There was an undeniable air of anticipation surrounding Broadway actor, musical director and all-round raconteur Seth Rudetsky’s European première of his hit show, Deconstructing Broadway. The packed audience at Leicester Square Theatre was eager to see his aptly named one-man show, in which he comically deconstructs the performances of Broadway starlets such as Betty Buckley, Liza Minnelli and Patti LuPone. Through a series of sound bites and video clips, Rudetsky insightfully unpicks many musical numbers, scrutinising each singer’s technique in great detail.
Rudetsky charismatically jokes that from a young age he has always enjoyed listening to cast recordings at least 20 times a day; Deconstructing Broadway is clearly born out of his passion for all things musical theatre. It many ways the piece feels like a rather camp academic lecture, in which his objective is to pinpoint exactly what separates an iconic performance from a disastrous one.
Watching Deconstructing Broadway could be likened to watching YouTube clips with an expert — but be warned, once Rudetsky has pointed out even the smallest flaw in any performance, you will never be able to watch or listen to it in the same way again. Some of the most comical sound bites star a young Rudetsky himself, my personal favourite being his 12-year-old self’s embittered rendition of ‘Tomorrow’, from the musical Annie.
The other reason that Rudetsky is this side of the pond is that he is also performing with Tony and Olivier award winner Patti LuPone, and it was apparent that many members of the audience had watched the LuPone production beforehand. As there are many inside jokes and references to the earlier show, it’s difficult to fully appreciate this one without having watched LuPone perform. Structurally the work felt incomplete, almost as if I had arrived late and missed half of the show.
As a genre, musical theatre doesn’t always receive the same acclaim and respect that ‘straight’ theatre does. Rudetsky raises an interesting point that for a singer on a mainstream televised singing competition, such as The X Factor, to be likened to musical theatre often suggests a criticism of their performance. Consequently I found it refreshing to see Rudetsky elevate the study of musical theatre to something worthy of academic merit. The other thing I would like to thank Rudetsky for is alerting me to the existence of many a brilliant YouTube clip, in particular a one-woman version of West Side Story in which Cher plays every role — an absolute must-see if you fancy a chuckle!
Seth Rudetsky’s Deconstructing Broadway played at the Leicester Square Theatre on 22 June.