Well, as soon a Concert For America is over I think “Yay! I can totally relax.” Then James and I immediately realize we’re completely behind on the next concert and start panicking. Yes, our next Concert For America is May 24 in L.A. at Royce Hall. So many great peeps including Megan Hilty, Cheyenne Jackson, Chita Rivera, Alec Mapa, Barrett Foa, Rachel Bloom, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Dan Bucatinsky, Wayne Brady, and singing “I Am Woman”…Helen Reddy! Watch this preview and get excited!
Back to last week: We flew back from London on Sunday, I rehearsed my amazing back-up singers on Monday, and we tech’d the show on Tuesday. It went so great! It all began when I emailed Barry Manilow a few months and asked him to do our first Concert For America on Inauguration Day. He wasn’t going to be in NYC, but he wrote back and told us that he would be here the week of April 17 for Clive Davis’ Radio City Music Hall bash and he would do it that week if we wanted. YES we wanted! We didn’t know what he’d be willing to do…one song and then peace out? Well, turns out, he did so much more than we expected!
At the beginning of the show, James and I came out and told everyone that Concert For America is a monthly concert raising money for NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Sierra Club Foundation and the National Immigration Law Center. Then I told everyone that the main purpose of the concert (besides raising funds and awareness) is to cheer people up. “And what’s more joyous than this opening vamp?” And I played the beginning of “Daybreak”! The crowd went crazy. And then I added, “And who more perfect to sing it than the man who wrote it? Mr. Barry Manilow!” He came out and sang it in the original key (he’s 73!)! Here’s that wonderful song (also featured in Disaster!...’natch!).
We talked about his return to NYC and how much he loves it and he launched into the title track from his new CD “This Is My Town.” I had him on my SiriusXM radio show the next day and we talked about how during rehearsal he initially didn’t want to do the song in our concert. James and I actually had to talk him into it. Why? Well, he said he was nervous to perform that tune because it was “preceded by six words that strike fear into the audience: Here’s one of my new songs.” So hilarious and so true! Barry told us that he knows people come to concerts to hear the hits and people will literally stream out of the audience whenever artists try to do a new song. But this one was so perfect that James and I knew he had to do it. Watch this version here.
There were so many more highlights…some hilarious and some moving. We had Caroline Rhea come out and do an auction that raised thousands for all the groups. But first, someone in the front row tried to take a picture and Caroline immediately stopped them and told them NOT to take it from below! Caroline took her iPhone and laid down on the stage so the woman could come to the front of the stage and be in it. Of course, Caroline couldn’t really aim it right and told the woman to just photoshop herself in.
Then Caroline introduced herself and pointed to herself saying, “Yes, my hair actually looks like this. I showed up like this because the first Concert For America had hair and makeup and I discovered when I got there that this concert doesn’t.” Hi-lar!
Vanessa Williams came out to sing “Save The Best For Last” and owned what a classic it’s become by telling the audience beforehand, “It’s Karaoke time!” Exactly! Both Vanessa Williams and Chita Rivera were in the show—they had both played the Spider Woman in Kiss of the Spider Woman. I knew they both had tremendous professional competitiveness and hostility towards each other so I prevented them from ever seeing each other backstage by keeping them on opposite sides of the stage. JK!!!! They were literally hanging out in the same dressing room all the hours before the show and, despite their dancer figures, eating from a big bowl of Texas goodies James’ mom baked for the cast. Adorable!
On the more serious side, we had a representative from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence come out and speak about her experience in an abusive relationship and then we had LaChanze sing Celie’s triumphant song from The Color Purple (reprising her role in the original Broadway production, for which she won the Tony Award!). Talk about still got it! Brenda Braxton posted some of the song on her Facebook page:
Barry made his second appearance halfway through the concert and sang one of his hits...then another…then another! It was literally 9 minutes of hit songs! I’m talking “Weekend In New England,” “Even Now,” “Ready To Take A Chance Again,” “One Voice,” “It’s A Miracle,” “I Write The Songs,” and MORE! He began with “Mandy,” which he said was his first hit “released way back in 1821.” When I was chatting with him on SiriusXM the next day he talked about how much he learned about songwriting when he was doing jingles in the ’70s (such as “You deserve a break today…”). Some of those jingles are still being used today, but he doesn’t make any money on them! Turns out, jingle composers made a one-time fee per tune…in the 1970s—around $500. But the singer gets residuals every time it’s used, so any jingle of his played with the original recording still doles out money to the original singer. He jokes that the woman who sang “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there…” is on her third Mercedes. Werk! Here is his “Very Strange Medley” from his LIVE album with all of his jingle hits. He said that nowadays a lot of people don’t know these jingles anymore. Wah!
I asked him about becoming famous in the ’70s and if he ever got to do American Bandstand. He said he was so excited to do it in the classic American Bandstand studio but instead, they filmed it on a beach! I, of course, asked if he wore a skimpy bathing suit and he said no because he has “pelican legs.” Hi-lar!
Another highlight of the Concert was when Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, announced a lawsuit they had just filed against a major neo-Nazi organization. There is a Jewish woman in Montana who angered the alt-right and they instituted a “troll war” against her, harassing her family with threatening phone calls and posting pictures online that show her, her husband, and 12-year-old son in gas chambers. She felt helpless and didn’t know what to do and what’s amazing is that the Southern Poverty Law Center saw what was happening and reached out to her! Read the full article with the details here.
Richard has worked on this kind of lawsuit before and bankrupted major leaders of hate groups, which prevents their power from spreading. Right after he spoke we applauded his group for standing up for American values and freedom and Barry walked onstage and simply started “Let Freedom Ring.” So moving and inspiring! Here’s the song:
Two days after Concert For America, I headed to Natick, Massachusetts, to do a show with Judy Kuhn. She is so fabulous. She sang all of her hit songs and we chatted about all of her shows. I had her sing the beautiful “Someone Else’s Story” from Chess and before she did, we chatted about the towers on the set. As some of you who were on the February Playbill cruise now know from when Judy told the story during my live Chatterbox: there were giant towers all over the set, worn like costumes by the stagehands so they could be controlled from the inside. They had radio communication and little compasses inside so they could figure out where to go. But sometimes they would get lost. And Judy remembered one show where she and David Carroll were singing their poignant love duet and she was kneeling on the floor. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a giant tower start coming towards her. Uh-oh? Flee and survive? Keep singing and get crushed? Finally, when it got to the point of running her over, she held out her right hand and magically, it stopped. Judy said that from then on David was obsessed with little tiny Judy Kuhn stopping a giant tower in its tracks. To see some of that set and hear those amazing voices, watch this!
All right, I’m thrilled because this week I have two (2!) shows with Chita Rivera! Saturday night we’re in San Francisco at the Nourse and Sunday afternoon we’re in Las Vegas at the Smith Center. So fun! For tickets and info about this or any of my upcoming shows, get thee to Seth Rudetsky.com.
And speaking of Chita, watch her Kennedy Center honor ceremony here and then come see us LIVE! Peace out!
Both Judy Kuhn and Chita Rivera have been special guest performers on Playbill’s Broadway on the High Seas cruises. Playbill’s inaugural river cruise along the Rhône River in May 2017 is sold out, but cabins are available for the Rhine River cruise in August 2017, featuring Seth Rudetsky, Andréa Burns, Faith Prince, Terrence Mann, Charlotte d’Amboise, and Santino Fontana. Playbill Travel is now also booking Broadway on the Danube River for November 2017, with celebrity guests to be announced. Visit PlaybillTravel.com for booking and information.