Notes from the Great American Songbook

August 17, 2010

(an interview with the Rubicon Theatre Company, Ventura, California, August 13, 2010.)

Hello! My Baby’s Composer and Arranger Georgia Stitt speaks to Rubicon on composing for theatre and the human condition.

It’s a timeless alliance, Words and Music, a pairing behind every great musical since the first, and it’s the same with RTC’s current crowd-pleasing production Hello! My Baby. Last week we introduced you to Cheri Steinkellner, the mind behind the words of our standout musical; this week we’re proud to introduce Georgia Stitt, H!MB’s talented composer. 

Georgia received her M.F.A. in Musical Theater Writing from New York University and her B.Mus. in Music Theory and Composition from Vanderbilt University, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is a recipient of the ASCAP Frederick Loewe Fellowship, the Harold Arlen Award, and the Sue Brewer Award for excellence in music composition. Georgia lives in Los Angeles (and sometimes New York) with her husband, composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown, and their two daughters.


RTC: I overheard you calling Hello! My Baby a “new-fashioned musical,” and I think it’s most apt. My teenagers saw the show and absolutely loved it. 

GS: Thanks! At one of our early performances I sat behind a row of women in their seventies, and I spent most of the show watching their reactions. It was just thrilling to me. When the introduction of a song would start, they would all look at each other and smile and nod; they knew what was coming. They seemed to really enjoy the songs and how they were used in the context of the show. I spoke to them afterwards, introduced myself, and asked, ‘So did you know all the songs?’ and they said, ‘Every single one. This is our music. This is the music from our era.’ So I know it worked on that level, but also to be discovering that teenagers are responding to it — what other piece do you know of that can speak to both of those generations at the same time? So that was the goal with this show, to take the catalogue of music that’s literally a hundred years old and re-purpose it, really, so that it has a resonance for all audiences today.

RTC: Great music transcending generational boundaries – it gives me hope for this latest generation! 

GS: One of the boys in the cast sang to his girlfriend, in all sincerity, “If you were the only girl in the world.” I thought ‘how amazing is that? That’s the song he thinks of, that best expresses what he wants to say to her.’ He’s adopted it into his vocabulary. It’s part of the roster of songs in his head now, music that he can relate to, that express his feelings.

RTC: This is the second time you’ve worked together with Cheri Steinkellner — you’re making quite a team. You must be developing a real working shorthand by now?

GS: The two pieces couldn’t be more different, of course — but a shorthand sure, and more than that, a trust. I think that trust is what develops over time. I know that her work is going to be good and creative, and she’s going to inspire me and I’m going to come up with ideas and she’s going to respond to them. That kind of collaboration is fabulous. The other piece we wrote together is called “Mosaic,” a contemporary story that deals with a woman on a computer keeping a video blog — there’s nothing Irving Berlin about it. But that’s the thing — the job of a theatrical composer is to be able to write music that tells stories in many different styles. I have to be well-versed in a broad spectrum of music, so understanding the songbook of the early 1900s is just as important as trying to find the voice of this character who is sitting in pajamas on her MacBook in 2010. That’s the thrill and challenge of writing music for the theatre — depending on the project, it just sends you to very different worlds.

RTC: The more things change, the more they stay the same — authentic expression of the human condition. 

GS: The goal is to try to find something that’s specific to the character, but thematically universal. So the audience can be watching and say ‘That’s nothing like my life, except that it’s exactly like my life.’

RTC: I see you have created a CD of original music. 

GS: Yes! I’m going to make some copies available at the shows this weekend– I want to donate a portion of the sales back to the Rubicon Educational Outreach program, my little thank you to them for supporting our piece. The thing about writing theatre is that it takes so long to develop a piece. You know, you have an idea and you write it and then you have a reading and then you do a workshop and then you get these out of town productions or these youth theatre productions where you see things — Cheri and I have already made a number of changes, things we could only learn by watching it with an audience and seeing what lands and what doesn’t, questions they might have, that kind of thing. So it just takes years to get from “I have an idea for a musical’ to ‘Here is my musical.’ In the meantime I wanted to get these other songs out– character-driven songs that weren’t written in the context of a musical. One of the nice things that’s happened is that it’s made its way to parts of the world that I would not have been able to go. I get emails from people from many other countries who say ‘I love this song,’ or ‘May I use this song’ in places I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to reach. The goal, of course, is to write something like ‘New York, New York,’ a song that just becomes part of the lexicon, that’s so resonant to people it just becomes something that everybody knows.

© 2009 Rubicon Theatre Company

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