How Audra McDonald and Will Swenson’s Daughter Stole the Playbill Cruise Spotlight

How Audra McDonald and Will Swenson’s Daughter Stole the Playbill Cruise Spotlight

Seth shares stories from his fabulous journey to Tahiti—including the fight he witnessed that drew blood.

Audra McDonald and Will Swenson Heather Gershonowitz

I’m back from Tahiti and the fabulous Playbill cruise!

Here are some highlights from that week of Broadway and sun damage. The first show was Gavin Creel, who is such a multi-talented performer. He kept reminding me of what Patti LuPone says about herself—even though she always wanted to be a rock singer, she knew she was “born to the stage.” Like Patti, Gavin is such a theatre star!

And speaking of Patti, Gavin talked about being completely obsessed with Patti’s 90s album called Patti LuPone Live. He told us that on the album, Patti references her music director John, but it wasn’t until he was rehearsing for the Playbill Cruise that he realized the “John” was John McDaniel, who was playing for the entire cruise. In essence, he got to be Patti LuPone! The only thing missing from his performance was a reference to his son, Joshua Luke, and mentioning that Meryl Streep did not get the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. #IfYouKnowYouKnow

Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley

P.S. I am very proud to say that I was responsible for Patti and Gavin singing their first duet. In 2013, I did a week of shows with Patti at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. Gavin was doing The Book of Mormon in the West End and I knew he was a giant fan. I asked Patti to singing “Fantine’s Death,” something she hadn’t sung sing she played Fantine in Les Misérables in the West End in 1985. I brought Gavin up from the audience to sing Valjean’s part. Little did I know that Gavin is one of the three people in the world who doesn’t know the music in Les Misérables! He said yes because he knew he couldn’t pass up the chance, but then he sat next to me at the piano and had to sight-read it. Really well, I must say. The performance was featured in the web series Entrances, Exits, and Everything in Between and begins at the 22 minute and 45 second mark.


Back to the cruise! The next night, Will Swenson did a fabulous show with so many great songs and so much hilariousness. A lot of the comedy came from Ms. Sally Swenson. Who is Sally, you might ask? Is she Equity, you might further inquire? No, she is not. She is, however, 6 years old. Sally is Will and Audra McDonald’s daughter. She came up between songs and read “Dad jokes.” I’m telling you, her timing was so perfect! And her accents—incredible. My favorite joke went like this:

Q: “What does a pirate say on his 80th birthday?”
A: “I-I’m 80!” (Pirate-style…aka “Aye, matey!”)



Sally also told Will’s favorite joke, of which, she told us, she is not a fan

Q: What’s white and hides behind a tree?
A: Shy milk.

Apparently, Sally does not like surreal jokes, but Will was basically rolling on the floor with laughter after she delivered that one.

Another highlight for me was my short appearance in the show. Yes, the fantastic John McDaniel played for everyone’s show, but I made a few guest appearances. I came up to talk with Will about Les Misérables, which I did in the 1990s and Will did as Javert in the first revival. Will remembered that James had sung “The Confrontation” during our Les Misérables reunion on Stars in the House back in 2020. Please watch if you’ve never seen it. James is Valjean, and Terrence Mann and Randy Graff are recreating their original performances as Javert and Fantine (who is dead throughout the entire song). I love the fight choreography that James and Terry manage to do.

Anyhoo, James came up onstage on the Playbill cruise for him and Will to perform “The Confrontation” with Will chasing James all throughout the theatre. It was crazy and amazing! At the end, they started “fighting,” so I rose up from the piano in a panic. John McD quickly took my place and I told James, in no uncertain terms, to sit down. Then, I noticed Will was bleeding, but he immediately soothed my concerns by singing, “Don’t you fret, Monsieur Rudetsky. I don’t feel any pain.” We performed the Éponine/Marius “A Little Fall of Rain” duet with him as Éponine. It was so fun!

Seth Rudetsky

Denée Benton showed her unbelievable range with her song selection, going from a high soprano (Into The Woods) and full out belting (Hamilton) as well as everything in between. Wowza! And, during her patter, having that same sweetness but determination she exhibits in The Gilded AgeBrava!

Norbert Leo Butz sang up a storm, riffed amazingly, and, like Gavin Creel in his show, played the piano. #Rude #B*tchStoleMyLook

My performance was on the third night, and it was so fun. This is the show where I (comedically!) educate the audience about the brilliance of amazing singers like Betty BuckleyWhitney Houston, Patti LuPone, etc. For this show I also highlighted both Audra and Gavin, who were in the audience. Here’s a video where I laud Gavin’s voice by deconstructing his brilliant performance in my Actors Fund benefit production of Hair.

The final cruise show starred the fantastic Audra McDonald. John McD played up a storm, but I also got to go on stage and do two numbers with her including the one I put together with her (and played) for the 1998 Leading Ladies concert at Carnegie Hall. It’s the Barbra Streisand version of “Down With Love”—updated Audra/Seth style. Here’s my deconstruction of that Audra tour-de-force.


Audra and I had so much fun doing the song again that I know we will perform it at our next concert in Provincetown on Memorial Day Weekend. Come see us!

Going back to Stars in the House, there are two episodes that aired live last weekend. On Saturday, The Broadway Green Alliance joined with Times Square NYC to present the fourth annual Broadway Celebrates Earth Dayton of fantastic Broadway performers sang up a storm and told us about how we can all go a little greener. I hosted the show with James last year, but this year he is in Europe (taking his Mom on her dream vacay!) and I am in Santa Monica doing a benefit, which happens to be our second Stars in the House episode.

On Sunday, I co-hosted and music directed a benefit to help Harvest Home, which provides housing and support for unhoused pregnant women. Merle Dandridge and Jenna Ushkowitz put it all together and so many amazing performers sang to support the cause! I was really excited to see my old pals Cheyenne JacksonRachel Bay Jones, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

And if you love Rachel, as I do, and you live in the Vegas area, come see us at Myron’s on May 5. Two shows!

Speaking of Merle Dandridge, I interviewed her (and Jenna) on SiriusXM to promote the concert. I asked her about her experience playing the Mom of baby Tarzan on Broadway. The story I heard was this!

Normally, Merle would be holding the baby near the beginning of the show, and then a dancer dressed as a monkey would swing across the stage and steal the baby. Naturally, her character would be devastated because Tarzan was lost to her, forever. Well, apparently one night, the dancer went to snatch the baby as usual, but they didn’t grab it correctly and the baby fell on the floor. It all happened quickly and, as soon as the baby fell, the dancer had swung off stage already and they were nowhere to be found.

Of course, the whole plot of Tarzan is that the baby is taken from its Mom and raised in the jungle. Merle knew she couldn’t have that baby anywhere near her or the plot wouldn’t make any sense. So, I heard, she got that baby off stage the only way she knew how, with a subtle yet firm kick!

Now, when I asked Merle about that particular performance, she would neither confirm nor deny that she kicked the baby. Hmmm. I’ll have to check her character shoe for fake baby DNA.

Speaking of babies in musicals not doing what they’re supposed to do, I was just interviewing Erich McMillan-McCall on SiriusXM and he told me about the scene in Ragtime right before Mother sings “Back To Before.” She is with baby Coalhouse, Jr., who is being held by the character named Sarah’s Friend. Apparently, the actress playing Sarah’s Friend was a little clumsy one night and dropped the baby. Whatever the fake baby was made of made it pliant and it bounced on the floor and then somersaulted through the air. It finally clunked on the floor. The audience was, of course, horrified, but then Sarah’s Friend “saved” the day by picking that baby back up and saying loudly, “He’s OK! He’s OK! He has a hard head.” Phew?

P.S. I was interviewing Erich because he is teaming up with the Museum of Broadway to bring back original cast members of Tommy and Jelly’s Last Jam to discuss the process of putting together the original productions! To find out more about the April 22 and April 26 afternoon events, click here

Here’s a clip Erich made when he, Ken Ard, and Destan Owens were visiting me at SiriusXM.

And finally, speaking of Tommy, I have original cast member Norm Lewis joining me at The Wallis in L.A. on May 2

Norm is featured on my mystery Broadway singers deconstructing video. See if you can identify all the Broadway star voices that I feature!

Watch and peace out!