Thursday, January 31, 2013

JKTS Chat: "Understudyness" by DROOD's Eric Sciotto

From Eric's Gotta Dance feature on
Photo by Matthew Murphy
When word got out a few weeks ago that Andy Karl would be out of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and that Eric Sciotto, the "Twitterverse" lit up like a Christmas tree.  In what speaks volumes for the love and respect so many of us have for Mr. Sciotto, those Tweets were universally positive - well-wishes, votes of confidence, and, myself included, many disappointed-I-can't-be-there notes of encouragement.

So, many of you wrote to ask if I could do another interview with Eric all about his experience that night.  I had imposed upon him to do three segments of "JKTS Chat," and I wasn't sure if I should impose again.  Thankfully, he is a very generous, giving guy.  I noticed (and I'm sure you did, too) that not only is he passionate about his profession, but he is a passionate fan of theatre just like us.  Then I got to thinking, going on for a role is such a whirlwind of activity, thinking, and emotion, that trying to tell all about the whole experience might be more interesting as a narrative rather than trying to answer specific questions from someone who has never had a similar experience.  Well, despite a very busy schedule - doing the show, getting through the whole holiday season and raising a family with two small children - Eric really, REALLY came through for us.  What follows is his account of that fateful day when he played Neville Landless!


So... I love to understudy, and I love to go on for the role!  Not to say there aren't nerves involved, but it's "why I'm there" and doing the role is why I put in all that work...

My philosophy on understudying - and being a good one - is to be as ready as possible as soon as possible in the rehearsal process... I don't wait for formal understudy rehearsals to begin; I don't wait for people to teach me stuff.... I basically say "If [the person I cover] were out TODAY, could I do it?!" And I work from there... I tell myself to "know what I know and to know what I don't know" and I keep a little list... "If I were thrown on NOW, what questions would I need to ask...."  And assume no one's gonna teach me anything. (That's not the case, but if I work like that, it's all up to me and I take responsibility for it all) In the moment, when someone's sick or hurt, or out, do I want to say, "Sorry, I don't know it yet" or "I can do it?" , I choose "I can do it."

Valerie Wright
I have to tell this story: My first Broadway show ever was Annie Get Your Gun, and Bernadette Peters actually was sick when we started rehearsals.  She was there and she fought it, but she was battling a nasty cold or a flu or something.... At one point, like two weeks in or so (foggy memories) we were to show everything we'd completed thus far to the design team.... a no-pressure run of the show...which (of course) means "performance mode" and BP called out that day...she was losing the fight with said cold.... Our director, Graciela [Daniele], addressed the group and said, "Bernadette is too sick to be here, so we'll just show you a few numbers that don't involve her, and we'll reschedule this...." And a small voice peeped up: "Graci... if you want to do the run through, I can do it."  It was Valerie Wright.  Valerie was playing her own role of Dolly Tate, AND finishing up the run of Redhead at Goodspeed, I think.... and she was also Bernadette's cover.... so... finishing a job, learning her own role, and covering.... got it?

Graciela said, "Valerie, thank you, but I can't ask you to do that, we've given you no rehearsal, and it's really not fair to you...."  Valerie confidently said, "I can do the role if you want to do the run-through."  Graci then said, "Let's do the run!"

And we did.  And Valerie delivered a stunning performance that had the whole place captured by her brightness!  She was funny and sad and dreamy and amazing and everybody laughed and cried... she had everyone in the palm of her hand.  It was revelatory!

The fitting for my Tick
"Uluru" costume (Priscilla)
I learned "how to understudy" from her on that day... and I've never forgotten that moment.

I do my work.  I do whatever it takes to be ready....

And so it was with Neville.... now, my life is more complex than it once was... I have two kids at home...  and I can't sing 'til all hours of the night, or [during] naps, because I'll wake people... and when I'm home, I'm in dad-mode... So preparing for the role of Neville (and Jasper) has been brought to you by the NJ Transit.... I worked on every commute possible, and when walking to or from the bus, I was singing the songs... I worked on breaks.  And in rehearsal, I just watched and watched and watched and prayed that a lot of it would “osmosis itself” into my brain.

When we started rehearsing Drood, Andy was still doing Jersey Boys... so every Weds and Sat, he'd run off to his matinee, and if they were doing any Neville stuff, I'd jump in... this is like a gift from the Oprah to have that chance.... by the time we went into previews, I'd done all but ONE number (I think) with the actual principal cast! That's unheard of and was deeply appreciated and not taken for granted... each time I had that opportunity, I went full tilt!  Tried everything as big and real as possible, made mistakes, screwed things up, and learned from it all!!

Then once in previews, we went into formal understudy rehearsals, which are usually once a week, and I was able to keep working and get some repetition and finally belt out a few of the numbers I'd mostly rehearsed quietly....

Neville make-up test (before I lost the beard)
So, by the time Andy was actually sick and called out, there wasn't much more I could do without just DOING IT!

He'd been battling a cold or flu, and so I was on "high alert" in my brain... and watching him like a hawk.... and so, when I got the call Sunday morning, I was fine and ready to go!

The biggest challenge, was that I'd never done the makeup.... the makeup designers did a test on me, and so I knew what I should look like, but I hadn't applied it myself.... and I'm not really sure what happened, but the makeup went on SOOOOO dark that I basically looked like I was doing blackface... It was funny and shocking... See, I hoped I'd have the luxury of taking my time to make sure I looked right, but an understudy is also in the business of making everyone feel comfortable with the fact that you're on... so when the stage manager says that they called the principals in to run a bunch of scenes and numbers... that takes up your prep-time.  Also, often, you'll have a last-minute fitting....

So - when you think "oh good, I'll just calmly prepare and do what I need to do" THINK AGAIN!  

I did try to get in really early, and have a little time to myself (makeup, script, last minute questions) but was quickly pulled in a million directions.  It's honestly very frustrating, and, in my opinion, counter-productive.  But I'm clearly alone in this thought.  I'd rather think of everything ahead of time and deal with everything ahead of time, so when the moment comes, we're all cool and ready. But most departments work under the "when it happens, we'll deal with it" rule.

I had to learn years ago to get over it.  So part of my prep-work in preparing for a role includes reminding myself that when the time actually comes, I will not get a moment to myself first... so BE READY.

K... so... Jessie Mueller (Helena Landless) was AMAZING.  I respect her and trust her immensely.  She was AMAZINGLY insightful and helpful... don't forget, I have my own track in the show, so I can't always see everything that Neville does... and things morph and change and evolve, and there was some blocking that changed in previews, that I never could see because I'm quick-changing in a stairwell... so, she talked me through that, but more importantly, let me know that whatever I did, she'd go with it.  Also, after the opening number, Jessie actually went and darkened her makeup, to make us more twin-like.  (What a lovely and generous and thoughtful lady!)

Which brings me to: "a good company will always conspire to make the swing or understudy right."  And this company is the BEST!  They were all so present and available to differences and nuances and adaptable if anything was different or wrong.  (Reminded me of Sherie Rene Scott and John Hickok, who were SOOOOO incredibly open to differences when I was on for Radames in AIDA.)

That said, as a cover, it's MY job to do what they're used to so that they don't feel like anything is different in terms of blocking and staging, and then within THAT framework, deliver my own performance that fits in with theirs....

Luckily, I LOVE LOVE LOVE what Andy is doing with the role of Neville.  He's been a GREAT model and someone who has taken a smallish role and made a SHOW-STEALER out of it.  He's wonderful and I happily worked within the bubble of his shtick-filled brilliance and felt great out there.  It was a blast, and I can happily report that all the laughs and responses were there, which kept the timing relatively the same, and the rest of the cast were more than congratulatory and complimentary and even the crew went out of their way to pat me on the back and say how much they loved my choices, my characterization, my confidence/command, and my overall work!  SO - I was happy.

I was nervous, but VERY sure of myself.  I'll have to fix the makeup if I ever do it again, but Andy is strong-like-bull, and so I don't foresee it happening much, if ever!

E-Daddy and family
I'm VERY happy to have done it once.  Quite simply, it means the work was not in vain.  I did it.  I felt great.  People loved it.  Fans have been so lovely and kind and celebratory of my performance.  And best of all, my partner decided to take a chance and bring our 4 year old, Samson, to see his E-daddy and to see his first Broadway show ever.

So, knowing Sammy was out there was mind-blowing for me.  He apparently was SUPER interested and really watching and really listening and asked a ton of questions about tiny details in the lyrics that really proved that he was listening... and he was so excited afterwards! Proud of me and proud of himself for being so good and for seeing his first show!

That made it all SUPER SPECIAL!!!!!

K... a few specifics:  

PRE-SHOW:  I have never worked that area... and my own section is small and easy to address... so I just wandered about and made a bunch of self-deprecating jokes about my "subtle" make-up application....  And I talked to my Sammy.

"THERE YOU ARE": Funnily enough, in my own track there's a section of lyrics that I never sing, because I'm busy dealing with (and talking to) an audience member... so when it came time to sing it, I was not as "on it" as I'd hoped... but everyone is singing them too, so I jumped right back in....

"NO GOOD CAN COME FROM BAD":  Went great!  Very fun!  I may or may not have crushed Stephanie J. Block's hand during the "menacing handshake" and she may or may not have said" that's enough! that's enough!" out of the corner of her mouth....  And I also do a fancy twirl of the cane at the end... which got gasps, I'm pretty sure... I felt cool.

CHITA:  She gave me a sly look halfway through and said, "well allllright!" (You’d have to hear the tone of voice... I can't really describe it...) It was the perfect vote of confidence and spoke volumes!

DATCHERY: My night on was the ONE AND ONLY time ROSA was DATCHERY!!!!  Cool!!! 

LOVERS: Helena was picked, and so I had to do the old "please don't pick me" take which is fake because OF COURSE I wanted to do lovers with my sister... but it didn't happen...  

And MURDERER... was..... ummmm... Puffer!  Right... 

...So, yes, it'd have been fun to be chosen for something... and I wanted that, but I was also relieved... it was my first time out there... I was happy to have made it through and have it go so successfully... I didn't need more to think about....

Hope you enjoyed my epic account of what it's like to cover and perform the role of Neville!

Eric Sciotto
Twitter: @E_DaddySciotto

Thank you, readers, for your continued support and interest!  And thank you, Eric, for being so helpful, generous and thoughtful.

To read the first 3 installments of JKTS Chat with Eric Sciotto by clicking the icons to your right, or click the "JKTS CHAT: The Interviews" tab at the top of the blog!


All photos, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Mr. Sciotto.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

CD Review: Patti LuPone: Far Away Places

A part of Broadway Records' Live at 54 Below series, the new Patti LuPone concert Far Away Places has been preserved on CD and is a triumph for all concerned.  Written by Jeffrey Richman and conceived and directed by Scott Wittman, the concert has the feel of a full blown stage show, with smart patter, an eclectic mix of tunes that seem to fit together like a fine jigsaw puzzle, a back up band that sounds as full as an orchestra at times, and a singular sensation in the person of Ms. LuPone.  The booklet also has several photos of the new venue, which reveal exactly why this is an important, and lovely, jewel in the New York City club crown.

One of Broadway's greatest talents, LuPone has had an almost as lengthy club/concert career, and her experience shows.  She's smart enough to make the patter work, and she knows how turn each song into a mini musical.  I've had the pleasure of seeing her perform two other of her acts, and she was superb.  I wish I had had the opportunity to see this one - even just hearing it is remarkable. (Review continues below.)

Grade: A+

Title: Far Away Places: Live at 54 Below
Artist: Patti LuPone
Label: Broadway Records
Number: BR-54B 001
Format: Single CD
Case: Single Jewel Case
Booklet: Full color, 12 pages.  Package designed by Van Dean.  Production photos by Rahav Iggy Segev; cover photo by Marc Bryan-Brown; 54 Below photos by Grace Lanier Long.  Liner notes by Jeffrey Richman, Scott Wittman, Andy Propst, Van Dean, Tom Viertel, Marc Routh, Richard Frankel and Steve Baruch.  Album produced by Robert Sher.  Executive Produced by Van Dean and Kenny Howard for  Broadway Records.

Far Away Places: Each Song a Treasure

I suppose it is the actress in her that makes the chit chat between (and often in mid-song) numbers seem so genuine and off the cuff.  The little laugh in her voice is all that betrays the fact that this is scripted, and that she's giving us a taste of "Patti the Persona" as much as she is giving us the "real" her.  Her story about working on a set in Italy is funny and memorable.  And when she riffs as "diva Patti" you can tell she loves that we love that part of her.  Cases in point: She talks about being around Broadway long enough to have been in Evita and Anything Goes, both which were playing in revival once again.  Another time, hilariously, she bellows, "Turn off that cell phone!  Who do you think you are!!??" a la her much documented rail against a patron at Gypsy.

Of course, the real reason to see and have recorded this endeavor, is to capture a master songstress at the top of her game.  As the title suggests, the set is a mix of songs about far away physical places - China, Times Square and London, among others.  But it is also a nice mix of far away time places - the 1800's, the early and late 20th century - and far away musical places - a little Broadway (an amusing, spot-on "By the Sea," from Sweeney Todd, Weill's "Pirate Jenny"), a little jazz (excellent riffs on the two number opening: "Gypsy in My Soul" and "Night Life"), and some serious European flare in such numbers a "I Wanna Be Around" and "I Cover the Waterfront."

Stand out numbers include the riotous "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking," the Edit Piaf tribute, "Hymn to Love," and the act closer, an amazing arrangement of - get this - a Bee Gees number, "Nights on Broadway."  The CD ends with the same power with which it starts: her encore, "September Song," made me want to applaud right along with the appreciative audience.

Well done, Broadway Records!  Brava! Ms. LuPone!


Before you go, CHECK THIS OUT:
  • 2 days left to vote in this week's "HOT or NOT" Poll: HERE
  • More Broadway Diva Love: BETTY BUCKLEY: HERE
  • And TWO talented Broadway newcomers (and they are cuties, too!) HERE and HERE

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Broadway Box Office: Week 35: 01.21 - 01.27.2013

Here's the last week of Broadway Box Office stats.  Click HERE to see how the weekly rankings are calculated.

Broadway Box Office 
Week 35

Most shows remained pretty even this week, balancing moderate to weak attendance with moderate gains or equally moderate losses in grosses.  Annie, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Jersey Boys and The Other Place were all bigger than the rest, posting decent gains in both attendance and box office take.  The number of shows in the winter freeze out continues to grow, with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? posting an early March closing date.  Manilow on Broadway posted no performances this week, including a scheduled Opening Night, owing to Barry's illness.  Meanwhile, Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella came running out of the gate, glass slippers and all, posing over 98% attendance for its first three previews at the enormous Broadway Theatre.  (For more on Cinderella, click HERE. And be sure to vote for the cast in this week's HOT or NOT HERE.)  And Evita closed up shop with a mere whimper... Final thought: Could Mamma Mia be on the verge of its last walk down the aisle?

01.14 - 01.20
01.21 - 01.27
Annie Musical
46 14 26 9 12
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Play 
26 8 33 12 7
Chicago Musical Revival 55 19 52 tie 18  16
Cinderella Musical  n/a - 14 tie 4 n/a
Evita Musical
35 tie 11 31 10 9
Jersey Boys Musical 38 13 25 8 8
Mamma Mia! Musical 61 tie 22 61 21 20
Mary Poppins Musical 54 18 48 16 15
Newsies Musical 29 9 22 6 6
Nice Work If You Can Get It Musical 50 17 47 15 13
Once Musical 15 tie 4 10 3 4
Picnic Play
68 25 62 22 21
Rock of Ages Musical 21 7 24 7 5
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Musical 30 10 41 13 11
The Book of Mormon Musical 3 1 3 1 1
The Heiress Play
35 tie 11 32 11 10
The Lion King Musical 13 3 7 2 2
The Mystery of Edwin Drood Musical
64 24 52 tie 18 19
The Other Place Play 57 20 43 14 14
The Phantom of the Opera Musical 60 21 57 20 18
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Play
61 tie 22 50 17 17
Wicked Musical 7 2 14 tie 4 3


Monday, January 28, 2013

Theatre Hall of Fame Honoree: Betty Buckley

Like a lot of kids my age, my first taste of Betty Buckley wasn't from seeing her on the Broadway stage.  No, to me she was Abby Bradford on TV's Eight is Enough.  Shortly after that TV show ended, I got my first taste of Broadway.  Just down the street from the Gershwin, where I saw my first show was the huge marquee for Cats over the Winter Garden Theatre.  It was, in 1983, the Holy Grail for the newly anointed  and an impossible ticket.  So, I had to live vicariously through the Original Broadway Cast Recording, and my true love for Ms. Buckley began.

Since then, I've come to know that she has a career on the stage long before TV and since.  I've even had the pleasure of meeting her, talking to her, and even sharing a cup of tea backstage at Sunset Boulevard.  I adored her as Edwin Drood, marveled at her vocal pyrotechnics on the bootleg of Carrie, and loved her in one of my absolutely favorite flops of all time, Triumph of Love.  And there is the ticket I still have for Song and Dance, for the Saturday matinee following the day it closed.  Talk about disappointment!

Betty's Broadway debut as Martha Jefferson in 1776

Betty as Catherine (with Michael Rupert) in Pippin

Betty won the Tony Award for her role as Grizabella in Cats

Betty as Edwin Drood in
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Betty as Margaret White in Cats

Betty as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

Betty as Hesione (with F. Murray Abraham) in
Triumph of Love

She is a Broadway legend, and love her or not, she's the real deal.  And now, she joins the ranks of other Broadway legends.  Tonight, she was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame, her name forever listed now on the walls of the Gershwin Theatre.  Congratulations, Betty Lynn!  And thank you.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Face of the Future: Rock of Ages' Justin M. Sargent

Rock of Ages is not one of my favorite shows, but they do hire some really terrific talent, both easy on the ears and eyes.  Since I haven't seen him perform as Drew at the Helen Hayes Theatre, I can't vouch for the "ears" part personally, I can only go by what I've heard.  And that is that he is totally awesome! (Why do I turn all Valley Girl when I speak of RoA?)  But I CAN vouch for the "easy on the eyes" part.  Justin Matthew Sargent.  Wow!

Even though he's currently playing a leading role, he's still a relative - he was an understudy in Bonnie and Clyde - newbie!  I can't fight the feeling that Mr. Sargent is one face we are going to see a lot of in the future.

Justin Matthew Sargent (Top and Left)
With Tad Wilson on opening night of Bonnie and Clyde (Right)

The Cast of Rock of Ages 
Sargent (center)

Sargent/Drew is a Rock star!

Recording with the Rock of Ages company
for Carols for a Cure

Before you go, check out these recent blog entries!


Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Quarter Century Later: Phantom's 25th Anniversary


If you were alive on January 26, 1988, raise your hand.  (My hand is up.)

If you were in college on January 26, 1988, raise your hand.  (My hand is still up.)

If you have lived your entire lifetime sometime between January 26, 1988 and January 26, 2013, raise your hand.  (My hand is down, and I am green with envy.)

Sad to say - because I am starting to hate reminders that I'm getting older - I remember the hype surrounding the Broadway opening of The Phantom of the Opera.  It was EVERYWHERE!  On all the night time shows, the daytime shows... if there was a TV show that could figure out a way to get Phantom on it, there it was!  And all the newspapers and magazines.  Today, that sounds funny to say.  No websites, no social media... just TV, radio and print.  Boy have times changed!  For more of that perspective, check out THIS.

The 25th Anniversary Cast: Hugh Panaro (The Phantom), 
Sierra Boggess (Christine) and Kyle Barisich (Raoul)

The Original: Michael Crawford

Since Phantom opened, 25 shows (including Phantom) have been named Best Musical by the Tony Awards.  Since then, 989 shows (plays, musicals, revivals, solos and special events) have opened on Broadway.  Among them, Ragtime, 42nd Street, A Chorus Line, Into the Woods, Les Miserables and The Mystery of Edwin Drood all had their original Broadway runs close and have been revived already.  Man of La Mancha, Jesus Christ Superstar, La Cage aux Folles, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Grease, Gore Vidal's The Best Man, Company, and Guys and Dolls have all been revived twice.  Gypsy has been revived three times.  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has been revived four times!

Here (thanks to Playbill) are the Phantoms I've had the opportunity to see in action... how many have you seen?  Write in and share your Phantom thoughts and experiences:

Kevin Gray and Gary Mauer
(National Touring Companies)

Cris Groenendaal, Mark Jacoby,
Jeff Keller and Howard McGillin
(On Broadway)


Friday, January 25, 2013

HOT or NOT: CINDERELLA: The Principals

Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana as Ella and Topher
at The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
HOT or NOT is back with a vengeance!  Thanks to you!  Hundreds of votes were cast over the past two weeks when you were choosing the ensemble finalists from Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella! (Your  winning choices are posted HERE.)

And this week, you'll be casting your votes for Lead Actor and Actress and Featured Actor and Actress One of each will go through to the finals, when at the end of the season, YOU will pick the HOTTEST BROADWAY MUSICAL CAST 2012 - 2013!

Remember, when you are voting, that "HOT" is in the eye of the beholder!  Hot is sexy!  Hot is fun!  Hot is unique! And most of all, Hot is that perfect"it" quality - talent plus that special something.

This week, because there is only one candidate each in the Lead categories, each will go on to the finals ONLY if each gets more "HOT" votes than "NOT" votes.  So your votes are especially important this week.  Choose carefully, and tell your friends!





Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana


Peter Bartlett

Greg Hildreth and Phumzile Sojola


Victoria Clark and Ann Harada

Harriet Harris and Marla Mindelle

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Can't get enough Cinderella? Check out this interview with Cody Williams HERE!
Have a question for Cody?  Email it to and I will ask him in a future interview!

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