Debbie Gravitte visits Schimmel

Irene Schultz

The Pace Presents series brought Debbie Gravitte’s All-Star Holiday Show to the Schimmel Theater for this holiday season. The show starring Debbie Gravitte, Norm Lewis, and Marc Shaiman, was truly a festive treat for all those who celebrate the holiday of Christmas, and even humorous for those who don’t. Jubilation filled the air as soon as the Russ Kassoff Orchestra began to play.

Unaccompanied by singing, the opening music created a sense of winter wonderland. Each orchestra member had great expression on his or her bodies, including a musician with a xylophone in the rear that impressively played multiple instruments without missing a beat. Throughout the night, the drumbeat encouraged the audience to clap along with each song.

When “Broadway’s greatest voice,” Debbie Gravitte entered the stage, her entire aura made the audience feel at home. From the first note she sang, her vibrato filled the house. The contrast in her sound was additionally pleasing, as she made very smooth transitions into different tempos and specific dynamics in the music. When she smiled, every audience member felt as if she were smiling right at them. When a group of audience members entered the theatre late, Gravitte humorously says “Don’t worry, you only missed a couple songs!” During the last long note of the most beautiful song she sang all evening, an audience member sneezed, and she interrupted saying “God bless you!” She was an absolutely adorable and loving woman.

Not only did she sing, but she also acted while she was singing, and interacted with the audience. She danced through her songs and her facial expressions were nothing short of theatrical. It was evident she was a musical theatre performer. Even when she wasn’t singing, she still remained present and in the moment, as a good actress would, and captured the undivided attention of the audience. She ended each song on a button with her arm shooting straight up in the air.

Tony Award winning conductor, Don Pippin, was fortunate enough to be able to guest conduct the song “We Need a Little Christmas.” The Broadway by the Year chorus that accompanied Gravitte singing the song and others was charming. They were extremely talented vocally during their own medley, but weren’t very impressive otherwise. One soloist, Brad Giovanine, had a great voice, but lacked the stage presence and eye contact that Gravitte brings to her music. During the “Little Drummer Boy” song, the young chorus huddled together in a circle and bobbed up and down, which appeared messy and not in sync.

Marc Shaiman, writer for the lyrics of the new hit series “SMASH,” was hilariously entertaining. Shaiman used the fact that he is Jewish to bring humor to his music. He shared sweet memories about writing his music and his relationship with Gravitte. At one point he even rose from the piano to sing downstage, while Kassoff took over playing the piano behind him for a few brief moments.

Legendary Norm Lewis, famous for his Tony Award winning Broadway performances, stole the show. Many audience members even cried when he entered the stage. Similar to Shaiman, Lewis shared several funny stories about his experiences with Gravitte. During Gravitte’s and his duet, he portrayed acting skills as well. Lewis neglected to memorize the lyrics to “Baby it’s Cold Outside,” however, and improvised the entire song which was rather amusing.

The most comical part of the evening, however, was the audience’s rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Gravitte chose 12 audience members to help her sing the lyrics of the song onstage. The university’s own musical theatre majors sounded amazing, while others with no experience had the audience laughing enormously.

Everything about the production, down to the stage lights, which followed the singers around the stage and into the audience at random moments of time, contributed to an amazing performance.

The show ended in an audience sing-a-long. With snow falling from the ceiling of the stage, everyone was put in the Christmas spirit.