Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.
Debbie 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.