SONG SPOTLIGHT: Not Yet
I’ve talked quite a bit in this series about contemporary musical theatre’s unreached pop crossover potential. While our Top-40 dreams remain for the most part unrealized, I do forget that we have hits within our own community. Recital standards like “Taylor the Latte Boy” and “Stars and the Moon” come to mind. Georgia Stitt’s “Not Yet” serves as that song for Ruth, the character in Stitt and Cheri Steinkellner’s one-woman musical monologue Mosaic.
Ruth is a songwriter who, ten years down the road from her initial successes, is juggling impending motherhood, writer’s block, and her own illness. Like tick, tick…BOOM! in its original format, Mosaic is a solo performance that takes us fully into the writer’s life behind and beyond their songs.
“Not Yet” is a stand-alone song for Ruth, not explicitly connected with any show. Accordingly, Stitt approached the song as such. Stand-alones, she says, “are meant to be little one-act plays, fully contained.” So what’s this little one-act about?
Part I Am Song, Part Conditional Love Song, “Not Yet” is sung by “a coy young woman playing hard-to-get with a boy”—not unusual in musical theatre. True to tradition, the narrator tells our unseen suitor how she would behave if she were in love with him, but she’s not in love with him…yet: “I’ll surrender everything in time/You’ll be my reason and my rhyme/You’ll know my pride; you’ll know my shame/But not yet.”
While a Conditional Love Song in the R&H mold justifies a show-stopping duet for the couple in Act One, “Not Yet” is neither a duet, nor part of a two-act musical. Why hesitate to commit if this is the whole show? Stitt (or Ruth) uses Conditional Love Song elements to reveal something about the narrator’s character. The narrator in “Not Yet” isn’t playing coy for purely flirtatious reasons. It’s self-preservation; she doesn’t like falling in love so fast. The key is in the last lyric: “I don’t have a problem with the plan/But if it turns out you’re the man/Who fades as fast he began/I don’t want to forget/What I felt when we met.”
Our narrator admits to a deep attraction, something no one does in a Conditional Love Song. Because this is really an I Am Song about the narrator. She is not someone who sees “a vision all in white” and a whirlwind romance. She needs years to know a person, and she’s only just figured out who she is. Her hesitation in “Not Yet” is her way of weeding out those who aren’t interested in the long haul.
It works perfectly as a stand-alone song about that character, composed by Ruth, yet because it’s placed within a show about Ruth, “Not Yet” also becomes something else. This is common in musical theatre—no song is just a song, even if it’s a stand-alone within its universe. These numbers often trade on irony—just look at everything performed at the Kit Kat Klub in Cabaret.
My favorite example is “Good Thing Going” from Merrily We Roll Along. Much like “Not Yet” is for Ruth, “Good Thing Going” is Frank and Charley’s big hit, which overshadows their other ambitions and eventually tears the songwriting team apart. It’s a breakup song, and the lyrics are as generic as you get for Sondheim. There’s hardly any specific imagery or detail about what this “good thing” was. Yet the song works because of how it’s used in Merrily.
At this point in the show, we are aware that Frank loses both Charley and his first wife, Beth. In this scene, we see all three at a party, but with cracks beginning to show. Frank pressures Charley into playing the song to get them a job writing a show Charley has no interest in, at Gussie’s—the woman Frank leaves Beth for—behest. This action sets into motion the resentment and heartache that ultimately dooms each relationship, and because we know the outcome, there’s added tragedy to a wistful lyric like, “But still I say/It could have kept on growing/Instead of just kept on/We had a good thing going/Going, gone.”
Early on in Mosaic, Ruth hammily but enthusiastically performs “Not Yet” for her video blog. The audience later learns that the blog is intended for Ruth’s unborn child, an autobiography from a mother who might not live long enough to sing her big hit in person. As Stitt points out, “[Not Yet] means something totally different when you’re a decade older and you’re pregnant and you have cancer.”
If we may identify Ruth with the “Not Yet” narrator, Ruth might be regretting the cautious life approach that seemed so triumphant in her song, especially when time turns from being limitless to limited. New meaning is also given to the song’s climactic musical moment (“I want you to know me”) when we consider that Ruth includes this in a potentially posthumous video for her child.
In my never-ending meditation on musical theatre and pop music, I realized that musical theatre songs—especially stand-alones—move us from point A to point B, lyrically and musically. The driving, rhythmic piano in “Not Yet” demonstrates that things are progressing too fast for the narrator, who fights against the expectation of a swelling declaration with restraint. It’s only after we reach “I want you to know me” that we build up to belting, demonstrating the narrator’s resolve, while the song’s forward motion slows down on the key line, “I don’t want to forget what I felt when we met.” Lots of modern pop songs can tell a complete story lyrically, but they hardly ever go anywhere musically. Perhaps we’re really better off not writing for the radio.