Fynsworth Alley: Tom Jones (Part One)

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

Tom JonesTom Jones is the book-and-lyrics half of the team that created The Fantasticks, 110 in the Shade, I Do! I Do!, Celebration, Philemon, Colette Collage, and more.

DL: Let’s start right at the beginning. Before you met Harvey Schmidt, what were you doing? How did you guys get to know each other?

TJ: We were both students at the University of Texas. I was studying drama, studying to be a director, not a writer. Harvey was studying to be a commercial artist, as he eventually became very successfully, as I’m sure you must know. I tried to make as much money as I could by picking up directing jobs, directing the melodrama at the local civic theatre, so forth and so on. But there was the annual college musical, put on by the fraternity connected with the journalism department to raise money. They paid the director, and they paid a very modest fee for the book and score. I got the job directing it, and the scripts that I got and the songs that were sent to me were so terrible that I contacted Harvey, whom I knew through a group called the Curtain Club, and I said, “Look, would you like to write an original musical with me? We’ll write it in three weeks or so, and it will be put on a month after that.” He said yes, and we did.

DL: What was it about Harvey that he was the one who sprang to mind?

TJ: Well, he played the piano. And he also composed. The organization we belonged to called the Curtain Club had just done a revue called Hipsy-Boo! (That’s Hipsy-hyphen-boo-exlamation point.) in which some girls in little pants and mesh stockings and bras came out on a runway… actually, it was a revue of American popular theatre music from 1900 to 1950, it took place in 1950. Harvey arranged music from all of these different periods of time, and played it. And he also wrote an original piece of music called “Hipsy-Boo!” – a wonderful, terrific, sensational, sleazy piece of music. I loved it so much. I was connected to the show writing and directing the comedy material involved. That’s how I met him and knew his talents as a composer, really just through that one song. Continue reading

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Fynsworth Alley: Musiography – Jason Graae

Musiography - Jason GraaeWe receive dozens of customer e-mails each week asking about the origins of songs on our albums, so we thought it would be fun to occasionally devote a column to analyzing the selections on our albums. This week, we’re kicking off the series with Jason Graae’s Evening of Self-Indulgence

But Alive / I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You
Since most everyone knows each of these songs (the former from Strouse and Adams’ Applause, the latter from Lloyd Webber and Rice’s Evita), we decided to ask Jason how he decided to combine the two into an unlikely medley. “Well, I already knew the words to ‘But Alive’, but it was too short, so I figured I ought to add something else,” says Graae, “But actually, it was [director] Heather Lee’s idea to put in ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’. That was her only contribution to my act.” Continue reading

Fynsworth Alley: 10 Questions with Patrick Brady

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

What exactly do you do in your role as Musical Director for a new Broadway show like The Producers?

On The Producers, we have a musical supervisor, Glen Kelly, who created all the piano and dance arrangements and has been working closely with Mel Brooks for the last two years. I have written the vocal arrangements for The Producers and serve as musical director and conductor. My job has been to help cast the show, choose a drummer and assistant conductor, rehearse and teach the music, find the best keys and tempos, prepare the orchestra, make sure the orchestration is correct, conduct seven shows a week, watch the eighth show, give notes to the cast and keep the understudies prepared.

How did you become a Musical Director?

I’ve been accompanying singers, dancers and instrumentalists from the fourth grade on… I’ve played for Christmas pageants, children’s theatre, high school choruses, gymnastics, magic acts, dance classes, voice lessons, auditions, churches, community theatre, college degree recitals, summer stock, private parties, dinner theatre, rock ‘n’ roll bands, cabaret acts, night clubs… it’s too scary to think about… anyway, often the piano player ends up as the leader of the band and that’s what happened in my case.   Continue reading

Fynsworth Alley: Debbie Gravitte

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

Debbie GravitteDebbie Gravitte’s association with Bruce Kimmel extends back twenty-five years to The First Nudie Musical, in which Debbie’s voice is heard (although she’s never seen) on several of the songs. Since then, Debbie has gone on to become a Tony-Award-winning Broadway star, appearing in They’re Playing Our Song, Zorba, Blues in the Night, Perfectly Frank, Ain’t Broadway Grand and, of course, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, for which she won her Tony. Debbie is also a star of the concert stage, having appeared in the Encores productions of Tenderloin and The Boys From Syracuse, as well as concert versions of shows, including Louisiana Purchase and Billion Dollar Baby in other venues. She has toured extensively with her cabaret act, and is currently appearing with Stephen Schwartz in an evening of his songs. She has appeared on many Fynsworth Alley albums, including two of her own: The Alan Menken Album and The MGM Album. You can visit her on the web at DebbieGravitte.com.

DL: Let’s start with your start. How did you get started in show business?

DG: Oh, it’s going to be one of those kinds of interviews? Well, I always loved to sing, and I was always loud. I started doing shows in school. The musical theatre department at my high school had been not happening, and for some reason the year I started high school, they started it again. But my first big thing really was this: When I was a teenager, I auditioned for the LA Civic Light Opera. They were doing Annie Get Your Gun starring Debbie Reynolds, directed by Gower Champion. It was Debbie Reynolds, Harve Presnell and Gavin MacCleod. I did that, and Gower Champion loved me! He wrote me a part, and we went on tour for a month. They wanted to bring it to New York, so I would have made my Broadway debut in that, but Debbie Reynolds was all flipped out because she had just opened at the Minskoff or something, or she was doing her act, and she bombed in New York, so she didn’t want to go back to the city.

That was great, though – the first director I professionally worked with was Gower Champion! One of the greatest! I did that, and in the process of that, I met a man named Tony Stevens, who was the co-choreographer. And the music director was a man named Jack Lee. And they said to me, “Debbie, we’re doing a show in New York, why don’t you come and audition (hint, hint).” I didn’t know what they were talking about, of course, but they meant if I came to New York I would get the show. So of course I flew to New York, I auditioned for the show, and I got it – it was a show called Spotlight. I’m trying to think if there was anything really incredible about it. No. It starred Gene Barry and I understudied the lead. It would be one of two times I understudied in my career – the other time was They’re Playing Our Song. Anyway, the show bombed in Washington, DC. I came back to LA, actually, because I’m born and raised in Los Angeles – for those readers out there who don’t know that, who think I’m a New Yorker because LA has spurned me. Anyway, I came back to LA, and then through James Mitchell, who also worked on Annie Get Your Gun, I got set up with an agent in New York who ended up signing me. A man named Bruce Aven, who was really one of the great agents. When I walked in his office, he said, “I’m going to take you on, but it’s going to take a while for your talents.” He knew I was never an ingénue, which is why I got to be a big slutty girl in The First Nudie Musical. And to answer the question of why I wasn’t actually in the movie [Debbie is heard but not seen], I was probably too young and not pretty enough. At the time.
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