Theater review by Adam Feldman
“I really do think Broadway saved my life,” says Seth Rudetsky in his latest one-man show, and as though trying to repay that debt, he has spent his life in Broadway’s service. For the past 25 years, Rudetsky has been a ubiquitous, seemingly tireless force in the showtune world. To name just some of his endeavors: He has worked as a musical director, pianist, conductor, coach, actor and writer, including in his campy jukebox musical Disaster!; he hosts two shows on Sirius/XM and a weekly online concert series; in the pandemic period, his virtual interview series Stars in the House has raised over a million dollars for the Actors’ Fund in the past 18 months. Come rain or shine, his parade marches on.
In Seth’s Broadway Breakdown, Rudetsky delivers a lively tutorial on the art and appreciation of Broadway singing. The show’s set at Asylum is simple—two projection screens, a keyboard festooned with original cast albums, a prop record player, a line of Playbills clothespinned to a wire—but Rudetsky doesn’t need much decoration. He’s a one-man party, illustrating his points with a stream of short A/V samples from musicals past, with the motormouth excitement of a friend who can’t wait to share a clip you may not have heard. As his sassy seminar progresses, he touches on specific terms of art (vibrato, riffs, chest voice, pure vowels, floated high notes) and a few pet peeves (unwanted head voice, strange diction, errors of conducting).
The result is less a TED Talk than a Broadway 101 survey course, but it doesn’t feel like homework. In the span of 80 minutes or so, Rudetsky puts his spin on thrilling moments by artists including Barbra Streisand, Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, Lillias White, Ben Platt, Gavin Creel, Ethel Merman, Melba Moore, Audra McDonald, Judy Kuhn, Adam Pascal, Billy Porter, Norm Lewis, Orfeh, Rebecca Luker, Barbara Cook and, hilariously, the Osmond Brothers (in a groovily misconceived Mormon-funk medley from Fiddler on the Roof). He also pokes fun at his younger self, deploying old recordings from his formative years. What pulls it all together is Rudetsky’s infectious love for musical theater performance, which he approaches as equal parts connoisseur and fan. He’s a show queen par excellence, and his court is open to everyone.
Seth’s Broadway Breakdown. Asylum (Off Broadway). Written and performed by Seth Rudetsky. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.