Alex Brightman and Wayne Brady/The Seth Concert Series through January 24
Neither Alex Brightman nor Wayne Brady had ever done a live concert with Seth Rudetsky prior to their appearances on The Seth Concert Series, its first and second shows, respectively, of 2021. Both fell under the spell of theater at an early age and both came off as extremely nice, likable gents. They shared other similarities, but evidenced some notable differences.
Brightman, from the San Francisco Bay area, saw his first Broadway show, Cats, at the Winter Garden Theatre where, years later, he would star in School of Rock and Beetlejuice. He did community children’s theater in San Jose (Little Shop of Horrors, Aida) and a production of Jesus Christ Superstar in high school; Rudetsky showed a clip of him in it as Judas wearing an outfit that he and Brightman jokingly agreed made him look like Bernardo in West Side Story.
Getting into NYU, Brightman majored in theater (“I was bad at everything else”) but stayed there only two years. An AIDS benefit at Joe’s Pub got him an agent which led to a production of The History Boys in Los Angeles. After that ended, he had a number of day jobs (Pizzeria Uno, Chat n’ Chew) before getting his first Broadway credit at age 21 as an understudy for the musical Glory Days. The show lasted just one night but still it felt, he said, like “I had won Broadway fantasy camp.”
After a series of auditions, he landed the role of Boq as a replacement in Wicked and stayed with the show for two years. He enjoyed it because “you’re onstage for only about 12-13 minutes, the role isn’t that taxing, and everyone likes you”.
At Rudetsky’s prompting, Brightman told a great story about one performance when he zoned out after a scene and had to make a quick return to the stage wearing little more than his underwear and an exposed battery pack (for his mic). He was certain he would be fired but because he had an unblemished record up till then, he got off with a warning.
Brightman spoke warmly of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of School of Rock, saying “he was genuinely there all the time. And very nice to the kids [in the show].” He also made it clear, with a sly grin, that he is not the love child of the Baron and his second wife, the original star of The Phantom of the Opera (who happens to be named Sarah Brightman).
Although Brightman had done readings and workshops of School, he explained that it was no guarantee of his doing it on Broadway. Recalling when his agent phoned and told him “You’re going to be the star of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s next Broadway show”, the memory of the ensuing joy, pride and excitement that lit up Brightman’s expressive face was lovely and touching.
Touching in another way was when this twice Tony-nominated actor did Hamilton’s You’ll Be Back and made it clear with utmost sincerity that it was a kinda audition song for “any Hamilton producer or investor who’s watching”. I guess it should come as no surprise that times are tough. Plus, everyone wants to be in Hamilton.
Brightman did songs from shows he’s been in (Wicked, Beetlejuice, Big Fish, tho none, unfortunately, from School of Rock in which I thought he was fantastic) and shows he’d like to do (Company, Ragtime). If some of his notes were a little flat, that was easily overlooked when he comes off as such a sweet and humble guy.
Like Brightman, Brady, whom I knew only casually from his hosting duties on Let’s Make a Deal, cut a cute and very affable, down-to-earth presence. Unlike Brightman, whose show was broadcast from his New Jersey apartment, Brady performed in his spacious Los Angeles living room, with the curtains drawn to reveal the spectacular Malibu Hills behind him, the lights dimming on them as the sun went down.
Brady said he “fell in love with Broadway by watching shows on PBS’ Great Performances” as there’s “no road map for how to get to Broadway” from places like where he grew up (Orlando where he was raised by his grandparents). Certainly, none of the kids he hung out with knew who Officer Krupke was, he wryly observed.
Despite being, at 18, the “worst dancing Richie in the history of A Chorus Line” in a local production, Brady persevered. His high school drama teacher helped him fill out college applications and he went up to New York for an audition. He decided he wasn’t ready yet for NYC, however, and returned to Orlando where he did shows at Disney, on cruise ships, and at regional theaters before eventually moving to Las Vegas and then Los Angeles.
When he was still in his mid-20s, Brady was cast in the original production of The Lion King as Simba, but opted to stay in L.A. as he felt he was getting close to something happening for him out there. Much as he regrets not being part of that landmark show, it paid off as two months later he got offered Whose Line Is It Anyway? and has been doing well ever since.
Theater, however, has remained Brady’s first love. He made his Broadway debut in 2004 as Billy Flynn in the long-running Chicago revival and said it was “the coolest rehearsal period ever.” Ann Reinking came to put him through numbers because she wanted to meet him after seeing him on TV. The irony was that she had led a workshop he participated in during college and he idolized her. He described the overall experience as feeling “like I was coming home” and very sweetly gave a shout-out to the show’s ensemble for saving him during his nerve-wracking opening night.
Brady spoke engagingly and intelligently about his life and career choices. If he regrets sometimes opting for television gigs over theater ones, his bank account doesn’t. As winner of The Masked Singer’s second season he “loved the experience” despite being threatened by the show’s lawyers with “the loss of my house” if he dared tell anyone about the outcome prior to its airing. He didn’t seem as though he was kidding about that.
Starring in Kinky Boots on Broadway was “so much fun” except for the shoes “killing my feet”. He finally found relief when Billy Porter, the show’s original Lola, advised him to soak his feet in cold water before and after performances.
Known for his quick wit at improvising, Brady, who participated in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Freestyle Love Supreme last year on Broadway, took Rudetsky out of his comfort zone by ad-libbing a song using suggestions from the online audience about the style (‘80s power ballad), theme (“2020…it sucked”), and various phrases. It turned out to be a funny, wittily done number, and both men did a great job with it.
As for Hamilton, when Brady expressed an interest in being in it (spurred on by his young daughter), despite his friendship with Miranda, the response he got from the producers was a cordial “offer to audition”. Which he did, even tho it meant flying across country to do so. (Told ya, everyone really wants to be in Hamilton.) It paid off and he starred as Aaron Burr in the Chicago production for the first four months of 2017.
Throughout the 90-minute concert, an easy patter occurred between Brady and Rudetsky that more than made up for the few times when Brady’s screen froze briefly. Not surprisingly for a man who’s been in front of national cameras for about half his life, Brady proved to be an appealing raconteur; in fact, his welcome chattiness caused this program to include a few less songs than usual.
Musical highlights included Santa Fe from Rent which showed off Brady’s lower register and Chicago’s All I Care About in which Brady’s innate niceness played off well against Billy Flynn’s inherent smarminess. If at one point I noted that Brady may “not have the greatest voice but uses it well”, later in the program he acknowledged that he was “out of shape vocally” no doubt due to COVID-forced inactivity.
Brady shined in his finale, tho, Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come which earned him a Grammy nomination in 2009.
Both adorable in their own ways–Brightman more of a guy’s guy, Brady more showbizzy–having these two gents was a nice way to start off the year, a marked contrast to the many wonderful divas that have appeared on The Seth Concert Series.
Speaking of divas, Kelli O’Hara, Tony-winning star of The King and I and seven-time Tony nominee, who kicked off the series in May, returns with more stories and songs on January 17. She’ll be followed on January 24 by another returnee Stephanie J. Block, 2019 Tony Award winner for The Cher Show, who’ll be joined this time by her husband Sebastian Arcelus, star of House of Cards and Madam Secretary. When Block was on the show in August, she revealed how she once got arrested for trying to get on an airplane with a Taser. Wonder if there’ll be any more such juicy tales???
To purchase tickets to these upcoming shows, or to see Alex Brightman’s show on-demand, available through January 18, or Wayne Brady’s on-demand, available through January 26, go to thesethconcertseries.com
Not surprisingly, there are less shows on the horizon as we continue to battle the coronavirus. Here are the ones to look forward to before Mardi Gras in the greater New Orleans area.
Jefferson Performing Arts Society (JPAS) presents at its theater in Metairie (6400 Airline Dr.) The World is My Home: The Life of Paul Robeson by Los Angeles-based actor and playwright Stogie Kenyatta. This one-man show making its New Orleans premiere celebrates the life and career of the great African American bass baritone and his many accomplishments including Broadway actor (Othello), movie star (The Emperor Jones, Show Boat), orator, athlete, lawyer, author, scholar, and activist, all set to a score of jazz, be-bop, big band, and gospel. The World is My Home will have two performances, January 23 at 7:30pm and January 24 at 2:00pm.
JPAS follows this with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dale Wasserman’s adaptation of the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey that is a tribute to individualistic principles as mental hospital patient Randle McMurphy leads a revolt against the domineering Nurse Ratched. Cuckoo’s Nest will be directed by New Orleans theater icon Janet Shea and runs from January 29-February 7. For tickets to either of these shows, go to https://www.jpas.org/on-stage/
On the North Shore, Cutting Edge Theater (757 Robert Blvd., Slidell) presents RAY, an evening with Ray Charles. Sam Warren portrays the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer in this concert/theater tribute to the Kennedy Center Honors and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Warren will be backed up by Marquita Smooth-Sanders and Vera Sims as he performs such hits as I Got A Woman, Mess Around, and Georgia On My Mind. RAY plays January 22-30 and tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/o/cutting-edge-theater-8359491674
I was saddened to learn of Gregory Johnson’s passing on January 8 due to COVID-19. He directed the 2019 production of Kurt Opprecht’s Dos Coyotes at the Fortress of Lushington and readings of John Biguenet’s “Katrina Trilogy” (Rising Water, Shotgun, Mold) which aired on Alan Smason’s YouTube channel this past summer.
I met him when he moved to New Orleans to join his wife, playwright Anita Vatshell. He was the friendliest of people and always had a smile on his face (though reading tributes to him on his Facebook page from those who worked with him during his tenure at Montana Repertory Theatre, apparently, he could be intimidating when he wanted to). He will be missed. Deepest condolences to Anita and all of Greg’s friends and family. R.I.P.