Pros: An intelligent, revealing and tremendously funny analysis of musical theatre from a Broadway insider.
Cons: The frenetic, rapid vocal delivery is sometimes difficult to follow.
The Leicester Square Theatre is the perfect venue for a stand up gig. Compact, intimate and with bars positioned on either side of the auditorium, it makes for a terrific atmosphere. Seth Rudetsky may be unfamiliar to some but is a skilled writer, producer and performer for American TV and theatre. However, his tour de force is a raconteur of Broadway musicals and his deconstruction of the genre which began on his New York radio show.
To say Rudetsky is analytical is possibly the understatement of the century; no make that the millennium. If you looked up ‘deconstruction’ in a dictionary, it should say ‘Seth Rudetsky’. He flits from piano to stage as he delivers a relentless stream of analyses on his favourite subject. In truth, it shouldn’t work as a stand up routine at all. He spent the first act dissecting the vocal performances of numerous Broadway stars including Barbara Streisand, Elaine Paige and Liza Minnelli. He applied his critique with a scholarly, almost forensic precision. Vocal techniques are examined in excruciating detail. We learn the difference between chest voice and head voice, straight tone and vibrato, sharp and flat notes and buttons in a tune (to you and me that’s the part where the song ends). But most of all, he extols the virtues of the belter; the process of knocking a song out for all its worth (a la Streisand).
If I read the script for this routine I would have run a mile. It just sounds like something I would have got for detention in school. Yet when performed, it’s brilliantly amusing, sometimes ironic, occasionally biting but never spiteful. There is no doubt Rudetsky has deep respect for musical theatre and the personalities he affectionately ribs. He shows no mercy on Madonna’s phrasing throughout the Evita soundtrack album, much to the delight of an appreciative audience. There is also a hilarious take on ‘riffing’ or vocal spiralling where Whitney, Mariah and the redoubtable Aretha Franklin are subject to the Rudetsky treatment. He uses carefully chosen clips of recordings, mouthing the vocal with contorted perfection to illustrate his point.
Rudetsky also uses video to great effect and fills the second act with various clips of Broadway performances which are examined for quirks, omissions or downright naffness in the wardrobe department. He merrily rips Cher apart on a TV special as she performed excerpts from Westside Story. Rudetsky is also happy to turn the analysis on himself, playing audition tapes he made as an 11 year old and a flickering, grainy VHS proving his questionable ability as a dancer. With the placement of audio visual clips setting up comedic observations, I was suddenly struck by an apt description for the show: ‘Harry Hill’s TV Burp meets Joan Rivers meets Kenneth Williams!’ It really is a unique mixture of observation, attitude and campness.
My only real criticism is Rudetsky’s lightening quick vocal delivery and that some asides were lost to the majority of the audience unless they were sitting in the front two rows. That aside, it was a terrifically inventive exploration of one man’s obsession with the theatre.
Author: Seth Rudetsky
Producer: Leicester Square Theatre
Box Office: 08448 733433
Booking link: http://www.leicestersquaretheatre.com/whats-on
Booking until: This run has now completed