She won a Tony Award in 1989 for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, and the list of her stage accomplishments is impressive.
But Debbie Gravitte, who’ll sing Saturday with The Florida Orchestra in a pair of Mahaffey Theater concerts, left the New York marquee lights for the life of a touring concert artist, performing in front of symphonies, Big Bands and cabaret combos all over the country.
Why’d she do that? Read on.
Saturday’s program includes sumptuous arrangements of classics from the likes of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Kander & Ebb and Stephen Sondheim. Tickets for Broadway Sings – performed for a responsible, socially-distanced seating arrangement – are here.
Catalyst: You do a lot of these concert performances around the country. What’s in it for you?
I can tell you that this weekend means everything to me. Literally, it’s almost a year now, the last time I flew was March 7 – I was in Fort Myers, came home from that, and that week was when everything shut down. And March 20, I was supposed to sing with The Florida Orchestra.
So when Stuart Malina, the amazing conductor, asked me to do this, I cannot tell you how quickly I said yes and how excited I am. I did one show last October that was filmed for streaming purposes only, with a Big Band, so this’ll be my first time back with a full orchestra.
I have sung with The Florida Orchestra, and they’re pretty glorious. I hope I don’t weep through the entire show. You know, we’ve all learned about ourselves, and blobbity blobbity blobbity, and all the things we’ve all heard people say – but what I really, really learned was how much I miss live performance.
So, about that Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé show that you do sometimes ….
It’s called A Toast to Steve and Eydie, and it stars their son, David Lawrence, and myself. And of course we use all their charts, and the guy who designed her clothes made gowns for me. We don’t imitate them, but we’re just so much like them, the two of us. And we love each other and have that great chemistry. I wish I was doing it there this weekend!
Tell me you sing “Blame it on the Bossa Nova”!
Oh my God, of course! (singing) Ba-da-da-doo, whee!
What does winning a Tony do for somebody? Is it like “international superstardom, here I come”? How did it change your life, and not change your life, in ways that surprised you?
Well, I think you basically said it all in that one question. You feel like “international stardom, here I come!” but the reality is, it’s more complicated than that. However, the bottom line is, I will always be a Tony Award winner. So it has fundamentally changed my life in that way. Has it meant, like, Stephen Sondheim writing a new Broadway show for me? No. It sounds so corny, but it is true: To have the acknowledgement of your peers mean everything. It’s an incredible fraternity to be a part of.
Do you have the little statue somewhere in your house?
Oh my God yes, it’s on my piano. And I twirl it constantly.
At one point, you walked away from Broadway. The endless rounds of auditioning, watching and worrying and then working so hard on a show, does there come a point where that isn’t so glamorous any more?
First of all, I really went into the concert world when my three kids were really young. I was doing Chicago on Broadway, and all of a sudden, with the Broadway schedule, I went “Wow! I am never going to see my children if I do eight shows a week.” So that’s when I really transitioned into only doing concert work. Because even though you’re working on the weekend sometimes, you’re not necessarily working every single weekend. I was away less than when I was doing eight shows a week.
Of course, now that my kids are humans and grown up, now I’m ready to do eight shows a week again.
You were a voice in the movie The Little Mermaid?
Actually, I am two voices! First of all, I’m one of the sisters who tells Ariel “She’s got it bad.” And then, I’m actually the scrubwoman, when Sebastian the crab falls into this vat, she’s just monologuing “Well, if you ask me about the prince …” It’s just a quick little thing.
People must be impressed when they learn that …
Yeah! Tony Award. Grammy and Emmy … and all they care about is that I was in the original cast of The Little Mermaid! It’s all good.
Details and tickets here.