Seth Rudetsky(Photo: © David Coolidge)
Seth Rudetsky
(Photo: © David Coolidge)
Though he's now well known for playing and conducting in the orchestra pits of Broadway musicals, as a writer for The Rosie O'Donnell show, and for his weekly Broadway "talk show" at Don't Tell Mama called Seth's Broadway Chatterbox, Seth Rudetsky started off as many people do: frustrated by school, family, and the inability to realize his dreams. Growing up on Long Island did not always make it easy to pursue his musical aspirations or come to grips with his homosexuality, both of which he recognized at an early age.

Now, he has not only confronted his demons and conquered them, he has put them onstage in the one man show Rhapsody in Seth. This is an autobiographical entertainment by a man whose brightest years surely remain in front of him, yet Rudetsky has already accomplished (and suffered) a great deal, so there's plenty of substance here. While there's something in the show for just about everyone, those familiar with Rudetsky's work and the Broadway divas he so adores will get the most out of it. Theatergoers with a less than encyclopedic knowledge of singing, for example, might balk at the length of the sequence in which Rudetsky compares and contrasts the belting voices of some of Broadway's biggest female stars, but those in the know will find it highly enjoyable and informative. (His dissection of Janis Paige's performance on the original cast recording of The Pajama Game does go a bit over the top, if humorously so.)

But just about everyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of Broadway and the difficulties of growing up will be able to find something in to relate to in Rhapsody in Seth. (Those who were never picked on in school, who were never labeled "different" for any reason, or whose formative years were ideal in every way will probably find very little to move or entertain them.) Whether it's Rudetsky's problems with combative parents, abusive classmates, difficult teachers, or other roadblocks between him and his dream, his problems are, essentially, everyone's problems. Fortunately, these serious subjects are presented with a great deal of levity.

Seth again(Photo: © David Coolidge)
Seth again
(Photo: © David Coolidge)
For all its comedy, Rhapsody in Seth is more than just a stand-up act. Rudetsky is able to look back at his life critically, narrating the events from his admittedly biased point of view and occasionally participating in the tale as well. (He does portray other characters, but this is kept to a minimum). His willingness to name names -- including a famous one or two -- helps to make the show personal and real. Still, deep emotional connections with the material are few and far between. It's understandable that Rudetsky would want us to be able to laugh about his life, just as he has learned to do, but very seldom does his humorous facade crack and let us see the vulnerable person at the center of the show. Rudetsky is generally able to overcome this through the force of his personality and his self-deprecating wisecracks; he's less able to overcome some deficiencies in the construction of the show, which glosses over elements of his life (particularly, his dealing with the realization of his sexual preference) that might have provided a stronger dramatic arc for the show.

The result is more fulfilling as comedy than as drama, though director Peter Flynn helps keep the show sharp and pointed throughout. Rhapsody in Seth is a highly entertaining roller coaster ride of biography, adolescent angst, and, most importantly, humor. Like Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," a triumphant piece of music (played by Rudetsky during the proceedings) that belongs to no single genre, Seth Rudetsky is a prime example of the sort of one-of-a-kind talent that helps Broadway function. New York theater would be poorer for the absence of Seth and his show.