It’s Thanksgiving Week! I decided to make this column about some Broadway things I’m thankful for:
First, here’s a video of Debbie Gravitte, who was Debbie Shapiro when this was filmed (in the early ’80s). It’s the song “Junkman” (music by Joseph Meyer and lyrics by Frank Loesser) that she sang in the Off-Broadway show Perfectly Frank. Such a fantastic performance! So many things I love, especially how she uses completely pure vowels AND gets vibrato in at the same. Listen to every time she sings “black and blue” and “you.” A pure OOH every time and amazingly placed vibrato (like last note of the song).
Note: When they filmed this at The Kennedy Center, there was something wrong with the audio in the first take. So, Debbie had to do the whole number over again. That’s why she’s laughing when she walks out, because the audience just saw her do the exact same entrance! Watch!
Along those lines, I’m very thankful to singers with pure vowels! One of the best is Betty Buckley. Her pure E’s and Oo’s are unsurpassed! Here she is performing “Mem’ry” and not only is her E completely pure on “Touch meeeee,” she also has the unbelievable lung capacity to do “Touch me, it’s so easy to leave me, all alone with the mem’ry of my days in the sun” in one breath! Incredible! You have to watch here. (And she’s singing with Jason Robert Brown at SubCulture one more time tonight!)
Here she is singing the Oscar-nominated song “Over You” from the film Tender Mercies. Listen to those oohs in “you”!
I’m also thankful for the new Julie Andrews autobiography, Home Work! But, just like the last time, I didn’t read the fine print. When I read her first book, I was so excited to read everything about her career. It went through tales of her first Broadway shows—The Boyfriend, My Fair Lady and Camelot—and I was so excited to read about her filming Mary Poppins, etc. I was near the end of the book and I began to wonder how she going to cover Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and everything else she’d done in the last five pages. That’s when I realized there was going to be another book and, finally, it came out. I loved Home Work, which talks about all those films and much more. Naturally, I was so excited to get to the part about the Off-Broadway Sondheim revue she did called Putting It Together and the Broadway musical Victor/Victoria because I worked on both shows. Again, I thought it was odd she was going to cover all of that in the final five pages. That’s when I realized that her second book ends in the mid-1980s! So, now I have to wait for a third book to cover everything I want to know about her. Regardless, this current book is fantastic and has great stories!
Here’s her fantastic performance in the film Victor/Victoria—before I tell you the story I know about her.
The Broadway version of that song ended the same way, with her sliding up to the high note. I still remember reading a John Simon article somewhere that confidently claiming that she lipsync’d the high note. She did not lipsync it! The entire number was sung live. However, there was a scene right after where Victor is forced to show his famous high note. “He” would hit it loudly, everyone would hold their ears and glass would shatter. That note was indeed pre-recorded. It was right after that long “Le Jazz Hot” and Julie was exhausted/didn’t have the energy to hit two crazy high notes in a row! I can’t stand lipsyncing, but I wasn’t devastated about its use because it happened during a scene and not a song. But, of course, electronics can go wrong and one night, Julie stood in the center of the party scene to show off her amazing high note…and the tape didn’t work. Uh-oh. She had to do something….so she sang a note live.
Of course, like I said, it was right after the big number and she was exhausted, so she hauled out what she could…which was a note…but it was decidedly not high. Unfortunately, the sound cues and actors had to proceed as scripted so after her low energy middle C, everyone onstage held their ears and glass shattered. And that’s when, as an actor, you continue with the show and you do not look back.
I myself will never forget the night I clanked it up in the pit. During the run of the show, Julie’ standby, the great Anne Runolfsson, would go on occasionally. Anne sang some of Julie’s songs in a completely different key. Well, I was just a sub, and for a while I wound up playing in the orchestra only when Anne went on. One night I came back to play and Julie was on! I decided I didn’t need to practice the original keys since I had done them when the show first opened. Eventually I got to her big Act 2 song, “Living in The Shadows.” It begins with a very long piano solo, where Julie just stood onstage and ruminated while the piano accompanied her musing. Listen to how it should sound here.
Well, it had been such a long time since I had played it in Julie’s key I was completely thrown and, because I hadn’t practiced, I wound up playing what sounded like a wonderful new atonal musical by Schoenberg. I was mortified! After the show, I asked my friend Joe Thalken, who was conducting, what Julie had said about “Living In The Shadows.” Apparently, when he visited her afterwards in the dressing room, she laughingly mentioned that clanking coming from my keyboard and commented “I felt that I was living in the shadows.” Huh? I knew she had sassed me…but how? What did that mean? Maybe in the U.K., the way to really bust someone for making a mistake is to call yourself the name of a song? Like if I had messed up playing The Sound Of Music, she would have said “I felt like I was a Lonely Goatherd”?
Regardless... Everyone who worked with her on that show loved her. And I can see why. She was kind to me from the very first time I played for a show she was in. Right after my first time subbing on Putting It Together at the Manhattan Theater Club, her dresser came to my keyboard and asked me to come to Julie’s dressing room. I walked in and she apologized for being in the middle of putting on her stockings, which I loved because it was so informal! I was nervous she was going to give me a note, but instead she had called me in because during the bows, she noticed that I was new and just wanted to introduce herself and say hi. So nice!!!
By the way, I mentioned that Anne Runolfsson would sing in different keys than Julie. She actually took “Le Jazz Hot” down a little so she would slide up to the high note and, instead of singing it in head voice, she would belt it. It was amazing! Watch!
And the next Monday and Tuesday (December 9 and 10) I’ll be hosting BCEFA’s Red Bucket Follies. Tix at BroadwayCares.org.
Here’s a fun video from when I hosted it back in 2010!
P.S. The same night as the first Red Bucket Follies (December 9), I’m doing a really fun concert for Beit Simchat Torah, the Gay/Lesbian synagogue. I put together a bunch of my favorite performers! Jenn Colella, Beth Leavel , Julia Murney, Christine Pedi, and because Stephanie J. Block had to ixnay because she had a conflict, Norm Lewis just joined! Tickets here!
Here’s my deconstruction of the great Norm!