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Stephen Schwartz: Career Updates 2004 to 2005

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  • Introduction
  • Quarterly updates CONTINUED. These updates from 2004-2005 were written by Stephen Schwartz about his most recent projects. He writes about the Wicked cast album, and his work on The Baker's Wife, My Fairy Tale, Captain Louie, Bernstein's Mass lyrics updates, and more.

Stephen Schwartz Updates The Schwartz Scene Archive 2004 - 2005

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Joseph Stein and Stephen Schwartz

Photo: Stephen Schwartz (right) with his collaborator for The Baker's Wife and Rags, Joseph Stein. (Photo by Terence de Giere).

Introduction by Carol de Giere, The Schwartz Scene editor

This website page continues the archives of "Updates" that Stephen Schwartz wrote for the quarterly issues of The Schwartz Scene, a fan newsletter that I created while I was writing the biography Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked.

During the 2004 to 2005 period, Stephen Schwartz completed revisions for The Baker's Wife for the Paper Mill Playhouse production. He also worked on the My Fairy Tale production in Denmark and his family musical Captain Louie, He continued to be involved in casting decisions for Wicked.

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Updates for The Schwartz Scene

Stephen Schwartz

14. Stephen Schwartz's Update, Winter 2004

Dear Friends: As most of you know, October 2003 was a big month for the Schwartzes. First, on October 15th, Scott's Broadway solo- directing debut, GOLDA'S BALCONY, opened at the Helen Hayes Theatre. And then fifteen days later, WICKED, my first Broadway show in almost twenty years, began its run at the Gershwin. As you can imagine, it was a tense month! But all has ended happily, it seems. Scott and I have been trying to find out if there are any other instances of two members of the same family having separate Broadway shows open in the same month. We haven't been able to find a precedent; if any of you know of one, I'd be interested to learn of it. It is still too early for me to be ready to declare WICKED a hit -- we'll have to see how the box office holds up through these difficult winter months. But so far, all signs are encouraging.

It was quite a journey after our San Francisco try-out to arrive at this destination. The plan had always been to shut down for a couple of months after the try-out engagement, so all the creative parties could have time for reconsideration based on what we had learned, and then for making revisions. It turned out to be a wise decision, though it was expensive. As it was, Winnie (Holzman, the book writer) and I were rewriting practically up to the first day of rehearsal for New York.

Our main goal was to sharpen and clarify our central character, Elphaba, and the journey she takes. Winnie rewrote much of her dialogue, and while I didn't write any new songs for her, I adjusted lyrics and added several intros to existing songs (such as the "I'm limited" intro to "For Good"), which had the double boon of amplifying her character and making the score more motific. I did write one new song, for Fiyero, replacing "Which Way's the Party", which hadn't seemed to work in context in San Francisco, with "Dancing Through Life", which allows the character to state more clearly the philosophy of life with which he begins the journey he takes in the play. Even with the advantage of hindsight and distance, I remain confident that the changes we made were all for the better and that the New York show is significantly improved from the San Francisco version.

Wicked Defying GravityApropos of Elphaba's songs: I have been asked if the sort of wordless battle-cry with which she ends "Defying Gravity" was written by me or something that Idina improvised in rehearsal. It was always part of the song, though of course Idina made it her own and adjusted it to her voice and taste. But it was conceived from the first writing of the song to be the end of the first act, as it remains today.

Doing the Wicked cast album following our opening on Broadway was fun for me. I always enjoy being in the recording studio; it probably appeals to the control-freak in me. In this instance, too, I was blessed with a superb recording engineer, Frank Filipetti, who is one of the best I have ever worked with. In addition, each of the principal cast members really stepped up with their solos, so that I feel we were able to capture each performance at its best. The only slight drawback was the necessity to have the CD ready for release in time for Christmas, which led to a few very late nights mixing. In fact, the last night, I left the studio at 4AM, thinking I would walk back to my apartment through the empty streets of New York, only to find the streets bustling with people! I guess that's why they call it "the city that never sleeps".

I decided not to include a story synopsis as part of the album package, so as not to give away any of the plot twists and surprises. But I tried to have the album tell a cogent and satisfying story nonetheless, and I hope you find that it does.

Now I have been enjoying a couple of months of being a Gentleman of Leisure -- well, semi-Leisure anyway. I am working on getting the music prepared for the vocal selections book, and I also have my ASCAP workshop in LA this month and next. Then in March, I will be heading to Palo Alto to work on the incidental music for Scott's play MY ANTONIA, which is being presented by TheatreWorks out there. This is a piece I have always loved, and I admit to having exercised my fatherly prerogative a little bit to get to write the incidental music.

I want to close by thanking you all for the lovely Emails I have received about WICKED, both as a show and cast album, and to tell you how much I appreciate your continuing support.

Have a great winter, Stephen

15. Stephen Schwartz Update, Spring 2004

The Editor's Notes:

Stephen asked me to extend his apology, as he is not able to contribute to this issue. "I am so swamped I have not been able to write a cogent update and I will do so once May Madness (the Broadway equivalent of the NCAA basketball tournament) is over."

Over the past months since WICKED opened, Stephen has stayed busy with activities like WICKED Songbook preparation, directing ASCAP workshops around the U.S., giving master classes at Kent University, speaking at a Leonard Bernstein Symposium, performing in concerts, and working on MY ANTONIA. Both Stephen Schwartz and Michael Cole traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the professional production of CHILDREN OF EDEN at Ford's Theatre.

I'm including an answer he offered during a symposium I attended:

Schwartz advises "follow your bliss" in a theatre Q and A session

Question: At a recent theatre symposium in New York City, during the question/answer section, Stephen Schwartz responded to a question from a college student. The student said she was having doubts about theatre as a career choice because she had heard countless times how difficult the business is. She asked for advice.

Answer from Stephen Schwartz: I'm kind of a "follow your bliss" believer. I think that if you go after what you want and what your passion is, that even if you don't wind up doing exactly what you thought you were going to do at your age, it will take you somewhere that you're glad to be. If you have to make certain practical choices, let's say you start out to be a writer and you discover that that's too tough or you don't have the affinity for it that you thought you did but you wind up being an agent or producer, you stay in the area that you love and you find out what part of that area is right for you.

What I think happens for people is that knowing how tough the business is, they get afraid ever to start at all. And so early on they make some sort of other choice that they don't actually really want to do because it's the practical thing to do, because it's the sensible thing to do, because it's the thing that will make their parents more comfortable. And then they wind up not being so happy about where they end up in their lives. I've seen that a lot. I guess what I feel is that if this is where your heart is, then I always encourage people to go for it, because it will take you somewhere.

Everything is challenging. Everything is tough. Life is tough. So why not be challenged by the thing that you love, rather than by boredom or disappointment, or by trying to get yourself out of bed in the morning? I mean, you might as well have other challenges that are closer to your heart.

16. Stephen Schwartz's Update, Summer 2004

I write this to you in the midst of vacation, the first real vacation I've had in over a dozen years, basically since I first began working on the Disney animated movies. Projects were always overlapping, deadlines an ever-present fact of life, so that even when traveling, there was always some song I was working on for some big project I was in the midst of. This past year, even after WICKED opened, there were many ancillary responsibilities, some of them pleasurable (recording the cast album, preparing the vocal selections book), some not (the grueling and irritating "awards season").

And then, suddenly, on June 7th, it was over. And I was free. Over a month later, I'm still getting used to how good it feels. The majority of my days have consisted of tennis, swimming, reading in the sun, and hanging out with friends. Oh, and of course, a lot of eating!

This is not of course to say that I have been doing no work whatsoever. One enjoyable assignment I gave myself arose when I learned of the upcoming performance of the at the Hollywood Bowl next month. As I contemplated the recent increase in the number of performances of MASS in America, it occurred to me that I could improve the lyrics, originally written so hastily and when I was so much younger. So, in consultation with the Bernstein estate, I have rewritten many of the English texts, in the hopes of arriving at a superior version. (I am not, of course, altering so much as a single sixteenth-note of Mr. Bernstein's music.)

Joe Stein and I have also done a little further sprucing up of THE BAKER'S WIFE, preparatory to next year's Paper Mill Playhouse production. Basically, we were very happy with the version done a couple of seasons ago at Goodspeed, but we felt we could still improve the writing of the relationship between the characters of Genevieve and Dominique. So Joe did some scene revisions, and I wrote some new lyrics (yet again) for "Proud Lady". Again, not too much work, but gratifying.

As many of you know, WICKED has now run long enough that some of our principle actors have left us, but excellent replacements have taken over. This led to another interesting and fun assignment -- I have slightly rewritten the Wizard's song, "Wonderful", so that it fits better with our superb new Wizard, George Hearn, who has taken over for Joel Grey. It's always satisfying to me to make those small adjustments so that a role works better for an individual performer, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get to write a bit with the delightful Mr. Hearn.

As to the future, there is one project I have agreed to be part of. It will be a bit of a change of pace for me, and certainly a change of scene. Next year is the bicentennial of the birth of Hans Christian Andersen, and his native Denmark is going all out to celebrate it. Among the ways is the commissioning of a musical theatre piece about Andersen, which will be presented in one of the major theatres in Copenhagen. It turns out that a friend of mine, Philip LaZebnik, who was one of the writers of POCAHONTAS and PRINCE OF EGYPT, now lives in Denmark, and he will be writing the book for this musical. Through Philip, I have been invited to contribute some songs to the show, and I expect to write four or five. I have never been to Scandinavia, so I am really looking forward to spending time there, beginning with a research trip to Denmark at the end of next month. I've even begun trying to learn a little Danish!

Now I realize this may not exactly sound like a vacation, but believe me, it feels like one after the last several years. And in that spirit, I wish you all a great rest-of-the-summer.

Stephen

17. Stephen Schwartz's Update, Fall 2004

EDITOR'S NOTE: Before Stephen Schwartz began his latest "writer hibernation," I invited a group of musicians to help me interview him about the music of WICKED. An article based on that interview, originally included here, has been posted at Wicked Musical Themes.

Stephen is now busy writing songs for the Hans Christian Andersen musical MY FAIRY TALE and attending casting meetings for the WICKED tour, so I couldn't pry him free to write for the newsletter. (I expect he'll write for Issue 18, with news of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and the WICKED TOUR cast.)

18. Stephen Schwartz's Update, Winter 2005

February 10, 2005

I am writing this from Los Angeles, where I am in the midst of my annual ASCAP Musical Theatre workshops (and my annual hiding from winter in the northeast.)

This particular winter in LA has been a lot of fun, because my stay here has coincided with a well-received Reprise production of Pippin, with the amazing Michael Arden reprising his remarkable NY concert performance in the title role, and the well-received LA premiere of my son Scott's production of Golda's Balcony, with the astounding Tovah Feldshuh reprising her award-winning Broadway performance in that title role. So it's been a good winter for Schwartzes in LA.

The first half of this year shapes up as a busy one for me:
The touring company of Wicked starts up in Toronto next month, so I will be spending some time up there, along with my collaborators on the show, trying to ensure the best possible production. Some of you may know that the size of the orchestra has been somewhat reduced for the tour, so getting it to sound as good as the original will obviously be a priority for me. I got a little preview of the touring company when we did some group sales events this past week in San Francisco and here in LA, and I got to hear Stephanie Block sing "The Wizard and I" and Stephanie and Kendra Kassebaum sing "For Good" together. I can confidently predict they're both going to be fantastic.

Then the Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Baker's Wife will be going into rehearsal. I think we have assembled a superb cast for it, and since Paper Mill always presents such beautiful physical productions, I am hopeful it will be a chance for people to see a truly first-rate representation of the show.

In March, I am planning (finally) to record my children's show, Captain Louie, which has never had a recording before. I hope to have the CD available in time for the York Theatre performances planned for May/June.

And somewhere in there, probably late in April, I will be returning to Copenhagen for further work on the Hans Christian Andersen musical [My Fairy Tale] to which I am contributing several musical numbers. Our New York reading went very well, and as these things do, taught us much about the show, providing ideas for improvements and revisions I and my Danish collaborators are now in the process of making. The upcoming April reading in Copenhagen will be in Danish -- at least, the dialogue will; the songs are not due to be translated until they are in their final versions, so that our translator Adam Price, doesn't have to do them twice! I am still working hard to learn enough Danish so as not to be left completely behind. And an extra-added bonus: it looks as if my good friend Andrew Lippa is going to be in Denmark at the same time I am, so we may even do a master class or concert together.

I will be happy finally to take a break this summer, probably starting in June, when I should have time to report on how all of the above went.

Thanks as always for your interest and support, Stephen

19. Stephen Schwartz's Update, Spring 2005

Message from the Editor about why there's no update for this issue:

Stephen Schwartz explained in an email to me February 24th, "Things are extremely hectic, what with CAPTAIN LOUIE casting and preparations for recording it, getting ready to go to Toronto for WICKED, rehearsing with Liz Callaway for our Barbados gig, trying to find time for rewrites on the Andersen piece, and a bunch of things like interviews...."

20. Stephen Schwartz's Update, Summer, 2005

6/29/05

Well, all things considered, it's been a pretty good first half of a year.

I just got back from seeing the two new companies of WICKED. First, I attended the LA opening of the touring company. It was supposed to be a star-studded event, and perhaps it was, though the only movie star I saw was Diane Keaton's hat, which I glimpsed briefly bobbing across the room from me at the crowded after-party. But the performance itself went well (and the party was fun - excellent sushi, of course, it being LA.) Then I headed on to Chicago, for the dress rehearsal and first couple of previews of the spanking new Chicago company. I have to say the show looks absolutely beautiful in the Oriental Theatre - it may be the most suitable venue we've played yet - and the sound is terrific there as well. It's been fascinating to see the three different companies perform the show. Each definitely has its own distinct personality.

The Baker's Wife Paper Mill PlayhouseThis past spring also brought two felicitous productions of old shows of mine. Perhaps most gratifying was the Paper Mill Playhouse production of THE BAKER'S WIFE, beautifully directed by Gordon Greenberg. The gorgeous set was by Anna Louizos (one of Scott's favorite designers), and it really did make you feel as if you were in Provence. The wonderful cast included Lenny Wolpe, funny and touching as the Baker, the gorgeous and glorious-voiced Alice Ripley in the title role, the equally gorgeous and glorious-voiced Max Van Essen as Dominique, and Gay Marshall reprising her spectacular performance from the Goodspeed production as Denise.

I am thrilled, and not a little stunned, to report that the show got great reviews and nightly standing O's. After all these years of Joe Stein and I tinkering away at it, I believe I can safely report that the show actually finally works!

(My son Scott asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life, now that THE BAKER'S WIFE is finally finished.) I don't know if it really is more satisfying to have fixed an initially flawed show than to have gotten it right in the first place, but right now it feels that way.

The other nice production this past spring was the very well-received limited run of my children's show, CAPTAIN LOUIE, at the York Theatre. This is a show that began life twenty years ago as THE TRIP, originally commissioned and directed by Meridee Stein for her First-All-Children's Theatre (with a charming libretto by her husband, Anthony Stein, based on the well-known picture book by Ezra Jack Keats.) The show then was about 35 minutes long, but this new and re-titled version has been expanded to run about an hour.

Prior to the run of the show, I gathered together a bunch of very talented kids, including the absolutely amazing Jimmy Dieffenbach as Louie, to record a CD of the songs. I am extremely pleased with how well it turned out, due in large part to the brilliant orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire (my current conductor on WICKED and arranger of Scott's production of GODSPELL.) There really is no pop style he isn't master of, and I persist in believing he's the best pop keyboard player in New York (well, along with Paul Shaffer, at least.) Anyway, the CAPTAIN LOUIE CD couldn't have turned out better, at least as far as I'm concerned, and it's available from PS Classics, if you're interested.

Meanwhile, preparations continued in Denmark for MIT EVENTYR (MY FAIRY TALE), the Hans Christian Andersen piece to which I am contributing some songs. I was recently in Copenhagen (or more accurately, Gladsaxe, just north of Copenhagen) for a reading of the show - in Danish! It gets going for real in the fall, with performances beginning in October, so I will have more to report about it next update.

Stephen Schwartz discussing Godspell's musicOn my way to Copenhagen, I stopped off in London to see Scott's British production of "tick, tick ... BOOM!", with Neil Patrick Harris terrific as Jonathan Larson (most of you probably know that Larson also wrote RENT and died suddenly shortly before it opened). For some reason, this production, which has been extraordinarily well-reviewed, seemed especially touching to me, perhaps partly because I sat with Al Larson, Jonathan's dad, at the performance I attended, so naturally I cried through the entire show.

I'm heading back out to LA next week, where among other things, I will be singing "For Good" with Lee Lessack at a concert he is doing July 10th to mark the release of his CD of duets, "In Good Company". Since the rest of the bill is made up of far better singers than I, it should be a good evening and a lot of fun. But once I return, I hope to have a real summer - well, half a summer - spending a lot of time reading, playing tennis, swimming, eating (of course), and generally kicking back. And I think I deserve it!

So I wish you all a great summer too, and I will report in again in the fall.

Stephen Schwartz

[Photo of Stephen Schwartz by Glenn Weiss from a Godspell discussion session held 6/13/05.]

"For Good" In Good Company 17 tracks of duets by Lee Lessack and his friends, including he and Stephen Schwartz singing "For Good."

21. Stephen Schwartz's Update, Fall 2005

My Fairy TaleI write this from the Four Seasons Hotel in Prague, where I have been staying while recording some of the tracks for an upcoming show about Hans Christian Andersen which will be beginning previews at the Gladsaxe Teater just north of Copenhagen later this month. I have contributed six songs and several reprises to the show, which is part of the bicentennial celebration of Andersen's birth taking place in Denmark this year.

The show is called MIT EVENTYR ("My Fairy Tale"), and while a little difficult to summarize in one sentence, is essentially a fantastical journey into the mind of Andersen as he struggles to reconcile his desire to be accepted by the Danish intelligentsia of his day by writing more classical and intellectual material and his natural inclination to write his strange and initially unfashionable fairy tales. It involves him confronting several of the characters from his stories in a somewhat "Alice in Wonderland"-like fashion. (I told you it was difficult to describe.)

They are only three weeks into rehearsal, but at the run through I saw at the end of last week, I was very impressed with the cast and the highly imaginative staging. There is a young lady named Louise Fribo who plays Jenny Lind and several of the female characters in Andersen's stories who I believe would be a big star in American theatre -- she is a major triple threat, who can act, both movingly and comically, dance, and has both a strong belt voice and an amazing soprano, sort of like Kristin Chenoweth though with a very different type of persona. And the rest of the cast seems to me very strong as well. (Of course, the show is in Danish, and although I have learned a little of the language, I can't speak it well to judge nuances.)

When this project was offered to me, some months after WICKED opened, I thought it would be a very interesting change of pace for me. After the pressures of a commercial venture like WICKED, I thought it would be different to work with a state-supported not-for-profit European theatre. Plus I had never been to Scandanavia, so it was also a chance to get to know another part of the world. I am happy to report that, so far at least, my hopes for the experience are being realized. It is proving a different kind of experience, and since I very much like both the show and the people I am working with, I've been having a very good time up till now.

But what, you may well ask, does that have to do with recording sessions in Prague? Well, this would not be permissible under American union rules, but because the Gladsaxe Teater is too small to accommodate an orchestra playing live, they are using a small combo in combination with MIDI programming, enhanced in certain places by pre-recorded tracks using a large symphony orchestra. It is these tracks that we have been recording with an orchestra in Prague (the orchestrators, who are Danish film composers, have frequently recorded film scores here and so know the set-up and personnel.) How (and if) this will all come together for the show remains to be seen, but it is certainly proving an interesting process.

By the time I file my next Quarterly report, I will know how the show turned out, so I guess the best way to end this one is with that old comic book standby: "To be continued..."

Stephen Schwartz, Prague, October 5, 2005

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