Georgia Stitt: My Lifelong Love [Sh-K-Boom 8-3337]
I was enthused when I first heard the work of composer-lyricist Georgia Stitt back in 2007, with the release of her debut CD "This Ordinary Thursday: The Songs of Georgia Stitt" [PS Classics PS-748]. (My review can be found here.) Here was a new songwriter — new to me, at least — turning out one good song after another. I was further intrigued with Stitt's work on the mini-album "Alphabet City Cycle" [PS Classics PS-978], set to lyrics by Marcy Heisler (who is better known for her work with Zina Goldrich).
So I suppose I must say that I am pleased but not surprised by Stitt's newest offering, "My Lifelong Love." Here is another collection of intriguing, intelligent, well-crafted songs. Stitt has been working in musical theatre for some time now; I have yet to come across any of her musicals, but this is a writer who appears to be ready. Stitt also seems an unusual sort of collaborator: these 13 songs include six by Stitt alone (including one each set to poems by Shakespeare and Dorothy Parker); four by composer Stitt with other lyricists; and three which lyricist Stitt wrote with other composers. At this stage, I'm not familiar enough with the songs in "This Ordinary Thursday" and "My Lifelong Love" to tell which combination, if any, is the stronger. I suppose Stitt simply works where opportunity leads.
As on the first album, Stitt has been followed into the recording studio by an array of talented performers who pretty much all do a fine job. Which I suppose has something to do with the musical director/pianist/arranger/producer of the sessions, Georgia Stitt. My favorite track on the new CD, thus far, is the title song, "My Lifelong Love" (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Or maybe "Kites and Children" (Anika Noni Rose), written to celebrate the second birthday of Stitt's daughter. Not to overlook "Not Yet" (Heidi Blickenstaff). Those three, as it happens, have music and lyrics by Stitt.
I'll add to that list of favorites two songs that have been recorded elsewhere. "The Wanting of You," from "Alphabet City Cycle," is here sung by Susan Egan. And then there's "Invested in You," with music by Sam Davis (which was also included on Davis' CD collection, "Love on a Summer Afternoon"). Here it is sung by Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli; the latter provides accompaniment on guitar, ukulele and bass. (Pizzarelli obviously laid down the tracks separately; I only mention this because he's the sort of intrepid showman who — under certain circumstances — might insist on playing all three at once while simultaneously singing and telling enigmatic jokes while Jessica raises her eyebrows and ruefully shakes her head.) I seem to recall having heard the Pizzarellis doing this song live somewhere, perhaps at the Carlyle. It is a triple treat, one part coming from the writers, one from the singers, and the other from the instrumentalists — all named John Pizzarelli. Heard on other tracks are Brian d'Arcy James, Shoshana Bean, Laura Osnes, Michael Arden, Christopher Jackson, Michael McElroy and Kate Baldwin (who previously recorded the "Alphabet City" song cycle).
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Jason Graae: Perfect Hermany [Kritzerland KR-20019]
There was a time, long ago, when a genre of musical comedy featured a romantic leading man and leading lady, both of whom had a best friend who sang and joked and provided all sorts of merriment. This has always seemed to me the role that Jason Graae was destined to play. Through his younger years — he is now just past 50 — he was a highly pleasant singer, either romantical or comical; at the same time, he was (and is) uncommonly adept at comedy, the more outrageous the better. In the 1980s and 1990s, though, Broadway was overrun with the likes of Cats and Les Miz, which left performers like Graae underutilized.
Underutilized but not necessarily underemployed; Graae (which rhymes with "Ahh," by the way) seems always to have been busy between theatre, recordings, concerts and television. Some years back, he started appearing in concerts celebrating the music of composer/lyricist Jerry Herman — in some cases, with Herman at the keyboard. This led to Graae undertaking the role of Jacobowsky in a cut-down 2005 production of the 1979 Joel Grey vehicle The Grand Tour at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. This was a decidedly more sensitive role than Graae was accustomed to, and he reportedly acquitted himself well. His performance was reprised in New York in 2009, as part of the York Theatre's Musicals in Mufti series.
This past May, Graae returned to Burbank for Perfect Hermany, a one-night affair celebrating the composer's 80th birthday and his selection as a 2010 Kennedy Center Honoree. Kritzerland now brings us a Perfect Hermany CD, recorded live at the Colony. What we hear is not so much a show, concert or full-fledged nightclub act; it is merely an entertainingly friendly salute, 20-or-so songs casually strung together with folksy chatter. The act has since been reprised in Los Angeles and seen in San Francisco, Chicago, and recently at the Laurie Beechman Theatre (where it was extended due to popular demand). One can expect more Perfect Hermany appearances, too; there are Jerry Herman fans across the land.
Graae, as indicated, is quite a performer; he does a nice job with Jerry's show tunes, and the stories and anecdotes are endearing. This concert — directed by Lee Tannen, musical direction by John Boswell at the piano — is a loving salute to Herman and for Herman fans. Which is both a recommendation and the opposite. The purpose of the evening was to celebrate Herman before an audience of friends and devotees, resulting in a CD that may be too upbeat for listeners who enjoy but don't necessarily idolize the songwriter.
Marigold/Melvillainy [Must Close Saturday Records MCSR 3052]
With Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, Make Me an Offer and the West End production of West Side Story all but bombarding Londoners in 1959, some hapless traditionalists decided to bring in a gentle, old-fashioned sort of musical you could take Granny to. Marigold it was called. That was the leading character's name, don't you know. Set in Scotland, outside Edinburgh, in the dear old days of 1842; the final curtain falls as Queen Victoria is about to enter from the wings!!
The show had no luck, dying after ten weeks, and now we have the cast album on CD courtesy of Adrian Wright and Must Close Saturday Records. And what do you know? The thing is kind of charming. Think Brigadoon without the heart, and without the melodic sweep of Fritz Loewe. Even so. The 13 tracks include some items which are very nice, especially two big-but-gentle ballads, "Always Ask Your Heart" and "Wonderful View." Both are sung by Jeremy Brett — back when he was still a musical comedy leading man — and Sally Smith, whoever she may be.
Alan Melville wrote book and lyrics, with music by Charles Zwar. Melville was better known for his satiric revues; the 38-minute Marigold is supplemented by Melville's 1961 LP of special material, "Melvillainy." Thirteen tracks, and some of it is quite funny. Standing out is "Which Witch?" This tells of Peter Hall casting a formerly-in-demand biddy as one of the three witches in a tour of Macbeth. But which witch, she commandingly demands to know.
(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)
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