Rita Rudner maybe be best known as a stand-up comic — but back in the ’70s and ’80s, she was a Broadway baby.
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Writer-actress Rudner, now appearing Off Broadway in a musical she co-wrote, “Two’s a Crowd,” played stints in the original productions of legendary shows like “Follies” and “Annie,” and she was there for the entire development process of “Mack and Mabel,” the 1974 musical created by songwriter Jerry Herman, director Gower Champion and producer David Merrick.
“It was a tremendous learning experience — I saw Gower Champion just throw out huge bits of the show and bring huge bits in,” Rudner said on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast.
“Gower Champion was really terrific, but the minute David Merrick came in, [Merrick] said, ‘We’ve got to have a “Hello, Dolly!” number! We’ve got to have pretty costumes!'” Rudner continued. “He came from a different place than Gower Champion, who was going to follow the story. That was just such an interesting interval, where we all got fitted for these gorgeous costumes and hats, and [Jerry Herman] wrote a song we all called ‘Hello, Mabel!,’ and at the end of the first act we all came in and danced in these gorgeous costumes. It had nothing to do with the show. It never appeared again [after the number got cut], but David Merrick insisted that we use the costumes again so we wore them in the bow. And no one knew who we were, because they’d never seen us in these costumes!”
Rudner used what she’d learned from her years on Broadway to co-create “Two’s a Crowd,” a show that she believes does something no other stage show does at the moment: “What’s not there is a show that addresses the problems of older people and has witty dialogue,” she said. “So that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to write a Neil Simon play with music.”
In the new episode of Stagecraft, Rudner also talks about her early days in comedy, her misadventures in screenwriting, and what’s changed — and what hasn’t — since she was one of only a handful of female comedians on the block.