Stephen Schwartz joins the SF Gay Men’s Chorus
The four-decade career of Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz can be divided into three distinct chapters. In the 1970s, he was Broadway’s pop music wunderkind with Godspell, Pippin, The Magic Show and The Baker’s Wife. In the 1990s, he was the go-to lyricist for animated and family films, including Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Prince of Egypt, plus 2007’s Enchanted. 2003 ushered in the era of Wicked, the international smash hit musical now being performed in six different languages - with three more translations on the way.
All three chapters of his career will be celebrated when Schwartz joins the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus to present Enchantingly Wicked, An Evening with Stephen Schwartz on March 20 & 21 at Davies Symphony Hall.
Schwartz has been busy overseeing major revivals of Pippin (in London) and Godspell (in New York) and collaborating with Indian composer A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) on an animated Bollywood-style film for DreamWorks. But he took time from a recent studio session to chat with me about the some of the challenges and triumphs of his brilliant career.
Of Godspell’s 40th anniversary Broadway revival, he said: "I like it very much. It’s done in the round, and it’s one of the most imaginative uses of theatre in the round I’ve ever seen. I like the new arrangements, and they’ve really captured the spirit and essence of the show, while including a lot of contemporary references."
The London revival of Pippin, which recently closed, puts an extremely modern, alternate-reality spin on the show. "It’s a really interesting approach," he said. "The whole thing is done like a Second Life computer game, and it works beautifully."
Schwartz hasn’t always been delighted with how directors have staged songs in his shows, in particular Bob Fosse’s original Broadway staging of Pippin. "I didn’t like it at first, and it took me awhile to adjust to Fosse’s vision, especially of the song ’With You.’"
During the most tender, gentle love song in Pippin, Fosse had the lead actor and female dancers engage in a promiscuous, dry-humping orgy. "At first I was taken aback, but now I like it," said Schwartz. "And it became the top wedding song of the 70s.
"Directors have their own visions, and it takes awhile for my original image to become adjusted to their vision. I felt the same way about the staging of ’Popular’ in Wicked, but now I like it very much. There’s a difference between something being different from what you expected, and not working."