Filichia Features: A Second Look at Stephen Schwartz

Filichia Features: A Second Look at Stephen Schwartz

By Peter Filichia on November 02, 2018

The problem with writing a biography of a man who's still alive is that he may still achieve more after the book's release.

Stephen Schwartz has done just that, so Carol de Giere had to write a new edition of her ten-year old Defying Gravity to reflect all that the composer-lyricist has accomplished in the last decade.

Schwartz was elected to The Theatre Hall of Fame and wrote Schikaneder, a musical about an 18th century impresario that debuted in Austria in 2016. He saw The Hunchback of Notre Dame go from screen to stage, too.

In case you haven't seen one of Hunchback's regional productions, de Giere informs that the musical is closer to Victor Hugo's novel and darker than the animated feature. For one thing, Frollo had been Minister of Justice ("to sidestep religious issues") but now he's back to being "a supposed holy member of the clergy."

See how the 2000 TV-film Gepetto has morphed into the stage show My Son Pinocchio. Discover why the order of "Fathers and Sons" and "Cleaning Women" in Working had to be changed - and how Lin-Manuel (Hamilton) Miranda helped the show, too.

Wicked has increasingly achieved in 10 years, too. Virtually each of its 4,000-plus performances has sold out, so de Giere has more to add. She discloses a mistake that one performer made when recording Wicked's original cast album as well as the marriage between an Elphaba and a Fiyero which has not turned out to be a mistake.

De Giere doesn't list the hundred or so cities where the smash-hit has since played, but she does list all 15 countries where it's been popu-lar. How eerie, though, to hear that in Finland there was "more of a sense of a totalitarian regime" where The Wizard was made to look like a young Joseph Stalin.

What's more fun is learning that the best synonym for "Popular" in German is "Heissgeliebt," which means "hotly loved."

Less easy to translate, though, is "For Good." Says Schwartz, "There are very few, if any, languages other than English in which the phrase that means 'for better' also means 'forever.'"

Schwartz says "In some ways, Godspell and Wicked feel to me like bookends, in that each of them transcended hit status to become cultural phenomena, and each totally changed my life."

Such words seem to be right out of a retirement speech; in this case, they're not. Schwartz is reworking Rags, which in 1986 played fewer performances (four) than the number of Tony nominations it received (five). The story of immigrants finding that America's streets weren't paved with gold (and would need to be paved by them) may wend its way back to Broadway.

The Prince of Egypt , which in 1999 landed Schwartz his third Oscar (for "When You Believe"), may see the light of stage, too. "We're trying to be more even-handed in terms of the Hebrews and Egyptians, and not do 'good guys and bad guys … we've been joking among ourselves that we're doing Wicked for boys."

Look for a movie musical about Hans Christian Andersen, too.

De Giere gives us additional glimpses into how Schwartz works. "Sometimes when I'm working on the music for a song," he says, "I'll hit a wrong note, one I didn't intend. As often as not, that 'wrong' note becomes my favorite and remains part of the song." Learn also why he believes that "deadlines are your friends."

The author has expanded on Schwarz's childhood and has added a delicious pull-quote. "I used to go to the library and take out scripts for musicals I hadn't seen," says Schwartz. "I would look at the lyrics and write tunes to them, then go listen to the cast album and hear what the composer had actually done."

Wouldn't you love to hear those collaborations between Schwartz and Hammerstein as well as Lerner and Schwartz?

The book also has a foreword by Alan Menken, who lauds Schwartz for being "the first of our baby-boomer generation of songwriters influenced by the full range of 1960s rock, pop, folk and soul styles to bring our sound and sensibility to Broadway."

But Menken also reveals that during Schwartz's less successful '80s "he had decided to return to school to do post-graduate studies at New York University."

Aren't we all glad that he instead gravitated to the university named Shiz?

And with all he's doing, look forward to de Giere's third edition of Defying Gravity in 2028. In the meantime, go here for this one.

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