Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Alphabet City: the Back Story

I know I've been posting lots of newsy things on here in the last few weeks but I haven't really taken the time to sit down and put words together in the form of a blog entry, and for goodness' sake, you people deserve that. If you're actually looking at this page, then it's the least I can do.

So I want to talk to you a little bit about ALPHABET CITY CYCLE, which, as you can see, is the thing I'm pushing pretty hard right now. First let me say that if you click HERE you will be taken to iTunes where you can download the whole thing -- five songs and a digital booklet that includes lyrics and essays and some photos -- for only $3.99.

Here's a little back story on how this song cycle came to be. Back in the fall of 2003 (oh I'm so old), Marcy Heisler and I were having coffee or dinner or whatever and we were talking about all the reasons why we should be running the world. (Marcy and I tend to do that.) We figured with all of HER gifts and all of MY gifts it just seemed silly that Broadway wasn't knocking at our door, asking for us to write the next big hit. At some point, reality appeared, and we realized that perhaps the way to start putting ourselves on the map was actually to write something together. So Marcy pulled out a file folder filled with poems she had written, and she said "You might want to take a look at these and see if there's anything you can do with them." A composer's dream.

The first thing I set to music was a poem of hers called "Sunday Light." I still have the sketch I took to the meeting at her apartment where I played it for her on her keyboard. We fleshed it out a bit more, rewriting both words and music, until we had a song that we liked. It was not entirely a theater song but not entirely an art song, either. I didn't know exactly what to do with it, but Marcy and I liked it so we wrote some more. By the time we were done (a few months? I don't remember.) we had five songs and I arranged them for piano, violin and voice.

When my friend Joel Fram chose the songs for a concert of the New Voices Collective back in 2003, he asked Kate Baldwin to learn them. I was a fan of Kate's and she'd learned pretty much everything I'd ever written, so I was excited to hear what she was going to do with them. Kate (who you might know because of her fabulous NY Times review for her starring role in the recent Encores! production of Finian's Rainbow) is a meticulous musician and a very natural actress, and I thought she brought the songs to life in a way that made them even better than they were before. I took her into the recording studio, along with my friend, violinist Victoria Paterson, and we recorded the entire cycle. That was in 2004.

For nearly five years, those songs just lived on the hard drive of my computer because I didn't know what to do with them. The whole piece, five songs, was twenty minutes long. I had two big ideas. 1. Marcy and I could write six or seven MORE songs and we could program a concert evening with a whole lot of diva singers, asking each woman to learn one of the songs. 2. I could write two MORE song cycles and release an album of song cycles, perhaps featuring three different singers. But... I don't know. I didn't want to wait for us to come up with seven more songs, and I didn't know how realistic it was to pull off an evening like that more than once. And who buys an album of song cycles? I performed the songs in a few of my concerts, posted the recordings here on my blog, and figured something would come to me one day.

Earlier this year, my friend Eric Whitacre and I were having lunch and complaining about the state of the recording industry. And the publishing industry. And the classical musical world. And the musical theater world. (Eric and I tend to do that.) And he told me that he had started releasing some of his own recordings directly to iTunes. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and it made sense to me that someone might download a twenty-minute song cycle, more sense certainly than trying to figure out how it fit onto a 70-minute album. I contacted my record producer at PS Classics, sent him the recordings, and, well, I guess you know the rest. He gave a thumbs up, we created artwork, and now the songs are out there for your downloading pleasure.

And finally, here's the thing about the sheet music. Yes, it exists. Yes, I can sell it through the website. But the more interest this piece drums up -- meaning the more people download it (instead of trading it for free on the web), the more people post positive comments here and on iTunes, and the more people blog about it and review it and tell their friends how great it is, the more likely I am to have a publisher pick it up. Because publishing 5-song folio is a little tricky, especially when I'm neither Alan Menken nor Claude Debussy. So, simply, if like the songs, drop your $3.99 for the cause. If you've read this far, it's the least you can do.

Thanks so much for listening.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

THE WATER to be presented in Los Angeles

The winner of the Academy for New Musical Theatre's 2008 Search for New Musicals is The Water, with book by Tim Werenko and Jeff Hylton, music by Georgia Stitt, and lyrics by Jeff Hylton. It will be presented in concert at the Colony Theatre on Monday evening April 27th at 7:30 p.m.

The Water tells the story of a small Missouri town that survives a flood and examines what it takes for a community to rebuild its buildings, its relationships, and its unique sense of home. The story and characters are fictitious, but inspired by real events which happen in the Midwest every year.

"I had been interested in writing about the ideas of home and community. What makes a place special, so special that you choose to rebuild after a tragedy rather than leaving?" says The Water composer Georgia Stitt. "Jeff and I have attempted to write a score that captures that sense of place, of belonging, and also deeply explores the passions of these people and their relationships with the water that both feeds and destroys their livelihoods. I have worked to write music that is full of both character and emotion, and I think Jeff and Tim have managed to do that in the script, as well. The show is funny, heartwarming, and achingly tragic. This is a particularly American story, and since we started writing it we have lived through September 11th in New York City and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. As timely as ever, The Water is a show about moving on."

'Having lived in a flood zone, the idea of people living with the possibility of disaster every day became a reality when I was personally flooded out,' says bookwriter Tim Werenko. 'The idea of potential tragedy became all too real for the whole world on September 11th. You only need to drive through your town and look at the For Sale signs to see how homes can be lost without a flood, tornado, or hurricane. Yet, when I work on this show, I see how these things can bring out the best in people. They can find a courage they might have forgotten. They come together. They inspire each other. By collectively sharing the worst of times together, they bring out the best in each other.'

First Prize in the Academy for New Musical Theatre's Search for New Musicals was the concert reading, preceded by a workshop last spring, and detailed feedback and dramaturgy.

'Our goal is to help the authors realize their musical's potential,' says Associate Artistic Director Elise Dewsberry. 'The Water deals with some big issues, and we saw in the early draft a lot of potential for a powerful, theatrical experience. We can't wait to see what they've done with the musical since we saw it last!'

Scheduled to appear in the cast are Vicki Lewis (Film: Finding Nemo; Broadway: Damn Yankees; Television: series regular on NewsRadio), Michael Arden (who appeared in the title role of the Center Theatre Group's recent production of Pippin), Jeremy Kocal (currently appearing in Wicked in San Francisco) and other Southern California musical theatre stars including Dan Callaway, Julie Garnye, Tim Gulan and Steven Hack, and members of the Academy Repertory Company.

The Water will be performed in concert at the Colony Theater in Burbank on Monday evening April 27th at 7:30. Tickets are $10 and will go on sale April 1st. Reservations can be made at

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Does this mean we're famous?

Drawing by Justin "Squigs" Robertson

Alphabet City Cycle on iTunes!

Finian's Rainbow Star Kate Baldwin Sings "Alphabet City Cycle," Released Digitally

By Kenneth Jones

31 Mar 2009

PS Classics unveils composer Georgia Stitt and lyricist Marcy Heisler's "Alphabet City Cycle," a five-song cycle for soprano, violin and piano, on March 31. It's the label's first digital-only release.

Featuring vocalist Kate Baldwin, the actress who got recent raves as Sharon in the Encores! presentation of Finian's Rainbow, "Alphabet City Cycle" is be available exclusively at iTunes.

The title refers to the East Village Manhattan neighborhood with lettered avenues. Victoria Paterson is heard on violin.

PS Classics co-founder Tommy Krasker told, "'Alphabet City Cycle' is a wonderful reunion. We released Georgia's album 'This Ordinary Thursday' in the spring of 2007, and just brought out Marcy's Dear Edwina last fall. Georgia's hard at work on a new album, but we don't yet have a time-line for completion or release. What she had finished, though, is this gorgeous song cycle. 'This Ordinary Thursday' has been one of our strongest digital releases to date; rather than wait for the new album to be completed, we decided to unveil the song cycle now, as a digital exclusive."

Stitt revealed in press notes, "Marcy and I became friends in New York City several years ago, back when we were both starting out as baby songwriters and were playing our respective songs all over town. I was really curious to see what Marcy and I might create if we pooled our talents. After rejecting the ideas of writing a full-length musical or a slew of cabaret songs together, Marcy pulled from her filing cabinet a stack of poems she had written and asked if I'd like to take a crack at setting them. I sifted through maybe 15 or 20 poems and picked one to put to music. Once we realized that we were on to something and that our songs sounded different from anything either of us had written before, we picked four more poems and kept going. The 20-minute song cycle here is the collection of those five musical poems; they are some kind of hybrid between musical theatre and art song."

Heisler stated, "While written at separate times in my life, the poems come together in a story maybe I was too much a part of to see clearly. While not all of the pieces are autobiographical, they all came from strolling down the streets of and near my Greenwich Village home. It was Georgia's music that gave me a new perspective on their meaning, capturing the lure and loss and ultimate inescapability of connection we cannot help but seek."

"Alphabet City Cycle" was produced by Grammy Award winner Jeffrey Lesser, who also produced "This Ordinary Thursday" and several other PS Classics recordings, including Maureen McGovern's "A Long and Winding Road" and Lauren Kennedy's two solo albums."

The track listing follows:

"The Wanting of You" (The Student on Avenue B)
"Almost Everything I Need" (The Divorcée on Avenue C)
"I Hardly Remember" (The Widow on Avenue D)
"Blanket in July" (The Jilted Actress in Tompkins Square Park)
"Sunday Light" (The Lover on Avenue A)

Stitt played all tracks except track "Blanket in July." For that, Grant Wenaus played the piano and Stitt conducted.