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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Fynsworth Alley: 10 Questions with Bill Russell

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

10 Questions with Bill RussellMost people know you from Side Show, but before that, you had an Off-Broadway hit with PAGEANT…..how did that show develop and where did the idea come from?

Pageant has a long, involved history… In the mid-eighties a bunch of guys I knew were on tour with 42nd Street and had been for a while. They were in Boston and decided to do a drag pageant for the rest of the company. They were staying at the Bradford Hotel, so they called it the “Miss Bradford Pageant” and threw it together. Since they were all gypsies, they did some production numbers, one being “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” Bobby Longbottom was one of that group, and he called me to say he thought the idea had the makings of an off-Broadway show. I was dubious — I’d never been a big drag aficionado and thought beauty pageants had been satirized to death, but then I received a video of the “Miss Bradford Pageant” and couldn’t stop laughing. Also, because the cast was Broadway gypsies, the talent on display was considerably better than in real pageants. At the time I was collaborating on a revue called The Texas Chainsaw Musical with Frank Kelly and Albert Evans and got them interested in Pageant. We did a showcase production in 1986, which was very successful and extended, but it took until 1991 for a producer to take it to off-Broadway. Last year I directed the European premiere at the King’s Head Theatre in London (a fringe theatre), and that production transferred to the West End. I’m happy to report we just received two Olivier Award Nominations. I’m about to direct the show in Chicago. Luckily, pageants are so retro anyway that the show hasn’t dated…  Continue reading