Broadway Bullet Interview: Georgia Stitt
Georgia is a composer, lyricist, musical director, conductor, arranger, and pianist. Here is a sampling of what she's done: She co-wrote the musicals "The Water" and "Big Red Sun." She has worked on the albums "Home for the Holidays" for BC/EFA, and many cast albums. She was the Music Coordinator for the ABC movie of "Once Upon A Mattress," and most recently was the vocal coach for "Grease: You're the One That I Want." In addition she also teaches a musical theatre performance class called "The Gym."
You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 112. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.
Broadway Bullet Interview: Georgia Stitt
BROADWAY BULLET: Georgia Stitt has recently gained notoriety as a musical director for "You're the One that I Want" on Grease, but she also has an extensive career musical directing in other places and as a gifted composer herself. And she's gathered a lot of friends together to release her debut CD, as a songwriter, "This Ordinary Thursday, the songs of Georgia Stitt" and she's come on down to the studio to talk about all things Georgia. How are you doing?
Georgia Stitt: Hey Michael, I'm good how are you?
BB: Good. First off, let's talk a little bit about the album here.
GEORGIA: Yes let's talk about the album!
BB: It's a different type of album from what's out there on the theater scene. As a composer you've just assembled a lot of different singers and a lot of different songs you have written, and we haven't seen a lot of that out.
GEORGIA: You know what, the truth is I've been writing musicals for ten years. I went through the NYU musical theater writing program, and it takes so long to get a musical from the idea in your head, to the first production, to the production that launches it out to the world. And so after doing readings and workshops and all these developmental steps of my pieces, I thought, "I can't believe I've been in this town for ten years and people don't know what I do". And I thought, "If I could just put something in the world that said this is my calling card, this is what my music sounds like, this is who I am" that was where the idea for the album came from. And I realized that I had enough songs that actually weren't from shows that I could released something that showcased performers really well, but also put some material out there in the world that there were songs that you could act, and songs you could really dig out and sing and so that's what this is.
BB: Now did you have a record deal before you put together this album? Because it's out on PS Classics.
GEORGIA: It's out on PS Classics.
BB: But were they attached before you recorded this, or did you have to put it together yourself?
GEORGIA: No I put it together myself. I approached Tommy Krasker- who is with Phillip Chaffin they are the two producers, they run PS Classics and I approached them and said "I've got this idea for an album and this is what I'd like to do, and this is what I've already got recorded, and here are some samples of what my musicals sound like, and here are demos of me singing the rest of the songs that I want to include." And they really bit, they said "this sounds like a great idea and we really like the aesthetic that you've chosen for the album and we think we can sell it" so they came on board. I never felt, for a minute, that they were doubting what I was doing or they were giving me anything but support, it really was a glorious experience working for them.
BB: So maybe we should, before we continue further, play one of the songs from the CD.
BB: What would you like us to play first?
GEORGIA: Well, you know, the newest song for me is the one that Sara Ramirez recorded, it's called "It Almost Felt Like Love" and that's the one, it's really fresh for me. So that's the one I want to hear I haven't heard it as much as I've heard some of the other ones.
GEORGIA: Yep, a Tony Award winner for her role in Spamalot and she's now got a major part on Grey's Anatomy, she's one of the people who went out for a pilot season and stuck around.
BB: Does this song need to be set up in any way?
GEORGIA: I think it's pretty self explanatory.
GEORGIA: Here it goes.
Listen to "It Almost Felt Like Love" on Broadway Bullet vol. 112
BB: What was it like calling everyone up to get them on board? Was it a lot of work, a lot of coordination? First off, let me say some of the names that appear on the CD.
BB: Jenn Colella who, I'm told, is coming into the studio shortly to sing.
GEORGIA: She's fabulous.
BB: It's a "who's who" on Broadway right now.
GEORGIA: Yeah, it really is, and as Jenn Colella says, "You're no dummy". I knew that putting these people on the album would help sell it because I thought if you're just in a record store and you pick this up and see "The Songs of Georgia Stitt" and you've never heard of Georgia Stitt what is going to make you want to buy this album? So I thought that if you are a fan of any one of these people, or collectively all of them, you'll be like "oh that's interesting, what's that?" So I was aware of that as a business tool; but I also have to say the joy of putting this album together is that these people are my friends. I didn't have to coal call anybody and I didn't have to beg anybody to be a part of it.
BB: Nobody was going "check with their lawyers".
GEORGIA: Well there was a little bit of that, there are people who are already on other labels, but that's the business of it. There was definitely not any resistance from anybody, and there are actually people on this album that I said "You know two or three of my songs, which one would you like to record?" it was really a gift. And that I think really comes from those ten years that I was talking about, in town just having worked as a music director and as a composer and having gotten to know these amazing performers and building personal relationships with them. I am so privileged to have this unbelievable cast. If they were in a show it would be a big hit! I mean come on, these are all, and we should do the show "This Ordinary Thursday".
BB: Now back to what I hinted about a little while ago in the intro, you had a very high profile gig recently.
GEORGIA: I did, I was the vocal coach for the Grease reality TV show, which I think more people watched than actually confessed to watching. Now that I'm back in New York, I'm seeing a lot of people, sheepishly, say "Oh yeah, I saw it every week" they tell me who their favorite was.
BB: Now I'm not going to pretend that I was a fan of this.
GEORGIA: No, I understand, there's a lot of resistance in this community and I even understand why.
BB: But I have to admit, it sounds like an interesting gig to have.
GEORGIA: It was a great gig. I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, and I've had a lot of doubts about what I'm supposed to be doing in Los Angeles. And I won't say that working on reality TV is my arrival, is the place that I am supposed to be; but I did feel that I had a lot to offer to these young singers and the fourteen contestants that made it to the finals were all so unbelievably talented, and they're all gifted in very different ways, and I'm not going to be surprised in addition to the two winners I think you're going to see a lot of them in shows of their own because they have so much to offer. And so just getting to work with them one on one, I was with them for ten weeks, working every day, working with them on the material they were assigned and helping them make choices about it and getting to know their voices, that was thrilling to me. And then also learning about TV and how that works, and how much control you have over some things and how little control you have over other things, and what happens when an executive walks into the room and everybody suddenly has to readjust. You know, trying to make the best product you can under those situations, it's really interesting to me I enjoyed it a lot.
BB: Now how did you land the job?
GEORGIA: I know Kathleen Marshall suggested me because she and I have worked together before. I know David Chase, who is a fantastic music director, vocal arranger, dance arranger in the Broadway community, was coming out to be another vocal coach, and I think the deal was they wanted to hire one person from New York and one person local and they all knew I was in LA so they hired me as the local person, but were thrilled because I had the Broadway experience. And that's how it came out, but like anyone else I had to be screen tested, and they said if you don't pass the screen test maybe you'll just be a pianist on the show. And that wasn't as interesting to me, but I wore cute clothes and I made sure that my roots were done and I did a good screen test and it just worked out well. And then I was really hired for the first week, just to do the training week, what they called "Grease Academy" and then after that they brought be back for the whole rest of the season, so I felt very blessed to have that opportunity.
BB: Is there anything that happened behind the scenes that you can spill that maybe most of the regular viewers wouldn't realize?
GEORGIA: You know, I wish I could, but I signed a confidentiality thing. You know I can tell you that there are lots of things that changed at the last minute; as we got further and further into it a lot of people who were in the finals said "My friend so-and-so didn't come to the audition because she thought it was ridiculous and she should've come because she would've done well". And you know, even the people who got cut in the early weeks have seen a boost in their careers. One of the guys who got cut within the first three weeks told me that when he came back to New York all of his auditions were different, the casting directors treated him differently, that the pianists knew who he was, that there was a sense in the audition room that people wanted him to do well as opposed to that non-equity feeling where you feel like you're lucky if the casting director looks up from his paper to give you the time of day. And so he just felt, regardless of what the general opinion was, he felt respect in his auditions, which is something he had not had before. And I thought "If that's all you got out of this, that's a lot. That's a great thing for you to have gained in your career." And then some of them are getting called in for things they wouldn't have gotten called in for before. I think the deal was that the original auditions they cast non-equity people and they cast equity people; and the audition process is that equity people had appointments, agent submissions, they had a more direct line into the audition route. And I think, also, they were protected and their auditions weren't able to be shown on TV and that's why you saw a lot of the non-equity auditions in the first couple of weeks when they were showing the audition sequences. So there are certainly advantages to coming in as an equity performer; but once they made it to the finals they were all treated as equals. The equity and the non equity people were all thrown in together because they had earned a certain amount of respect by getting this far. So for me it's really all about respecting them, I have gone out of my way since then to make sure that they don't get treated as people who got cut from that reality TV show, but rather as people who made it to the finals on national TV and got to sing in front of an average of seven to eight million people, which is more than come to see an entire run of a Broadway show sometimes. I thought it was a great exposure for them, and I was really proud of them.
BB: American Idol has definitely shown that you don't have to win to end up with a career. With Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson most recently.
GEORGIA: Yeah, I hear where you're going with this. If they had been untalented I would agree with you and with this backlash in the theater community about how they are getting breaks, they had an opportunity. But they are not untalented and they are not undeserving of the success that they're getting, so that's where I fall on that debate.
BB: And back to your CD.
GEORGIA: Yeah, let's talk about that.
BB: Now what's it like walking into stores and having your CD there now?
GEORGIA: Oh well, I have to tell you a funny story. The CD was released in early April on a Tuesday, my concert at Berlin was on a Monday night and we celebrated like "It's coming out tomorrow!" then on Tuesday I had rehearsal in the evening and I couldn't really celebrate the fact that today was a big day. But on Wednesday I was in midtown at lunch and I thought "I'm just going to go look at Colony, I'm going to see my record." So I walked in, very proudly, and I was like "Where's my record?" and I looked at the shelf where it said new releases, and I didn't see it. And I saw all of these other records that I knew had just come out and I was like "interesting". So I went to the front desk and I asked the guy behind the counter I was like "Hi, I'm Georgia Stitt, my album just came out yesterday, and is it, where is it in the store?" and he looked at me and he said "You're who, your what? No, I haven't heard of it and I don't think we have it" And I called my husband who is in Los Angeles and said "They don't have it! If Colony Records doesn't have my album, who's going to sell it?" and I got all upset. And about two days later I came back and not only was it out, it was on special display right by the cash register. And clearly several of them had sold because the pile was lower than the rest of the other piles, and I kind of grinned at that guy behind the cash register and I was like "That's me, that's my record!" and he was like "Oh my gosh I just sold one an hour ago!" So it made me feel great, you know, it took them a day or two to get it, but now it's just amazing to walk in and see this thing that you've been laboring over right there for people to buy.
BB: So we're going to play another song from the CD.
BB: For our lucky listeners. What song do we want to play here? Do we need a set up?
GEORGIA: Let's play "She". It's a duet Cheyenne Jackson and Tituss Burgess are singing this. This is a song that I wrote, there's an organization in New York called the New Voices Collective, and Joel Fraam and Annette Geless and Jenn Binder and Doug Operson run that program, and they take people like me who are music directors/composers and they give them an opportunity to write new material and have it performed similar to this record by really great Broadway performers. And so Joel Fraam, who is the artistic director of the program, came to me and he said "I need a duet for two men and it can be about whatever you want it to be about, but that's what I need in the show." And so I wanted to write about two men who weren't in love with each other and weren't father and son and weren't brothers, but what is the relationship that they could have. And this I though what about two men who are in love with the same woman.
Listen to "She" on Broadway Bullet vol. 112
BB: Again, the album is called "This Ordinary Thursday" and I understand that beyond your wonderful, interesting interview right here you're going to attempt to drag in a couple of these amazing performers to sing some songs from your CD over the next few weeks.
GEORGIA: Yeah, I know Jenn Colella is coming in, I'm coming back with her and I'm going to play with her the song she sings on the album. And I've spoken to a few of the other ones who are interested in your Podcasts. I mean who wouldn't be interested in the Broadway Bullet podcast? So I'll see who else I can pull in.
BB: The CD is great, I'm loving it. It's out on PS Classics, it's in stores.
GEORGIA: It's on iTunes!
BB: It's on iTunes, that's especially important for our listeners who are not in major centers yet.
GEORGIA: Yeah. You can order it from PS Classics, they'll mail it. You can order it on Amazon, or buy it from iTunes. I have to say, I am partial to, I spent a lot of money on the graphic design and the booklet and all of the lyrics are in the booklet and there's a little essay that I wrote and an essay that Craig Carnelian wrote, so if you're interested in that you should just pick up a hard copy.
BB: Alright, thanks very much and I look forward to seeing you again.
GEORGIA: Thanks Michael!