushed the publishing date twice because of my A.D.D! Thankfully, I'm almost done and it's actually available for order on Amazon! My Broadway cruises have expanded a lot and I have one every three months or so. The Caribbean, Alaska and Spain Portugal are ALL coming up with so many of my fave Bway stars. Plus I do the kind of concerts I'm doing at The Wallis every Sunday as a livestream from my home studio. As soon as I return to New York City, I have Javier Muñoz, Nikki James, Sis, Andrea McArdle and Claybourne Elder all coming up at TheSethConcertSeries. And finally, I'm working on various writing projects that I have to finish once the ritalin kicks in!

Thank you again, Seth! I look forward to seeing you and Lillias at The Wallis November 3rd.

For tickets to this live one-nighter, click on the button below: