Diva Debbie Gravitte
Yesterday I wrote a fan letter. I rarely write fan letters. Yesterday, I just had to write to Debbie Gravitte. I was listening to my cast album of ZORBA and it took me into one of those days where I just listened to every Debbie Gravitte song in my Ipod. There are a lot of Debbie Gravitte songs.
I've been a fan of Debbie Gravitte since 1982 when I saw the PBS special Broadway plays Washington and she came out and sang the song JUNKMAN from the musical PERFECTLY FRANK. I've never been able to post a Youtube video in any of my stories - my friend Marc Harshbarger writes the blog Deep Dish and he does it all the time; in spite of his telling me how, it has never worked for me. If you click here, though, you can see the performance of which I speak:
In those days, Debbie Gravitte was Debbie Shapiro. I saw that performance and fell in love and have been thrilling to her work, ever since. You can google Debbie or visit her website http://www.debbiegravitte.com/ to learn all about her work, her career, her Tony win for Jerome Robbins' Broadway. What I want to write about is how she has moved me...
I don't know what it is about Debbie (who I have never met) that, so, thrills me, except for her beauty, her sass, her commitment to be exactly who she is (which has been a theme in my life) and that blazing, blaring, blasting belt of hers. I think her voice is unique and beautiful and emotional and thrilling. I am always made happy by listening to her sing.
Now, there is this musical called ZORBA. It is, of course, based on the book by Nikos Kazantzakis (I never read it and have always intended to), which was turned into a movie (which I have seen and enjoyed, greatly) and then turned into a musical (which, natch, I have great passion for). Certain circumstances in each version are different but the themes remain the same; one of those themes is Zorba's zest for life and Nikos' lessons from Zorba on how to (better) embrace life.
The musical ZORBA was written by Kander and Ebb, a musical theater team for which I have a particular fondness and affinity; and one of the songs from ZORBA is LIFE IS, which was sung, originally, by Debbie Shapiro. In her blaring and beautiful voice, she tells the audience "Life is what you do from the moment you die. This is how the time goes by." This is a song that my husband and I have loved, listened to and sung together for 25 years. It is a theme for our life together and Debbie Gravitte (nee Shapiro) has been singing it on our stereo speakers, Ipod speakers, computer speakers and television speakers, all that time.
I've nearly died more than once in my life. I understand the importance of living. LIFE IS is an important song and philosophy to me and to my husband. Nobody embodies them the way Debbie Gravitte does. Yesterday I was working around the house and listening to ZORBA (once again) and I had to stop what I was doing, go to the computer, log on to Facebook and type in the name Debbie Gravitte. It turned out we had something like 54 friends in common - but I am never comfortable sending a friend request to a celebrity whom I have never known. I wasn't about to start now. So, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I clicked on 'send message' and I wrote:
Hi Debbie Gravitte:
I'm not sure if I have ever written to you before; it isn't something I usually do - but every now and then, I just have to write to someone, even though we have never met.
We actually DID speak on the phone a few times in the early 90s and you were always very nice to me. We had tried to schedule a photo shoot for my book The Sweater Book; but we were never able to make it happen, much to my sadness.
I just had to write today because I am listening to my ZORBA cast album. Yesterday I was watching a bootleg dvd I got for Christmas - one of the happiest things that I have ever gotten. I've been a huge admirer of the show since somewhere around 1984 or 85. My husband and I listen to it often and sing along with you - the song LIFE IS has become a kind of an anthem in our home. We have been listening to you sing this song for (just about) the entire 25 years we have been a couple. You have been a part of our lives for 25 years.
I've been such an admirer of your talent and artistry since 1982 when, in college, I saw the tv special Broadway Plays Washington and heard you sing Junkman. I did all I could to find all of your recordings and revel in your gifts. I am sure there are some that have slipped by me; but when I am in a bad mood and need cheering up, I can always count on you. Oh, Diogenes! Sing For Your Supper. Life Is. The Crow. Junkman. Miss What's Her Name. Miss Spectacular... I won't bore you by listing ALL the songs that you have recorded that reach inside my heart and hit the "on" switch. I just wanted you to know that, on 49th street in beautiful Hell's Kitchen, is a man who really appreciates you. You have moved me - you have made a difference in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
On Christmas day, watching my ZORBA bootleg, my grown son came in and asked me "what are you watching?" and I told him. He asked what it was about .. and I tried to be high-concept and get it in as few sentences as possible.
"It's about an uptight American (English in the movie) who comes to Greece for his job and an older, more adventurous, Zorba teaches him to loosen up and live."
My son replied: "You are my Zorba"
It was one of my great moments.
And you are one of my great inspirations. You inspire me to be happy and to live a happy life.
And I just thought you should know.
Like I said, I don't write fan letters very often. I do, though, think that artists NEED to be told when they have touched someone's life. There has never been a moment that an honest and heartfelt compliment about my work hasn't left a mark on my heart and left me feeling validated. I really did think, did feel, that Debbie Gravitte deserved to know about the mark she has made on my heart. And if she is one of those celebrities who reads their own mail...