As part of the Seth Concert Series, formerly at the Art House in Provincetown and now online at sethconcertseries.com, host and accompanist Seth Rudetsky chats up Broadway vet Judy Kuhn between songs, live-streaming on Sunday, September 20th, at 8 p.m, with an encore presentation on Monday, September 21st, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20. Kuhn was the singing voice of Pocahontas in the Disney animated film, and has appeared on Broadway in Les Misérables, Chess, She Loves Me, and Fun Home,Tony-nominated each time.
Tony Award-winner Rachel Bay Jones was born into a theatrical family. But her parents, who were both professional actors in New York City, gave up performing after they had her and moved to Boca Raton, Fla.
“I always wanted to stay away from crazy show business,” Jones says of her early childhood. “I planned on being a marine biologist.”
That resolve lasted only till she was 12 years old. That’s when her mother decided to return to acting and was auditioning for a play. On a whim, Jones read the script and, on finding the right character, said, “I can do this part.”
Those magic words set a process in motion. “My mother took over,” Jones says. “My whole family started teaching me how to act and prepare for this audition. My parents were excellent actors, so it was really exciting.”
Jones will be recounting stories such as this from her past when she joins musical director Seth Rudetsky onstage for a night of talk and song at the Art House in Provincetown on Monday night and New Year’s Eve.
“You never know what Seth is going to surprise you with,” Jones says. “He brings a huge stack of music onstage with him. He’ll ask questions about your life — some of it you may be prepared for, and some of it you’re not.”
Jones saw her first Broadway show as a teenager in 1983, when she was taken by her grandmother. “It was the original production of La Cage aux Folles,” she says. “It was a lesson in life and fabulousness. My eyes were opened. It was a room full of beautiful people. I’ll never forget it.”
The lure was irresistible: at age 19, she moved to New York City. Jones is one of those rare actors who nailed a Broadway show on her first audition in her first week in the city — Meet Me in Saint Louis, based on the 1944 movie musical starring Judy Garland, which opened at the Gershwin Theatre in 1989. Jones was a member of the ensemble and eventually understudied for the Garland role, Esther Smith.
“We had our shoes made for us and gorgeous costumes and wigs. They even made period style underwear and corsets for us,” Jones says. “It was an enormous young cast, and I made lifelong friends from it.”
Her parents were ecstatic when she called to tell them that she had gotten the part. “They are very dramatic, very expressive, wonderful people,” Jones says. “I couldn’t have asked for more supportive parents in my theatrical career.”
It’s a career that not all parents would encourage. “Sometimes I wonder how they let me do this,” Jones says. “I have a 16-year-old daughter, and I cannot imagine shipping Miranda off to New York City in the ’80s. But, lucky for me, they did.”
Jones went on to do national tours of the Broadway shows Grand Hotel (1990), Fiddler on the Roof (2000), and A Christmas Story (2011). Her Broadway credits include the 2009 revival of Hair and the 2013 revival of Pippin.
But there were years of drought, and the 50-year-old Jones didn’t find her breakthrough role until fairly recently. In Dear Evan Hansen she played the mother of the titular maladjusted teen (played by Ben Platt) — first in the Arena Stage production in Washington, D.C.; then off-Broadway, winning a Lucille Lortel Award; and again when it moved to Broadway in 2016, winning the Tony along with Platt and the musical itself.
“I got an offer to do a table read of this untitled musical from the show’s authors” — Benj Pasek (music and lyrics), Justin Paul (lyrics), and Steven Levenson (book) — “and director Michael Greif,” Jones says. This was in 2014, a year before it would open in Washington. “It was a cold reading. We weren’t allowed to peek at the script beforehand. Even in the room, we weren’t allowed to crack the script open. Michael Greif asked us to wait until he said ‘Go.’ ”
A story of desperately awkward teens trying to cope with a peer’s suicide, Dear Evan Hansen turned into a huge hit, and it’s still running. With that behind her, Jones has done TV (the series God Defended Me and episodes of Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and the movie Ben Is Back, with Julia Roberts, and says she loves working in all media.
“Theater is all about the audience: when you’re an actor working on Broadway, you have this connection to a thousand people in the dark, using all your senses to drive this train,” she says. “When you’re working on film, there is such a deliciousness in the tiny moments. It becomes a more intimate adventure.”
Though Jones got her first Broadway gig without a struggle, her path to success was not always smooth, and being a single mother and having a career was a challenge. “It was really hard,” she says. “I didn’t work for a lot of years. Theater has always been the thing that I come back to, because it’s wonderful and I love it.”
After all, it’s in her blood. “Most of my life is chaos all the time, trying to keep up with everything,” she says. “When I’m performing, it’s the one time I have where I do my meditation. That’s where I find my stillness. That’s where I find my focus.”
Jonesing for Broadway
The event: Rachel Bay Jones in concert with host and musical director Seth Rudetsky
The time: Monday-Tuesday, Dec. 30-31, at 7 p.m.
The place: The Art House, 214 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: $50-$100 at provincetownarthouse.com
I live in Truro, she lives in Connecticut. We’ve both been to New York City many times. For me, it’s been about work. I could tell you what’s on exhibit at every major museum. She goes for theater and knows every little out-of-the-way neighborhood place.
We met online, and we’ve been seeing each other for three and a half dog years (six months). It was time to find out if our relationship would travel. And if you’re a shop owner on the Outer Cape, as I am, you dream of a few days away in October.
We made a few plans: She wanted to take me to a show and dinner at her favorite little Thai restaurant. I really wanted to visit at least one museum. And we agreed to leave some things to chance.
Our plan combined splurges with budget-conscious moves. What really helped was the chance to stay at her friends’ apartment in Greenwich Village. In exchange, those friends will stay at my place in Truro over Thanksgiving.
Summer traffic gone, the drive to New York is easy enough. But we wanted to avoid the hassle of parking in the city. The solution was to make Westport, Conn. our first destination. From there, you can hop on Metro North for the last leg to Grand Central.
The Westport stop might seem counterintuitive on such a short trip. But treating it like part of our getaway worked: a drive past the fall colors we don’t see on the Cape got us to Westport in time for lunch.
The town is an old haunt for both of us. We were taken aback by the lineup of upscale stores along Main Street. But there was the beautiful, lazy Saugatuck River running through town as it always had. The historic Westport Playhouse, opened in 1931, once frequented by local residents Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, is still there. And the view across Long Island Sound at Compo Beach is as spectacular as ever.
We got a head start on our New York experience with lunch at Gold’s Delicatessen, 421 Post Road. The counter is stacked with smoked fish and nova, but we went for hot corned beef (for me) and liverwurst (for her) sandwiches on rye, served with a couple of pickles on a paper plate.
We ditched the car in Fairfield and boarded the train. This satisfied our bargain-hunting instincts: parking is $6 per day on weekdays and free on weekends, when there are plenty of spaces. The hour-and-a-half ride to Grand Central Station cost us seniors just $18 round-trip.
Here’s how we mixed it up for the next 48 hours:
Day One: A Village Walk
We decided to play it loose that first evening. The Village offers great people watching, and we needed the walk.
We strolled Bleecker Street, Cornelia Street, Carmine Street, Christopher Street. The sidewalks were filled with people. We meandered in and out of shops, checked out a few menus. I felt instantly on vacation. We noted there was live music at the Blue Note on West 3rd Street, but ended up at the Independent Film Center at 323 6th Ave. We got ourselves a pair of $12 senior tickets and saw “Laundromat,” starring Meryl Streep. It was a thrill just to be able to walk around the corner to the movies.
We found dinner down the block afterward at Dos Toros. Yes, it’s takeout. And it’s a mini-chain. But it’s one with California roots, including a focus on sustainable practices. A good carnitas burrito is comfort food and not easy to find on the Cape.
Day Two: A Museum, Views, Dancing
After coffee at the apartment, we walked to the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea. I had never visited, but I collect folk art and appreciate Himalayan art, so I was curious.
The Rubin is a peaceful oasis in the middle of 17th Street. Start at the interactive “Wheel of Intentions,” where you can send yours into the universe.
Our $14 senior tickets and the museum’s free audio guide swept us into three blissful hours with the collection of Himalayan, Tibetan, and Indian art. I was intrigued with the lost wax casting process used to make a 19th-century Himalayan sculpture. Curried cauliflower, potato samosas, and arugula salad made a terrific lunch at the museum’s atrium café.
Next, for a belated birthday surprise, she suggested Gulliver’s Gate at 216 West 44th St. — a world of miniatures in a gigantic 49,000-square-foot space in Times Square. Walking through the spectacular locations created by seven design workshops around the world made me feel like a kid again.
You can wait in line to get a good view of the city’s skyline, but we found a way to skip the line and relax into it with a drink and a bite. At the View Restaurant on the 48th floor of the Marriott in Times Square, the revolving floor makes a 360-degree turn every hour. We didn’t even have to wait for a table.
We’d been wanting to find time to dance all summer, but with my work schedule it hadn’t happened. Lucky for us, she had read that Tito Rodriguez and his salsa band were playing a free concert at Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium. We danced the night away, surrounded by a crowd filled with as many students as seniors.
Day Three: Two Great Shows Plus Cheesecake
We met some of her New York friends for brunch at the Hollywood Diner at 574 6th Ave. This landmark is open 24 hours a day.
Then we managed to see two Broadway shows in one day: Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away. This took some planning: one at 2 p.m. and one at 8 p.m., with dinner in-between. Before we left the Cape, she used TodayTix, an app for buying discounted tickets up to 30 days in advance.
In between we had dinner at her pick nearby, the great little Pongsri Thai at 244 West 48th St.
I know this is controversial, but I think the cheesecake at Junior’s on 45th Street is sublime. Mine was topped with fresh strawberries and a birthday candle.
The return the next day meant a dash to Grand Central and a nap while riding the rails back to Fairfield. On the drive back to Truro we marveled at all we had seen and done in 48 hours. Yes, Lila and I agreed, our relationship traveled well.