Clips, quips and acid trips: Seth Rudetsky roasts TV variety shows at Feinstein's at the Nikko

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday July 26, 2022
Share this Post:
Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky

Like any good show queen, Seth Rudetsky was a fanboy first. Now a veteran of Broadway (in both the orchestra pit and on stage), a satellite radio host hailed for his encyclopedic knowledge of theater music, and a multi-platform impresario (books, concerts, cruises, Zoom!), Rudetsky returns to Feinstein's at the Nikko on August 4 and 5 with "Seth's Big Fat '70s Variety Show" an evening that takes him back to some of his deepest roots.

The origin of love

Before he had access to all the opening nights and backstage gossip on the Great White Way, the budding young Rudetsky, a middle school proto-gay in North Woodmere, New York, got his fix of all-singing, all-dancing, all-pratfalling spectacle over the airwaves. Nursed on the boob tube (ironically, a source of formula), Rudetsky ingested endless hours of awards programs and variety shows that he now celebrates and eviscerates.

The 90-minute collection of pithy quips, video clips and an audience-participation production number (a completely different show than Rudetsky's Broadway-based evening, which sold out Feinstein's in May) plays homage to —and makes carnage of— a once giant genre now largely relegated to nostalgia.

"Donny and Marie," "Dolly," "Dinah!," "Don Knotts" and "Don Ho" are all fair game as Rudetsky dives to the depths of questionable taste and acknowledges the occasional glorious moments of the hour-long celebrity-hosted revues that were a staple of primetime TV between Nixon and Reagan.

Readers under the age of 40 may be entirely oblivious to this one-time cornucopia (accent on corn) of network programming, in which everyone from Richard Pryor to Jim Nabors had a run at playing glad-handing host to radio hit-makers, fellow television series stars and ubiquitous fey demi-celebs like game show staples Paul Lynde and Rip Taylor.

Taylor, a close friend and sartorial soulmate of Liberace, was a regular on one of the programs that Rudetsky will offer strong —if not quite fond— memories of in his presentation: "The Brady Bunch Hour."

Seth Rudetsky  

Brace for Bradys
"I'll definitely be diving into the Bradys variety show," Rudetsky remarked from Madrid in a recent email exchange with The Bay Area Reporter (He was braving the ever-shifting tides of COVID, performing on a cruise). "It's crazy, because it wasn't Florence Henderson and the rest of the cast going on a variety show as themselves. The premise was that the Bradys got their own variety show. I can't think of any other variety show that had a plot line running through it."

[Note to young readers: 'The Brady Bunch' was a television sit-com (1969-1974) in which Carol (Florence Henderson), widowed blonde mother of three blonde girls, married Mike (Robert Reed), brunette father of three brunette boys, who also had a deceased spouse, as little to no divorce was allowed on early 1970s television. Hijinks ensued. Nose was broken.]

Elaborating on the Brady variety show's peculiarity, Rudetsky went on, "So Mike was still an architect. And bizarrely, Alice was still their maid, even though they were all singing and dancing on television. They bedazzled her maid uniform, though."

Despite "The Brady Bunch" sitcom's having been cancelled due to poor ratings in 1974, Rudetsky marveled, the clan was resuscitated by the brother-producer team of Sid and Marty Kroftt (best known for Saturday morning children's shops including Muppety acid trip "H.R. Pufnstuf" and crypto-lesbian super hero mentorship program "Electra Woman and Dyna Girl")

"I guess," mused Rudetsky, "that they thought it would satisfy people who'd loved 'The Brady Bunch' and wished there were more episodes while also bringing in people who wanted to see singing and dancing to medleys of public domain songs like "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and suburban families funking out to "Car Wash."

Infrequent splendors, repeat offenders
Rudetsky's less ironically adored favorites include "The Melba Moore-Clifton Davis Show," "The Captain and Tenille," and of course, the serial variety endeavors of a certain Cherilyn Sarkisian.

At Feinstein's, Rudestky will share Cher's multi-costumed, green-screen-assisted medley of tunes from "West Side Story." While this number actually appeared on "Cher...Special", a one-night event in 1978, the diva had already helmed three variety series, "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" (1971-1974), her post-divorce "Cher" (1975) and their still-divorced (but amicable) reunion, "The Sonny and Cher Show" (1976-1977).

Additional hosts with multiple variety incarnations included a post-hat-toss Mary Tyler Moore ("Mary" in 1978; and "The Mary Tyler Moore Hour" in 1979); a pre-pants-drop Bill Cosby (The New Bill Cosby Show" in 1973-1974; "Cos" in 1976); and the eternally inexplicable Tony Orlando and Dawn ("Tony Orlando and Dawn" in 1974-1976; "The Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour" in 1976-1977).

Nuanced titles were not among the genre's strong suits. But, short of Cher, what were the strong suits?

"Ummmm....", Rudetsky mused, at least they were a bit of a different animal than "The Lawrence Welk Show" or "Hee Haw."

"OMG. Those shows that only lasted on my TV set for ten minutes. I was able to watch an entire variety show in the '70s and find moments I loved!"

Asked what he felt was the closest thing in today's television programming to the variety shows of yesteryear, Rudetsky had an easy answer: "The January 6th hearings. So depressing, yet so riveting!"

'Seth's Big Fat 70s Variety Show,' Thu. and Fri. Aug 4-5. Feinstein's at the Nikko. 222 Mason St. $75. (866) 633-1063.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.