"Call Me Adam" chats with Seth Rudetsky, Broadway host on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, about being the co-writer and co-creator of Disaster!, the hilarious smash Off-Broadway hit musical that spoofs disaster movies of the 1970s, currently playing at St. Luke's Theatre in New York City (308 West 46th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. You are currently starring in Disaster!, which you co-wrote with Jack Plotnick, a musical that spoofs disaster movies of the 70s. How did you and Jack come to work together? Jack and I met doing Pageant back in the ‘90’s. I was the music director and he was the understudy for everyone in the show. I was doing a comedy act with my friend Maria Bostick and Jack saw it. Right after, Jack said he wanted to do a show with me and we wrote and performed An Evening with Joyce DeWitt which was a sketch show. The title sketch was about Joyce DeWitt’s comeback cabaret where she doesn’t show up and Jack is forced to go on. We recreated it for one of my Playbill Obsessed videos. We’ve been writing together ever since.
2. What made you want to write a musical about the 70s disaster film genre using some of the biggest disco hits as the music? I was doing Forever Plaid with my friend Drew Geraci. We both were kids in the ‘70’s and loved disaster films and ‘70’s music. We thought of the idea of doing a ‘70’s disaster movie featuring all 70’s songs to advance the plot. When I was a kid, I used to make tapes with my brother where I played a newscaster asking questions and the responses would be famous moments from songs. It was based on songs like "Energy Crisis" which I thought was hilarious.
Our disaster musical idea first took shape way back in 1993 (!) and we thought we’d make it about the "disaster" of the 1977 New York City blackout. Many years passed and we hadn’t written anything and then I began to think that instead of a blackout, the show should instead feature every disaster from every disaster movie; earthquake, tidal wave, killer bees etc. Drew wound up being too busy to write the script, so Jack and I wrote it for a one-night benefit for Only Make Believe, a charity that brings theater to hospitalized children. That was in 2011. In 2012, we ran it for nine performances at the Triad and got a rave review in the NY Times and then we opened it for it’s official off-Broadway run in Nov. 2013!
3. How did you decide which spoofs and songs you wanted to include in the show? Drew was able to download a file containing basically every hit song from the ‘70’s…around 900 songs! Some songs were put in because I’d be listening to the songs on my ipad at the gym and think "I love this song so much! I’ve got to figure out a reason to put the song in." We didn’t want to be a show that put in a song because a few lyrics made sense…the songs had to completely advance the plot and every lyric had to relate. So, one day I was listening to the Carly Simon song where she sings "My father sits at night with no lights on…" and I loving it so much.
Here’s my deconstruction to show how much:
We put the song in and, because of the lyrics, a major plot point was born where the leading lady have intimacy issues based on her parents. But we decided she was in denial and would cover up her issues by saying that her lack of wanting to get married was based on her feminism so we had to find a song to match that. Thankfully, Jack came up with "I Am Woman" and the medley was complete.
4. What has been the best part about working with Jack? Jack and I have been writing together for so many years and we both really respect each other’s work. He really knew the genre we were writing and what helped me the most was when he said that one of the big aspects of disaster movies is a very diverse group of people meeting for the first time and then the disaster brings them together. That’s how the matching of "Shirley" (played by Mary Testa) and "The Nun" (Jennifer Simard) came to be. And it wound up making some hilarious theater and getting them cited in so many reviews…including Playbill listing them recently as two of the best performances of the year.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing Disaster!? One of my favorite moments happened recently; an elderly woman came up to me after the show and said it was her second time seeing it. She was smiling and said, "Just like the first time, I’m walking out of here so happy!" That’s what we love about the show. It’s such a funny show but we really wanted the show to have heart. And people leave the theater with a lot of joy. Also, I love that people are rediscovering music that I think is fantastic. I hope there’s a surge in people downloading songs like "Don’t Bring Me Down," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," "Knock On Wood"…aka the songs I still listen to every day on the stairmaster.
6. What do you enjoy about starring in the show as well as being part of the creative team? It’s such a great feeling to be backstage and hear people saying lines that I remember writing with Jack while we were on the phone. Hearing them said by these brilliant comedy veterans like Mary Testa in front of an audience is amazing! And I also love that I wrote myself a role that I probably wouldn’t have gotten an audition for! I’m always called in for the hyper characters. I love that I get to play someone who’s so emotionally shutdown and blank-faced.
7. What do you like about performing with this talented cast? The show is so much fun backstage. We all sing backup so it’s so great to be with everyone in the wings singing harmony like in high school chorus! Watch....
And I love that show is such an ensemble piece. It’s so great to see them onstage getting their moments to shine. And, as a writer, you think that you know where the comedy is coming from when you write a line. It’s SO amazing to have talented comedians take lines that weren’t supposed to be funny and find something hilarious in them. Or even stage directions. The script says that a "Security Guard" pushed "The Nun" and she falls. That was put there so "Shirley" would have a reason to help "The Nun." But Jennifer Simard added this amazing fall, where she’s almost like a piece of paper falling to the ground, that’s made a non-funny moment into a great piece of stage business. As a matter of fact, people have donated $40 to BCEFA just to make the nun fall! Watch!
8. You've had several celebrity guests come see the show such as Perez Hilton, Victor Garber, Tina Fey, Fred Schneider of the B-52s, and many others. What does it mean to you to have such big name people come see your show? After interviewing so many famous people throughout your career, do you ever get star-struck? It’s an amazing feeling to have people that I’m a total fan of seeing the show. James and I barely watch TV and pretty much the only sitcom we watched weekly was 30 Rock. So to have Tina Fey at opening night, and then to have her put us on the Entertainment Weekly "Must List" was AMAZING! I’m a crazy, super-fan of hers and was babbling at the opening night party when I saw her and her husband. So, YES, I get star-struck.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? "Do it yourself!" Back at Oberlin conservatory, I wanted to play Rhapsody In Blue with an orchestra, so I got together a big symphony orchestra and did it. In 2001, I wanted to do Dreamgirls on Broadway, it wasn’t being revived, so I put up a concert for the Actors Fund. Basically anything I’ve done has been self-motivated.
10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? The ability to perform immediate self-liposuction.
Seth is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. He has played piano for more than a dozen Broadway shows including Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Ragtime and was the Artist Producer/Music Director for the first five annual Actors Fund Concerts including Dreamgirls (with Audra McDonald) and Hair (with Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson), for which he also received a Grammy nomination as co-producer of the cast recording. In 2007 he played "Sheldon" on Broadway in The Ritz with Rosie Perez (directed by Joe Montello) and in 2010 he starred in They're Playing Our Song opposite Sutton Foster. On TV, he's appeared as a real estate agent on Law & Order: C.I., "Rudy," a Las Vegas choreographer, on All MY Children, as well as on MTV's Legally Blonde reality show and Bravo's Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List as himself. A three-time Emmy Award nominated television writer (The Rosie O’Donnell Show), Seth has also written the books The Q Guide to Broadway, Broadway Nights, (in its 3rd printing) and the recent My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan (Random House). His new reality show can be viewed on his online TV network: www.SethTV.com.