Performed at the Leicester Square Theatre, London.
“I am obsessed with the small moments,” Seth Rudetsky admits during his one-man show Deconstructing Broadway. And how: his show is all about the small moments in various Broadway and other musical theatre shows. The moments that turn a great performance into one that is, as Rudetsky puts it, “Ah-MAH-zing”– or turn a poor performance into one that is “Ah-MAAH-zing” in a very different way.
Rudetsky has been in the UK for a week, acting as host, interviewer and accompanist for Patti LuPone. To warm up that show, he analysed – not to say, over-analysed – several key moments which again crop up here. Stretched out to over an hour and a half of non-stop stand-up comedy, Rudetsky’s style of demolishing his idols’ vocal foibles never once stops being entertaining.
Obviously acutely aware that swathes of his audience will be professionally trained performers themselves, but other sections won’t, Rudetsky cannily and cleverly ensures that neither professionals nor theatregoers feel talked down to or left out. Terms such as coloratura, or even the difference between chest voice and head voice, are explained deftly and briefly – just enough to illustrate another legendary performance that is memorable for the right, or the wrong, reasons.
Rudetsky himself is an animated ball of energy, hardly ever able to stand still. As each audio clip plays out, he can’t help either miming along, or in other ways illustrating elements of the vocal through sheer force of physicality. Whether visualising the difference between singing with and without vibrato, or popping his shoulders in the classic Broadway “drum, drum, brass” ending, his joy and adoration of the genre is totally infectious.
Some of the biggest names in Broadway – usually female – fall under his laser-like gaze. Streisand, Betty Buckley and LuPone are all subject to his analysis for varying reasons, but with the same effect – affectionate hilarity. Even Janis Paige, for whom he invents the term ‘amnesia vibrato’ – his reaction switches from a wincing “Ow, ow,” over a flat sequence to “You’re brilliant” in a split second – cannot begrudge his honesty. This man knows his Broadway, loves his Broadway, and holds its faults up to the light with such glee.
Several segments from his own life – dating back as far as when he was three – show that Rudetsky is just as prepared to draw attention to his own mistakes as others. They are, however, mere sideshows compared to the main event, which culminates with a devastating deconstruction of a truly bizarre 1970s Brady Bunch TV variety spectacular.
Ultimately, this show is about finding brilliance in the superb, and revelling in the car crashes when they happen. That Deconstructing Broadway would not find itself in the latter category was not in doubt: that it ends up being a truly ‘Ah-MAH-zing’ piece of stand-up comedy, and a celebration of musical theatre to boot, is nothing short of brilliant.