Georgia’s Blog

TodoMusicales Interview

I just did an interview with a journalist in Barcelona at TodoMusicales. Reprinted here, in English.

‘My Lifelong Love’ is the name of the third album of the American composer and lyricist Georgia Stitt,a collection of songs about love performed by different Broadway stars, such as Heidi Blickenstaff, Susan Egan, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Arden, Anika Noni Rose, Laura Osnes, Shoshana Bean and Kate Baldwin. The album was released on the 29th November 2011 by Sh-K-Boom Records.

Georgia Stitt – who is married to composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown – has written musical theatre shows such as THE WATER or MOSAIC, and has also developed her career as a musical director, arranger, pianist and vocal coach. Her body of work includes: assistant conductor of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS on Broadway; musical director and arranger/orchestrator for ‘The Broadway Divas’ concerts in New York, California and Australia; and vocal coach for the 2008 season of the NBC hit show ‘America´s Got Talent’; to name a few.

Georgia Stitt tells us about her recent album, about her current projects and about her points of view regarding contemporary musical theatre.

HOW WOULD YOU INTRODUCE YOUR NEW ALBUM ‘MY LIFELONG LOVE’?
This album, my third (after “This Ordinary Thursday” and “Alphabet City Cycle”), is a collection of songs about love in its many incarnations: first love, lost love, love of music, love of children, and ultimately, love of self. I have been very lucky that many of my friends are Broadway’s greatest singers, and they bring incredible depth and style to their varied performances. It’s a deeply personal album for me, a collection of many small stories that add up to one big story.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO FOCUS IT ON LOVE?
It’s not so much that I chose to focus it on love. I write many songs, and part of the process of making this album was matching the right singer with the right song. Once the songs were chosen and the recording was done, I listened to it over and over again, trying to discern what this particular collection of songs had to say. It’s important to me that an album doesn’t feel like a random collection of tunes. It has to have a point of view; there has to be a reason for this particular collection to exist. The title track, “My Lifelong Love,” is about looking back on your life and recalling the moment when you discovered your passion. And it’s about thinking you’re in pursuit of something and realizing, instead, that you have found something even better. To me, that was the metaphor for the whole record.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE ON WHICH ARTISTS TO TAKE PART OF YOUR ALBUM AND WHICH SONGS THEY WILL SING?
In some cases, there are just singers that I want to work with over and over in whatever capacity possible. Susan Egan knows almost everything I have ever written and she could likely have sung the whole record by herself. (We just released her album, “The Secret Of Happiness,” which I produced, a few weeks ago.) I have wanted to collaborate with Brian d’Arcy James for years, and the timing just didn’t work out until now. Kate Baldwin and I have recorded several other things together; Heidi Blickenstaff created the role in MOSAIC and I asked her to archive it here. In other cases, I thought about the essence of the song and tried to imagine the singer who most embodied the same characteristics. It took a very long time to line up all of the right people, but I think the payoff is that the singers each bring so much of themselves to the performances of the songs.

YOU WERE ONE OF THE FIRST MUSICAL THEATRE COMPOSERS IN RELEASING AN ALBUM WITH A COMPILATION OF YOUR SONGS PERFORMED BY DIFFERENT BROADWAY STARS. HOW DID THE IDEA COME UP?
Oh, I don’t think I was one of the first – was I? I always loved John Bucchino’s record “Grateful,” which came out in 1999 and has some astounding voices singing his glorious songs. And I remember really enjoying the “Unsung Sondheim” album from the early 90s on the Varese Sarabande label, though I suppose that one was curated a bit differently. Believe me, if I were a strong enough singer, I’d have done it all myself. But in a way I think I’m lucky that I have to ask singers to help me, because they bring so much more to the songs than I even knew was there.

HOW HAS THE AUDIENCE REACTION TO YOUR ALBUMS AND CONCERTS BEEN SO FAR?
I’m always amazed when there are people in my audiences that I don’t know. I mean, I expect my friends and family to be there, cheering me on. But when there are complete strangers at my concerts or posting their reviews of my albums online, it still astounds me. People seem to respond to the storytelling nature of my songs. They like to go on the journeys with the singers. I write very theatrical material, songs that require acting instead of just singing. And I love it when you can tell that an actor has totally captivated the audience. I am always looking for universal truths. What are the things that connect us all, make us the same in spite of our many differences? I try to identify that in both music and lyric.

YOU HAVE ALSO WRITTEN SONGS FOR DIFFERENT WEST END PERFORMER´S ALBUMS, AS DANIEL BOYS, CAROLINE SHEEN OR STUART MATTHEW PRICE… HOW DID YOU GET TO WORK WITH THEM?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to the UK and Australia to do concerts and teach master classes. A few years ago in London a group called Contempo Theatre Company in conjunction with Alastair Lindsay-Renton, my UK agent, put together a concert and treated it like one of my albums – with a different singer on each song and me at the piano. I met many of my UK performer friends there and continued to stay in touch with them and follow their work. Last year the same thing happened in Australia with some of the finest performers that country offers. Over the years, our paths have crossed in many different ways – both physically and online – and those friendships have blossomed into many different kinds of opportunities, including the albums of the three fantastic performers you listed above. I’m planning to come back to the UK in 2012, and you can bet I’ll be asking those performers to concertize with me again!

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU WHEN YOU LISTEN TO ONE OF YOUR SONGS PERFORMED BY DIFFERENT PEOPLE ALL AROUND THE WORLD?
It’s very moving to me, very emotional. When I’m working in an English-speaking country (outside of the US), I ask the singers to use their home accents instead of trying to replicate an American accent. What’s most interesting to me is finding the place where singer and song meet in truth, and that’s easier to find when a singer isn’t hiding behind an inauthentic accent. Everywhere I travel I learn something new about my songs, something I didn’t know was there before. Learning that these songs are bigger than just my own interpretation of them is fascinating and absolutely energizing.

YOUR MUSICAL ´HELLO! MY BABY´ WAS PRESENTED IN THE FESTIVAL OF NEW MUSICALS IN WASHINGTON. HOW IMPORTANT ARE THESE KIND OF FESTIVALS FOR DEVELOPING NEW PIECES?
All of the festivals have their strengths and their weaknesses, but the truth is that musicals are huge and expensive and very few people know how to produce them well. For a theatre to invest their trust and their staff and their money into your piece is a huge show of support. In many cases, the only reason that I finished a rewrite was because there was a theatre waiting to start rehearsal. At every incarnation of your show you learn something about how it works – what the actors need, what the musicians need, what the audience needs. And then, at some point, it’s also necessary to step beyond the staged readings and the festivals and see your show realized in full production. That’s the biggest value of all.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT CONTEMPORARY MUSICAL THEATRE? ARE THERE ANY YOUNG COMPOSER YOU SPECIALLY LIKE?
I like that there are so many individual voices coming up through the ranks. I’m a huge fan of Adam Guettel, who has such a unique voice and such a depth of musical sophistication. I like Michael John LaChiusa’s energy and the craft of his songwriting. I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is shaping the Broadway landscape and making it seem like his turf, saying things in ways they have never been said in commercial theatre. I also think there are some younger songwriters who get away with lazy songwriting, but I see actors respond to their material with hunger and vigor. There is such a need for new, good, relevant musical theatre. I applaud anyone who does it well.

AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CURRENT SITUATION OF BROADWAY MUSICALS? IS YOUR AIM OPENING A SHOW ON BROADWAY? OR THERE’S A BETTER LIFE BEYOND BROADWAY?
I would love the chance to have a show on Broadway. I hope I write several shows that make it to Broadway and into markets beyond. But I also hope I keep having the opportunity to write music in many different genres. I very much like writing choral music and I have several published octavos. I like setting other people’s poetry, and I like recording albums. I would not be opposed to writing songs that get placed in movies and on TV shows, but yes, Broadway is definitely a goal.

COULD YOU COMMENT ON YOUR CURRENT PROJECTS?
I just closed a production of my show “Hello! My Baby” at Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut. That one was written with Cheri Steinkellner (Sister Act), and she and I also wrote the one-act musical “Mosaic.” I have another book musical, “Big Red Sun,” that I wrote with John Jiler, and my friend Jamie Pachino and I are putting together a contemporary musical revue that I’ll develop at Sundance early next year. And there are a lot of new ideas floating around right now, including another song cycle (to accompany “Alphabet City Cycle”), a few new book musicals, and a big studio movie that I’d love to get the rights to adapt into a big Broadway show. Check back into www.georgiastitt.com in a few months and see which one I actually finished!

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I Can’t Believe It’s Been Ten Years

I can’t believe it’s been ten years. I don’t want to write one of those maudlin essays about September 11th, because everywhere you look you can find someone who has written one of those. The emotion in them is overwhelming, and I’m not really ready to go there. Not yet. I know there are deep feelings of grief just barely under the surface of my skin, but it feels indulgent to succumb to them. I didn’t know anyone who died on 9/11. It was not my personal tragedy. And yet, I lived in Manhattan at the time, in the West Village, and I experienced the attack on the city in an extremely visceral way. It changed me. It changed us. It was just yesterday and a lifetime ago. I can’t believe it’s been ten years.

My apartment was on West 11th Street, and our block was set up as the headquarters for information about survivors. All the streets downtown were closed to traffic, and if you needed to find out if your missing friend or family member had been taken to one of the nearby hospitals, they sent you to my block. Tables lined the street, like the press tables temporarily set up for picking up tickets at an opening night event. On one side of the tables sat weary officials behind huge stacks of paper. If your person had made it out of the Towers and had been taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital, a few blocks away, you came here to find that out. On the other side of the table stood rows and rows of the most worried faces I have ever seen. And the brownstone steps, for blocks in either direction, were lined with people who didn’t yet know anything. It was a place for waiting.

That was the view from my apartment.

On the actual morning of September 11th, however, I woke up in Jason’s apartment on the Upper West Side. His phone rang, early. It was his mother, frantic, telling us the world was ending and we should turn on the TV. We turned it on and watched the second plane hit. I remember wondering if my 3 pm coaching was going to happen that afternoon. (It was Alyssa Van Gorder. Funny what you don’t forget.) I didn’t understand the magnitude of what I was seeing. I had this surreal experience of watching something on TV that was happening only a few miles away. I felt removed from it, like it was a movie, a fictionalized Hollywood horror story. But by the afternoon, the smell in the air made it clear how close we actually were. New York was acrid and pungent for months. You kind of got used to it, which was horrifying in its own way.

A few weeks later, in early October, Jason and I flew to Japan with our friends and colleagues Sally Wilfert and Keith Byron Kirk. We were doing concerts of our own music for the 2001 Tono American Music Festival, created and hosted by my college friend Kevin Simmonds. The plane was empty enough that we spread out and each slept in our own row. When we arrived, the Japanese people seemed more grateful than ever that we had made the trip. They wanted to touch us, to feel that we were okay. We had anticipated being ambassadors of music; we wound up being ambassadors of New York and of America.

That November, my best friend Lisa’s daughter Annie had her first birthday, and I tried to write a song to honor the occasion. The lyric was meant to be a celebration of this innocent young life, and instead it wound up being about September 11th. I never wrote the music. I couldn’t find it. I put it in a file on my computer where I put lyrics that I intend to come back to later, when I’m ready. I’ve never gone back to it. I looked at it this week, in anticipation of today. I certainly see how I could edit this thing, fix it, make the words more original, the ideas less cliche. But I still don’t hear any music. Ten years later, and I guess I’m still not ready.

I can’t believe it’s been ten years.

GROWING TO DO
for Annalise Francis Cole on her first birthday, November 17, 2001
Words and Music (?) by Georgia Stitt
©2001 Geocate Music (ASCAP)

Annie was born in November,

A bundle of warmth to a city of snow.

And the world changed

‘Cause a baby had started to cry.

Wrapped in pink and all geared up to grow–

That’s how little Annalise said hi.

She giggles, she squeals, she drools,

And she laughs at cootchie-coo.

We’ve all got some growing to do.

Annie could crawl by September.

Pull herself up with her miniature hands.

But the world changed.

When the city outside tumbled down.

Lives and buildings snapped like rubber bands.

Annie didn’t even know to frown.

We struggle, we doubt, we mourn.

And we grieve until we’re blue.

We’ve all got some growing to do.

Sometimes a plane can fall out of the sky.

A war can break out in the wink of an eye,

And people who didn’t do anything wrong can die.

We ask, unanswered,

Why?

Annie was one this November –

A child full of warmth for a city in fright.

And the world changed.

When Annie revealed she could walk.

Baby steps and holding on too tight.

Maybe little Annie’s got it right.

And maybe all the rest of it is talk.

We stumble. We stretch. We cry,

But in time, we will renew.

Baby steps and holding on too tight.

We’ve all got some growing to do.

We’ve all got some growing to do.

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HELLO! MY BABY at the Village Theatre in Seattle



It’s super exciting to have a show in a festival of new musicals, and Cheri Steinkellner and I are lucky enough to have had that experience a few times now. After having had readings at CAP21 and Goodspeed and a youth theater production at the Rubicon Theatre, this week we are at the Village Theatre Festival of New Musicals in Issaquah, Washington, just outside of Seattle. Here’s the view from where I sit right now.

That’s the end of the first act, where Frances and Junior realize they might be falling in love. But as usual, shenanigans will conspire to keep them apart until the end of the second act. I hope you all get a chance to see the show eventually. We’ve got a lot of development opportunities coming up, and I’ll blog about them as they materialize. I can’t announce (ahem…) until the theaters announce… but it’s looking more and more like there will be things to announce very soon. How’s that for cryptic?

Set on the sidewalks of New York in the 19teens, Hello! My Baby is a riotous new-fashioned musical-comedy chronicling the beginnings of that original all-American art-form: Popular Music. A new take on the classic songbook musical, H!MB updates the greatest hits of Berlin, Gershwin, Kern, Cohan, and a score of others, weaving them into a timely romantic farce that sings to all ages.



HELLO! MY BABY

Book and New Lyrics by Cheri Steinkellner

New Music and Arrangements by Georgia Stitt

Directed by Rich Gray

Music Directed by RJ Tancioco

Sunday night, August 14th, 7 pm

More info here

Follow HELLO! MY BABY on Facebook or on Twitter.

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