Filichia Features: A Significant Stephen Schwartz Milestone

Filichia Features: A Significant Stephen Schwartz Milestone

By Peter Filichia on September 19, 2019

Did you notice Stephen Schwartz's most recent illustrious achievement?

To fully appreciate it, we must return to his first hit. Godspell opened off-Broadway in 1971 and remained there until 1976, playing 2,124 performances. It was the longest-running American musical originally produced for off-Broadway aside from, of course, The Fantasticks.

Godspell didn't close because not enough people were buying tickets. On the contrary, it was doing so well that the producers moved it to Broadway nine days later, believing that it could flourish there.

Indeed it did, racking up 527 more performances. Thus, the very grand total for Godspell was 2,651 performances.

When it closed in September of 1977, Schwartz had had two additional Broadway credits. In 1972, Pippin opened and stayed around until its 1,944th performance. Thus, it became the seventh-longest-running book musical in the entire history of Broadway - and brought Schwartz's Broadway total to 4,595 performances.

But wait, as those TV ads like to say: there's more. When both of those left Broadway, Schwartz still had another musical on the Main Stem boards: The Magic Show.

This was a vehicle for Doug Henning, a magician of spectacular skills. Two of Godspell's producers had seen him perform and were so impressed that they envisioned a possible musical. After all, Broadway had never seen one centered on magic; perhaps their songwriting wunderkind Stephen Schwartz could do the trick.

Alas, Henning couldn't much sing or dance (or, while we're at it, act). As Schwartz once told me, "This wasn't the case of writing for a star, but writing around a star."

Despite that drawback, Schwartz came up with a winning score that included "West End Avenue" which was often heard in New York's finest cabarets in the '70s. And yet, the musical's hit song wasn't included when The Magic Show was made into a movie.

If you're saying "A movie?! That would seem to defeat the whole purpose of a magic show. How could we be sure that that fabulous disappearing act didn't take place after Take 23?

For the record, the film began with the legend "All the magical effects and illusions seen in this motion picture were filmed in front of a live audience."

(As opposed to a dead one?)

It concluded with "No trick photography or special editing has been used to modify in any way the illusions performed in this film."

(We'll take them at their word.)

The movie wasn't a hit, but, my, the stage show was at 1,920 performances - making it the ninth-longest-running book musical in Broadway history. Only South Pacific came between it and Pippin.

At that point, Schwartz could boast of having Broadway and off-Broadway musicals that had run 6,515 times.

Into every life a little rain must fall, and Schwartz endured a few theatrical tsunamis. The Baker's Wife, a 1976 musical didn't even have one Broadway preview, for it closed in Washington. Two years later, Working could only muster 24 performances and eight years after that Rags ran only one-sixth as long: four performances.

In the ensuing years, all three have received many regional and community theater productions and will continue to do so. But these three could only up Schwartz's Broadway total to 6,539 performances.

Aside from having two of his Pippin songs in the 1999 Fosse revue, Schwartz wouldn't be represented on Broadway for another 17 years.

(More on that show later.)

Don't cry for Steve, Argentina or any other country. In 1996, Schwartz's lyrics for Pocahontas got him two Oscars; three years later, he landed one for his lyrics and music for "When You Believe" from The Prince of Egypt.

And while of course Schwartz is glad to have these Hollywood honors (and three additional nominations for his work on Enchanted) he really is a Broadway baby. We all knew he'd like to return to The Street and have a smash.

Enter that musical that opened in 2003, 17 years after the shuttering of Rags - a show that hasn't yet closed.


But here's the thing: Schwartz's six Broadway musicals - including those three smashes -- combined ran fewer performances than Wicked, which this summer surpassed 6,600 performances.

Oh, wait. There's one other thing. Seventeen months before Godspell saw the lights of off-Broadway, Schwartz wrote the title song for Butterflies Are Free, the smash-hit comedy that ran 1,128 performances. So if we're going to include all original productions that have sported Schwartz's name, Wicked will have to run nearly three more years.

And you know it will. It may even be here for good.

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . He can be heard most weeks of the year on

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