It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy! The Summer of 1989

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

The summer of 1989 was not an easy one for me. It was my first summer spending four weeks away at summer camp instead of the usual two. My friendship with Jeff, my best friend from home who shared the camp experience with me, was deteriorating. And for whatever reason, that summer was the year when all the bullies at camp noticed the target painted between my eyes, and it became open season on David.

The one thing that kept me going during the first two weeks of camp was being cast as one of the leads in the camp play. After three years of (happily) toiling in the chorus in roles such as “Man #2” (never Man #1, alas), I had my moment in the spotlight. More importantly, I had my place in the company. My only complaint was that for the first time in my camp career, we weren’t doing a musical.

That was the summer the original cast recording of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway came out in a deluxe package of two glorious cassettes with a cardboard slipcase. For the cost of a stamp, you could write to the record company and request a copy of the booklet with pictures and lyrics that came with the CD. I didn’t yet own the album. I think it might have come out after camp started, or perhaps at the tender age of 11 I hadn’t yet developed the need to own every album on its day of release. But one of the girls in the show had it, so naturally we became best friends.

Okay, to be honest, we weren’t best friends. In fact, there were two blonde girls in the cast, both a couple years older than me, and I had no idea which one owned the album. Pretty straight girls all looked (er, look) the same to me. But I convinced the girl who owned the album (and, I suppose, the rest of the cast?) that we should listen to it during the cast party. I remember peppering the pretty blonde girl with questions as I poured over the track listing. “Is the overture medley sung?” I asked the wrong pretty blonde girl, totally confused as to why I was talking to her about this album.

That album was the first time I heard Debbie Shapiro sing. In a summer that I’ve mostly repressed as one long terrible memory, the warmth I felt from that cast album, and the cast in which I got to hear it, remains one of my only bright spots.

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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