My Lifelong Love – An Evening With Georgia Stitt and Friends – Garrick Theatre

Cynthia Erivo – The Color Purple

Cynthia Erivo joined US composer and lyricist Georgia Stitt in her concert My Lifelong Love at the Garrick Theatre, London

My Lifelong Love – An Evening With Georgia Stitt and Friends was performed at the Garrick Theatre, London.

US composer and lyricist Georgia Stitt’s performance in My Lifelong Love at the Garrick Theatre marked her solo West End debut. The show featured songs from her three albums: This Ordinary Thursday, Alphabet City Cycle and My Lifelong Love, and also her shows Big Red Sun, Mosaic and Samantha Spade – Ace Detective in Act I, while Act II showcased her current work in progress, The Danger Year, which I hope we hear more of very soon.

There is no denying Stitt’s immense talent as a songwriter and musician. Every song is superbly crafted. She may often be called Mrs Jason Robert Brown, but her music has its own wonderful energy: strong pulsating rhythms, cross rhythms and shimmering running passages combine with classical, jazz, dance and R&B influences, and soaring melodic ‘hooks’ reinforce central themes. Her orchestral writing, and command, is wonderful – Stitt writes music for singers AND instrumentalists and it was notable that she credited her superb musicians and singers in equal measure.

I think the balance of the show might have worked better if the evening had begun with the more cohesive musical, The Danger Year, with the disparate musical journey through the years after the interval. However, though the first half took a while to settle, once the fantastic group of soloists were in place – Simon Bailey, Norman Bowman, Jamie Muscato, Cynthia Erivo, Eva Noblezada and Caroline Sheen – Stitt was clearly more in her comfort zone, playing outstanding piano and in complete command of her superb five-piece band and musical ensemble. With six of the best West End Singers singing her songs, any songwriter would feel blessed with these enviable talents.

Muscato singing ’One Day More’ from An Ordinary Thursday set the bar for the evening. He commanded from the outset, exuding class and complete assurance. Later, in ‘Light of the World’ from The Big Yellow Sun, he sang movingly to a father who had died in war: “Oh what we owe to you, I wish we could show to you”. A complete joy to watch and listen to.

The Alphabet City Cycle was written for voice, violin and piano as hybrid music theatre/classical art songs set to poems by Marcy Heisler (who also wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Dear Edwina). Erivo wove the many words of ‘The Waiting of You’ together with beautiful violin playing over a jazz piano bass, followed by Miss Saigon’s Noblezada entertaining us with some beautiful singing in ‘Almost Everything I Need’ (more exquisite violin playing from Charlie Cole). Exceptional.

Bailey then rocked out to ‘At This Turn in the Road Again’ – a great R&B song inspired by Stitt’s Memphis roots, but this time collaborating with Bil Wright as lyricist. In contrast, in Act II Bailey portrayed a bitter sweet ‘dance of life’, appropriately accompanied by a Bossa Nova dance rhythm. In a ‘Platonic Affair’ the main character chats to a waitress who pays attention to him and laughs at his jokes, a tale sadly at odds with his home life and wife Jill who falls asleep and notices nothing…

Sheen has worked with Stitt previously and truly inhabits her songs: her NYC relationship storybook in ‘Palimpsest’ was sung with sincerity, and she later presented the strength of Faye Greenberg’s lyrics in ‘I Lay My Armour Down’ from This Ordinary Thursday. It’s in Act II though that the actress and singer shone as she movingly sang ’The Baby Song’, charting the devastation of a woman who loses a longed for baby, but ends with another baby ‘adventure’ about to begin…

Erivo returned for ‘It Almost Felt Like Love’ from This Ordinary Thursday, while Noblezada dazzled in ’Onward/Beyond” from The Danger Year, charting emigration to a new land – the orchestration strong, warm and shimmering under soaring vocals full of expectation and optimism.

Bowman closed Act I with an evocative, elegant setting of Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet XXIX’. He also sang the penultimate song in The Danger Year, returning to touch the soul with ‘Prepared’ – a song of loss searingly sung.

Act II was more cohesive and  flowed better, as all songs were from Stitt’s current ‘work in progress’. Solos interspersed with duets, trios and ensemble pieces for The Danger Year, a musical exploration of how modern societies connect with each other, or rather how incredibly disconnected from real life and real emotions most people are despite instant communication 24/7. Stitt invited us to tell her after the show whether or not the concept worked – it was a resounding ‘yes’ from me.

‘Connect’ was a strong, vibrant and dramatic Act II opening as soloists stabbed at smartphones and tablets throughout and young singers from Arts Ed added 17 more wonderful voices to the mix. Sheen and Bailey sang of ‘One Thousand Places to See Before You Die’. Noblezada then stole the show with the wonderful story of ‘My Lifelong Love’ – starting as a 12 -year-old, she moved from loving the sixth grade boy to a real love of music and singing. Noblezada has a fresh and pure sound that is joyous.

Muscato and Bowman sounded wonderful duetting about ’She, while the former seduced the whole audience with a flamenco style ‘Come Over’ (both boosted by evocative guitar playing from John Gregson). Erivo, Sheen and Noblezada changed the pace in angst about the relentless demands of life during ‘Before I Lose My Mind’. Erivo also brought The Danger Year to a conclusion with a soaringly sung ‘Stop’, accompanied by the Arts Ed choir. Alongside Charlie Cole on violin and John Gregson playing guitar, the other impressive musicians were Stefan Knapik (cello), AJ Brinkman (bass) and Tommy Clayden (drums).

Stitt’s songs are a rich tapestry of stories and emotions in classical art song tradition, where new wonders, musical layers and voices, nuances, and indeed lyrics will be enjoyed, discovered and re-discovered on every hearing. Songs which will endure.

Throughout, Stitt played piano with immense skill, passion and joy. It is fitting that she sang her encore as ‘This Ordinary Thursday’ is a song about, and dedicated to, her husband Jason Robert Brown, and was the first song she ever sang in public. The perfect song indeed to finish her Lifelong Love London concert, but hopefully the first of many more to come.

Catherine Françoise

Readers may also be interested in:

Interview – US composer/lyricist Georgia Stitt makes her West End debut

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