Seth Rudetsky is not a household name except on Broadway, where he is so well known and well connected that he is sometimes referred to as the mayor of the place. A hazard of being around him is that you feel you have spent the rest of your life in slow motion. Mr. Rudetsky, who is 48 and likes to say he suffers from "adult A.D.D.," is a multitasker's multitasker. Several days a week he is the afternoon D.J. on "Seth's Big Fat Broadway," a show on Sirius/XM satellite radio, where he is also the host of a weekly talk show, "Seth Speaks," not to be confused with "Seth's Broadway Chatterbox," a weekly talk show he does live at the Midtown cabaret Don't Tell Mama, or "Rhapsody in Seth," his one-man autobiographical play, or, for that matter, "This Week in the Life of Seth Rudetsky," a weekly column he writes for Playbill.com.
Mr. Rudetsky also writes books, organizes theater cruises and is a prolific contributor to YouTube, where he posts what he calls "deconstructions" — clips where he lip-syncs and then analyzes the Broadway performances of Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley and the like. He is a gifted pianist, in demand as an accompanist, and there is hardly an AIDS benefit for which he has not written a number. He talks like a record at 78 r.p.m., seldom pausing for breath and starting new words before the old ones are entirely finished.
On top of this usual workload (not to mention a husband and teenage daughter), Mr. Rudetsky is now appearing at the Nederlander Theater eight times a week in "Disaster!," a musical that he also wrote, together with Jack Plotnick, and for which he is the musical supervisor and song arranger. "Disaster!," which opens March 8, is a spoof of '70s movies like "Airport" and "The Poseidon Adventure," and serves up a full menu of calamity — earthquake, tidal wave, fire, sharks, piranhas, giant rats — to the accompaniment of Top 40 songs from the same era.
For a jukebox musical, it has attracted an unusually high-profile cast, including a "Rent"-certified heartthrob (Adam Pascal), a "Xanadu" and "Rock of Ages" veteran (Kerry Butler) and two Tony Award winners (Roger Bart and Faith Prince ) — who, like everyone else connected with the show, are counting on theatergoers wanting to relive a cultural moment many people would just as soon forget.
With a few exceptions, everyone in the cast is there not just because of the script but also because of a personal connection to Mr. Rudetsky. Ms. Butler he knew from childhood, and Mr. Bart and Mr. Pascal from his talk show. His history with Ms. Prince goes back to the 10 years they were in group therapy together. The director of the show is Mr. Plotnick, who happens to be Mr. Rudetsky's best friend.
Mr. Rudetsky has a character actor's looks, not a leading man's; his face is long, rubbery and a little mournful. He can sing and dance, but not as well as many in the ensemble. If "Disaster!" were not his own show, in fact, it's debatable whether he would ever have been cast in it.
But at rehearsals in late January, seemingly in perpetual motion, wearing several hats at once, he was clearly holding everything together. On a typical morning, he played his own part — a professor and "disaster expert" — and when he had nothing else to do sometimes performed a nervous little tap dance in place. He consulted with Mr. Plotnick about blocking, and on the spot rewrote a joke about a dummy landing splat on the stage. He also tried to persuade Lacretta Nicole, who plays a former disco diva carrying a dog in her handbag, to include a howl at the end of her big first-act number, "Knock on Wood."
"It's a dog in a purse," she told him. "I don't know how to make it howl."
Mr. Plotnick, who has never directed a Broadway show before and is probably best known as a TV actor, said he welcomed Mr. Rudetsky's fussing. "I'd be crazy not to," he said. "We laugh at the same things but often for different reasons. And besides, he has such passion for musical theater that it's contagious."
A few days later, sitting in the mezzanine of the Nederlander, Mr. Rudetsky grew a little teary as he explained how a show called "Disaster!" was the culmination of all the intersecting plot lines in his life.
To begin, there was the classic theater-nerd childhood. Mr. Rudetsky grew up on Long Island, where his father was an assistant principal and his mother supervised special-education programs. When he was 7 they took him to see the Hal Linden and Cab Calloway revival of "The Pajama Game."
"I was obsessed with it," he recalled, "and played the original cast album constantly." Before long he was the kind of kid who borrowed scores from the library and couldn't understand why school didn't let out early when the Tony nominations were announced.
Then there was the equally classic high school period, when he was teased for being gay and overweight and a teacher said he was too selfish to amount to anything. At Oberlin, which he entered in 1984, he majored in classical piano, not because he had given up on musical theater, but because he wasn't sure he could make a living at it. "I thought I was going to be a school psychologist and audition for shows at night," he explained.
After graduating, though, he quickly found work as a Broadway musician and soon was playing in all the big shows: "Ragtime," "Phantom of the Opera," "Les Misérables." "I got to know all the top people. I was never intimidated, and I was always a busybody," he said. "When I was playing piano for 'Grease,' I'd go backstage and say, 'Here's how you should be doing it.'"
At the same time he was branching out into comedy. He tried stand-up for a while, and then did sketches at Don't Tell Mama with Mr. Plotnick, whom he met when they were both subbing in the Off Broadway musical "Pageant" in 1991. He began making a name for himself writing sketches and musical numbers for Broadway benefits like the Easter Bonnet and Gypsy of the Year competitions, and that in turn led to a stint working on Rosie O'Donnell's TV talk show.
All the while, the Rudetsky Rolodex — or rather, the roster of people unable to resist Mr. Rudetsky's energy and enthusiasm — was expanding exponentially. By now it includes all the people who follow him on Sirius. Many of them, he pointed out in wonderment, actually listen to him in their cars.
The actor David Turner got to know Mr. Rudetsky when they were both working on the Barry Manilow musical "Harmony," and later appeared with him in a two-man play written by Mr. Rudetsky. "His is the kind of story that could only happen in America,'' Mr. Turner said. "He's got where he is by the force of his personality."
He added: "In this business it's hard to reach middle age and not be a little disenchanted. But Seth has never lost that youthful enthusiasm. That's why everyone loves him — he reminds us of ourselves when we were younger."
Ms. LuPone, who often appears with Mr. Rudetsky at the piano, agreed: "The thing about Seth is his enthusiasm for musical theater — it radiates from every pore. He comes to this business from fandom, not from ambition. There's a purity in his soul about what he's obsessed with."
The current version of "Disaster!" is actually the fourth. The show was originally put on, in a sort of concert version, as a one-night benefit in 2011 for Only Make Believe, which performs theater for children in hospitals. Mr. Rudetsky, who as a child was almost as obsessed with weather and natural disasters as he was with Broadway, had been kicking the idea around for years, Mr. Plotnick explained, but had never done anything about it. With just six weeks to go before the benefit, Mr. Plotnick snatched Mr. Rudetsky's laptop one afternoon and started writing things down while Mr. Rudetsky dictated.
In 2012 the show had a three-month Off Off Broadway run at the tiny Triad Theater on the Upper West Side, and in 2013 it graduated to Off Broadway, at St. Luke's Theater, where it received a very favorable review from Charles Isherwood of The New York Times.
With each move, the cast has gotten more illustrious, the show more elaborate. The new production has an eight-piece band, a scenic design by Tobin Ost, and costumes by the six-time Tony winner William Ivey Long, who, it almost goes without saying, is a friend of Mr. Rudetsky's. In fact, the lead producer, Rob Ahrens (who made his reputation with "Xanadu," another movie-spoof musical), may be one of the very few people involved who didn't know Mr. Rudetsky personally. He saw the show at St. Luke's, he said recently, and laughed for two hours. "I had such a great time I just felt better about life," he said.
When the Nederlander became available after "Amazing Grace" announced it was closing last fall, Mr. Ahrens snatched the opportunity even though it came with a deadline. "Disaster!" has to be out by July 3, so that a revival of "Motown," another jukebox musical, can move in. That leaves just 21 weeks of performances, not a lot of time for a show without a marquee star to make back its nut. Ads for "Disaster!" have featured the whole ensemble, rather than banking on any individual name. (Ms. LuPone said she was worried about its fate, and Mr. Rudetsky's fortunes, in today's Broadway: "I just hope it doesn't come back and bite him in the ass.")
But Mr. Ahrens pointed out that the mid-seven-figure budget is actually on the low side for a Broadway musical these days, and its operating costs are relatively low as well. (He wouldn't offer specifics.) "Everyone on the team has been very efficient and interested in making sensible decisions," he said. "There's enough time for us to recoup if we're selling really well."
Mr. Rudetsky said he was trying not to think about all that.
"The core of theater should not be 'Oh, we'll make money on this,'" he said. "I mean, we want to, but we're doing it because it's fun."
He brought up his first professional stage appearance, at 12, in a dinner theater production of "Oliver!" opposite Shani Wallis, who had been in the Oscar-winning film. "I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm performing with a movie star,'" he said. "That really changed me — and it also gave me a clinical depression when the show closed. Really, I didn't leave the house for a week. I didn't take a shower. I was devastated."
Pointing to the stage set of "Disaster!," he went on: "I already think that about this. What am I ever going to do that will top it?"
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