BWW Interview: Dodie Petitt - The Making of Kevin Gray Tribute CD
Many theater fans and friends of Kevin enjoyed his numerous iconic roles such as "The Phantom", (The Phantom of the Opera), "The Engineer" (Miss Saigon), "Scar" (The Lion King), "The King" (The King and I) just to name a few. On May 13, 2013 at the Majestic Theater in New York, we 'celebrated' the life, music and the man who sadly and suddenly left this world. Just three months after his untimely death, Dodie Pettit, loving wife of Kevin, did what very few of us could imagine. She produced and sang in his memorable "Celebration" at the Majestic Theater hosted by Hal Prince and attended by a full house of 1,600 fans, friends and fellow artists.
Dodie Pettit was a cast member of 3 Tony Award Winning shows, Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'CATS' 'The Phantom of the Opera', (original Cast); and the First National Tour of "Titanic", as well as performing in many regional productions. She and Kevin met when Kevin joined The Broadway cast of Phantom in 1989 to replace Steve Barton in the role of "Raoul". Six weeks later they were a couple and were inseparable from that point onward. They married Jan 1,1994 in the "Chapel of the Bells" Las Vegas.
Many people who unexpectedly lose a spouse or loved one have various ways of coping with their loss of that special person. Dodie has channeled her emotions, passions, and grief into something far more healing than we can envision- a CD to celebrate Kevin's life made with his Broadway "Family".
Over the past year, Dodie collected some150 Broadway performers, including 3 Tony Award Winners, (Bebe Neuwirth, Len Cariou, Judy Kaye) 10 Phantoms, (Cris Groenendaal, Davis Gaines, Mark Jacoby, Howard McGillin, Hugh Panaro, Franc D'Ambrosio, Norm Lewis, Craig Schulman, Ted Keegan, Rick Hilsabeck) a dozen leading ladies and notable leading men, ensembles of Miss Saigon, Titanic, The King and I, the Lion King, 10 of Broadway's best piano/conductors, 9 Orchestrators, a 30 piece orchestra recorded in 9 recording studios with as many engineers, and created a 2 CD set of 35 songs as a charitable tribute to Kevin, their beloved fellow performer and friend.
Pati Buehler: Bravo Dodie! Your turn to express your thoughts on this.
Dodie Petitt: "The only thing I can think of to say on this is that simply making this CD has kept me alive. I honestly didn't want to live anymore when Kevin died. In fact half of me died with him. There is simply no way for a person to process it. And there's no way to prepare for the eventuality. This was a whole new ballpark, uncharted territory that I never ever considered would happen to Kevin and I. "In my despair, shortly after the memorial celebration at The Majestic, my recording engineer Butch Jones called me in his great wisdom and said 'there's work on the table that needs to be finished'.... And out of sheer, desperation, need, escape, I would somehow drag myself to the studio and work on music with Butch on Saturdays. It made no sense at first, because I didn't even feel alive. But slowly, for those few hours my mind would focus enough that I was shielded in a way from the horrible thoughts and pain that for the rest of the time just seethed from every pore and paralyzed me".
"At first Butch and I worked on finishing the songs we had been recording for my CD when Kevin died. These were the last of the songs of mine that Kevin would ever know, and be part of. For he always helped me with encouragement and ideas. I never "inked" anything without his hearing and OK. It was a strange feeling to finish and not have him to run home to, to listen, to savor, to discuss, to be proud. But something kept me going in that he had already been part of these songs, and I knew he would insist I finish. And so I did with Butch's steadfast help. But then, I realized I had to keep going or I would simply drown. So I said to Butch, "we have to keep working, and I want to make a CD for Kevin and recreate what happened at his Memorial at the Majestic, and more. And so, we started...".
"We began with tracks that we had already recorded with mine and Kevin's vocals, and replaced them with Nita Whitaker, Carolee Carmello and Ted Keegan: "This Challenge", "Something Good" and "The Impossible Dream". And then we just spring boarded from there. I simply followed my instinct and started asking performers, and, they kept saying yes. Butch and I began posting our project and progress on Facebook every week and word started getting around more. And soon, when I would get an idea and invite someone to sing, they would often say, "I've heard! Yes I would love to be a part of the CD!"
"I didn't know how many songs or performers I would end up with, I just kept planning a few weeks in advance and getting the next song ideas and performers in the pipeline. And, it just happened. Why? Because people just loved Kevin, plain and simple, and it was cathartic for all of us. And all that catharsis turned into some beautiful music. I also had the idea from the start that having a CD would be a wonderful way to have people learn about Kevin's Foundation and Scholarships. The proceeds from the CD's go to his two Scholarships at Duke and The Hartt School. I will do everything I can ongoing to benefit these scholarships to help the new generation of performers that Kevin fell in love with in his last years. And it's important to mention that every single singer on the CD donated his or her voice to this worthy cause."
Pati Buehler: You are sharing the experience of the making of the memorial CD via social media and there was undoubtedly an enormous amount of love and some of the most incredible talent that wanted to be part of this project. Please share some of the special moments and people that have come forward with this labor of love.
Dodie Petitt : A special moment I will remember always was when the "Three Christine's", Teri Bibb, Mary D'Arcy and Karen Culliver had finished their vocals on their Medley, I went in the studio to thank them and we all just got in a circle and hugged each other and cried for the longest time. We didn't want to let go."
"On a lighter note when Hugh Panaro came in to sing "All I ask of You", he came into the control room to listen to the track with Butch and I, and immediately started singing right there and I said "no, no not here you gotta go into the booth", and he said "I cant help it, it's in my bones!" and he jumped down on his knee and performed the rest of the song for me and Butch! We all just laughed. He was a delight. I think he got it on the second take."
"Judy Kaye came in to sing, "Still" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" on the same day. The first part of "Never Walk Alone" is a verse of "What's The Use of Wond'rin'" sung by Judy Blazer. But she couldn't make it in that day to sing her part. So I had to be the stand-in singer to sing "Wond'rin". So Judy Kaye and I had to share the vocal booth with Kevin Stites accompanying in the bigger studio, and I couldn't leave after I had sung my section. After I was finished singing I stepped away and stood like a statue while Judy sang "Never Walk". Now, I had worked with Judy in Phantom all those years ago, but her voice just a few feet away from me, just blew me away. My knees were shaking. It was all I could do to control my emotions and keep quiet, especially with that song."
"A couple months later we had a wonderful large group of 28 singers for the background choir of "Never Walk Alone" in October. There was a great blend of Phantom Alumni including (our Union President!) Nick Wyman, and many original cast members including George Lee Andrews, Jan Horvath, Lisa Lockwood, as well as Kristen Blodgette, Phantom's Associate Musical Supervisor conducting. And I might add, that Kristen Blodgette's Daughter, Emma also sang with us that day. I think Emma was the fist Phantom "baby". Kristen was pregnant with Emma when she was conducting the show in 1989, and here she was singing with us, a full-grown young lady." We also have another "Phantom Baby" grown up: Mary Katharine Harris, Katharine Buffaloe's daughter sang with us on "You Raise Me Up". Katharine was Kevin's first "Christine Alternate" in 1989 and performed with him as Raoul and also when he took over as The Phantom."
"Another special moment was when Kevin's students from Hartt came in to sing "One Day More". That was the last song that Kevin had coached them on for a performance that they were supposed to do a few weeks after he died. Kevin had hand picked the lead vocalists. I was so proud of how their track turned out, and I know Kevin would be too".
"Another incredible moment was when Franc D'Ambrosio came in to sing "The Immigrant". He and Kevin had met at the Phantom "Longest Running show" Gala in 2006. Kevin was a huge "Godfather" fan and of course that meant he was a huge fan of Franc's. What made that session even more special was that David Caddick, Phantom's Musical Supervisor and original conductor, came in to play piano for Franc. I had to keep pinching myself that this iconic man was there playing for Kevin. The other thing I realized was that through all the years I had worked with David; all the rehearsals, all the performances, I had never actually heard or seen him sit down at the piano and play... and what a player!"
"Dodie adds, "At this point I think of the CD as a community effort. As it has grown, I feel I can truly say that this is a Broadway community effort of love, memories, friendship, and sharing of our talents together that were shared with Kevin in his life. Those performers that couldn't actually be present, of which there are dozens and dozens are also a part of this CD in their spirit and they magnify it. I could go on month after month recording songs with the dozens of other wonderful performers who worked with Kevin. I actually would like to do that. But there has to be an end, for now at least, for this project. Perhaps I will make a Volume 2! "
The CD is Available now Amazon.com ITunes and hardcopies can be ordered through kevingrayfoudation.org Dodie adds, "I hope to have it stocked in some of the Broadway souvenir shops. A dream would be to have it sold at concession stands in Broadway Theaters. We will explore every avenue".
All Proceeds from the CD will benefit two endowment funds that have recently been established in his name; "The Kevin Gray Musical Theater Award Endowment Fund" at Duke University and "The Kevin Gray Memorial Endowed Scholarship" for The Hart School at the University of Hartford. Mr. Gray served as Associate Professor of Theatre at The Hart School at The University of Hartford. The Scholarships have been created to provide financial support to promising students as they pursue training in musical theater.
Kevin Gray "Forever Always" Tribute CD is available on amazon.com and iTunes
Type in search: Kevin Gray "Forever Always"
To buy a CD hardcopy double CD set: Log on to the Kevin Gray Foundation Website
Donations to Hartt Can be made electronically by logging onto:
(Please note: Choose OTHER for the designation "The Kevin Gray Memorial Endowed Scholarship" in the blank space provided)
or by mailing a check to:
University of Hartford
Office of Institutional advancement 200 Bloomfield Ave. West Hartford CT 06117
All Duke donations can be made electronically by logging onto:
Or by mailing a check to the University directly, in accordance with 'instructions on giving' provided on a second website"
(Please note: Electronic donating requires checking 'add an unlisted designation' highlighted in blue beneath the list of existing funds and typing "The Kevin Gray Musical Theater award Endowment Fund" in the blank box that drops down.)