"Stars in the House": Broadway stars share music and laughter amid coronavirus shutdown
By Leigh Scheps
/ CBS News
Up with the curtain! Broadway stars are still putting on a show, even though theaters in New York and across the country are closed to help "flatten the curve" and stop the coronavirus from spreading.
Twice a day, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. ET, the curtain rises on "Stars in the House," a new live-streamed YouTube show hosted by SiriusXM's Seth Rudetsky and his husband, producer James Wesley, from their home in upstate New York.
"It was just hilarious because I'm so not computer savvy, but it's so simple," laughed Rudetsky of how it came together. "You just push a button." All Rudetsky and Wesley are using to produce the hour-long program is a laptop placed on top of their piano and the website StreamYard, which Wesley stumbled upon while Googling for ways to stream their show. David Katz, the 19-year-old son of a former colleague of Rudetsky's on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," helps make the chyrons that appear on screen with everyone's names. Friend and co-executive producer Margie Verdon launched the show's new website in less than 12 hours.
CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook is also part of the show, to help provide informative medical advice to the stars and the audience watching online: "Every show, I explain to people why we are flattening the curve, what that means and why we have to do it right now."
The idea started developing ten days ago while the couple were staying home on a Saturday and socially distancing. With every Broadway show dark, Rudetsky initially wanted to spearhead an online concert where Broadway stars would sing three songs to an accompaniment Rudetsky would record for them in advance. Now it's evolved into something bigger, beltier and brassier — creating a show-stopping turn of events during a time of crisis.
"People started commenting how alone they are, how nice they feel watching us and how they feel we're their friends," Rudetsky said of some of the feedback he's gotten from fans at home.
Multiple stars appear on each show, often at the same time. Six-time Tony Award winner and "The Good Fight" star Audra McDonald and her husband, Will Swenson, were casually and jokingly introduced as "these two clowns" in one episode. McDonald sang a beautiful rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and shared how she and Swenson baked a delicious crisp apple strudel while in self-quarantine.
Composer Marc Shaiman ("Sleepless in Seattle," "Hairspray") dished on how he went from dreaming of meeting Bette Midler as a teenager to producing many of her albums.
Kelli O'Hara was the first guest on Monday, March 16. In addition to singing "Cockeyed Optimist" from "South Pacific," she pointed to a corner shelf of her home office where her prized Tony Award is kept.
"There's the Tony there," she showed Rudetsky and Wesley. "Both of my grandmothers are pictured there, and an old theory book of my grandfather's when he was a little boy. Basically it's my little corner of special things."
Other celebrity guests have included Keala Settle, Laura Benanti, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Brian Stokes Mitchell. Kristin Chenoweth, who introduced her boyfriend of two years, Josh, to everyone watching, has vowed to headline every Saturday night until the quarantine is over.
"We had people that we were able to call on on short notice that knew us and our rhythm," explained Wesley of how all the celebrities got on board.
The goal of the show is to not only provide much-needed entertainment during a time of crisis but to raise money for The Actors Fund, a national human services organization that helps provide for those in the entertainment industry, including struggling performers and those who work behind the scenes.
Rudetsky and Wesley have stepped in before to bolster spirits in a time of pain. In 2016, after the Pulse nightclub shooting, they rallied together for "Broadway for Orlando" and produced an updated single of the 60's hit "What the World Needs Now is Love." The music video, featuring dozens of stars including Carole King, Whoopi Goldberg and Sarah Jessica Parker, raised money to help survivors and the LGBT community in Orlando, Florida.
The following year, the duo once again called on their famous friends while organizing a benefit series called "Concert for America." Held in various cities across the country, it aims to help nonprofit organizations. Their most recent show was this past September for the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles.
The format for the series — a song followed by a call to action and information told in an entertaining way — provided an easy segue for the framework of "Stars in the House." In just seven days, it has already raised around $79,000 for The Actors Fund.
Joanna Gleason introduced another twist to the show: auctioning off personal items to help boost fundraising. While appearing with her former co-star Chip Zien for a mini-reunion, Gleason revealed that she has Bernadette Peters' staff from the original 1987 production of "Into The Woods." She asked Rudetsky and Wesley if she could auction it off, giving it to the best offer emailed by Sunday, March 29. Other stars also hopped on board to auction off some of their prized theater possessions to raise money, and it has become a regular bit of the show.
Another added element is surprising some of the guests with a celebrity friend they may not have been in touch with recently, following some advice from Dr. LaPook.
"Think of three people who may be alone and reach out to them," he suggested to everyone. "This is a moment where we are physically separated and it is so important we stay emotionally connected."
Chita Rivera surprised her former "Rink" co-star Jason Alexander, and Norm Lewis surprised his former "The Little Mermaid" co-star Sierra Boggess during her appearance. And now TV series reunions are on tap. "We just found out Merilu Henner is going to get a 'Taxi' reunion together," teased Wesley. "Henry Winkler is going to contact the cast of 'Arrested Development' and 'Barry' to see about doing a reunion with them."
For many viewers at home, and for Rudetsky himself, the show has sparked so much joy.
"I enjoy spreading optimism. And the reality is, when you help others you can help yourself," said Rutetsky. "I'm definitely not as depressed as I think I would be because I'm doing this. It's so happy. So yes, I'm uplifting people, but I say to James, it's so fun!"
LaPook added, "If we are going to be saved, it's going to be by the arts."
Click here to stream episodes of "Stars in the House."
Leigh Scheps is senior reporter for InsideEdition.com and Broadway contributor for CBS Interactive.
First published on March 24, 2020 / 9:12 AM
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