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2015 Tony Season and Stephen Schwartz

Congratulations, Stephen Schwartz! Schwartz received an honorary Tony award last night! In light of this recent event, Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked author Carol de Giere has contributed a blog post in honor of the award recipient!

By Carol de Giere, author of Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked (Applause 2008) and The Godspell Experience (Scene 1 Publishing, 2015).

00314791Famed Broadway and film composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Wicked, et. al.) is not short on recognition by awarding agencies. A glass case in his home is filled with golden Grammy trophies, Oscar statuettes, plaques and various other symbols representing the way his achievements have been honored. Some are remembered in photos, like his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition and images from receiving an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree this year at Carnegie Mellon University where he originally received his B.F.A. in 1968.

His new honor this Tony Award season is an unusual one. He receives the 2015 “Isabelle Stevenson Award” (named for the late president of the American Theatre Wing, Isabelle Stevenson). This award is presented annually to a member of the theatre community who has made a substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations.

Although Schwartz received Tony nominations for Godspell, Pippin, Working, Rags, and Wicked, his award from the American Theatre Wing is not for his many achievements but for his years of contributions to help writers around him and for donating his time to important causes. They honor “his commitment to serving artists and fostering new talent through his work with ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop, ASCAP Foundation and helping develop new partnerships as President of the Dramatists Guild,” according to a press statement.

Also, he recently served as President of the Dramatist Guild for six years. In that position he worked “…to strengthen and protect the rights of American dramatists, including battling censorship and piracy and improving the relationship between writers and directors, actors and producers,” the press statement adds.

As I was writing his biography, Defying Gravity, I noticed innumerable situations in which he helped other writers with some aspect of their new musical, especially during the annual workshops at ASCAP that he has led for over twenty years. In addition, he regularly performs for benefit concerts organized by friends. He helped with last fall’s Uprising of Love concert at the Gershwin Theatre to benefit and raise awareness of LGBT people in hostile countries. The list goes on.

His award doesn’t mark any kind of ending. Schwartz, now 67 years old, still has many irons in the fire, including a new stage musical Emanuel and Eleonore, scheduled to open in Vienna in the fall of 2016, a stage musical version of the DreamWorks film The Prince of Egypt, and several movie projects, among other things. He took time to write a Foreword to my new book The Godspell Experience, reflecting on his first major success: writing the score for Godspell at age 23.

An online newsletter The Schwartz Scene follows this artist’s ongoing efforts. http://www.theschwartzscene.com/ 

Carol de Giere, an Interview

Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, Carol de Giere, author of the Stephen Schwartz biography Defying Gravity, joins Patrick for a Wicked-themed episode of The Patrick Phillips Show. This episode has been cut down and reposted on Onstage and Backstage podcast with permission of Patrick Phillips. Visit his site for the full episode, including interview with Schwartz himself.

>>LISTEN HERE<<

Defying Gravity takes readers into the creative world of Broadway and film composer Stephen Schwartz, from writing Godspell‘s score at age 23 through the making of the megahit Wicked. For this first authorized biography, de Giere draws from 80 hours of interviews with Schwartz and over 100 interviews with his colleagues, friends, and family. Her sympathetic yet frank narrative reveals never-before-told stories and explores both Schwartz’s phenomenal hits and expensive flops. The book also includes a series of “Creativity Notes” with insights about artistic life, and more than 200 photographs and illustrations.

Stephen Schwartz: A Creative Force at Age Sixty-Five

Guest Blogger: Carol de Giere is the author of Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked. Today, we are celebrating Stephen Schwartz’s 65th birthday!

Stephen Schwartz 2008 - photograph by Erin Dorso

Stephen Schwartz 2008 – photograph by Erin Dorso

A small upright piano arrived at the home of Stan and Sheila Schwartz on Long Island when their son Stephen was seven years old. It wasn’t long before the boy started goofing off from his piano lessons so he could improvise new tunes. No one imaged his creative “noodling,” as he calls it, would become one of his strategies for writing songs for Broadway and Hollywood, including the megahit musical Wicked.

Now, at age sixty-five, Stephen Schwartz still centers much of his work around his pianos, including his two grand pianos at home in Connecticut and one in his New York City office/condo. While writing scores for musicals, he almost never writes notes on paper as a first step. And even though his lyrics have won awards, when he feels his way into a character’s psychology, he likes to keep his hands on the ivories. “It’s my belief that music has a certain internal emotional logic, and therefore it should rule the song,” he says.

Schwartz’s credits to date include numerous stage musicals, such as the Broadway hits Wicked, Pippin, The Magic Show and Godspell. His movie credit list is not too shabby either, including lyrics for Disney’s Enchanted, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and songs for DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt.

As he marks his sixty-fifth birthday on March 6, 2013, even with his many achievements he still has no desire to retire. After all, one of his collaborators, Joseph Stein, with whom he worked on The Baker’s Wife and Rags, continued working up until his final days at age ninety-eight. Schwartz is currently penning lyrics for a DreamWorks animated feature as well as songs for a Broadway show about Houdini. (To keep up with his activities, subscribe to The Schwartz Scene newsletter.)

While the songwriter keeps busy writing new musicals, he also takes time to help up and coming composers, lyricists, and librettists through his role as Artistic Director for the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop and as President of the Dramatists Guild.

When I was writing his biography, Defying Gravity (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2008), I noticed that Stephen was especially good at talking about his creative process. I decided to include many of his perspectives and tips in a series of “Creativity Notes” so that other writers and fans could enjoy the insights.

For example, one of the challenges that every writer faces is deciding how to work with feedback while maintaining his or her vision for the piece. This is especially critical for success in collaborative arts like musical theatre. As Wicked developed, Schwartz and his collaborator, Winnie Holzman, found it challenging to sort through feedback when everybody around them had opinions. In my Creativity Note about this I included one of Stephen’s reflections about this process: “Ultimately, I think you have to take everything in and understand what in your show is communicating and what’s not—and then write what you think you would like to see, informed, of course, by what you have learned. My experience has taught me that when I write what truly moves, amuses, or interests me, it usually communicates with others.”

As many millions of owners of his cast albums will testify, what Stephen Schwartz writes seems to touch on their own life experience. That’s the magic of creativity at its best.

For more creativity ideas and stories about Schwartz’s creative career, read Defying Gravity and visit the book’s website.

Defying Gravity takes readers into the creative world of Broadway and film composer Stephen Schwartz, from writing Godspell‘s score at age 23 through the making of the megahit Wicked. For this first authorized biography, de Giere draws from 80 hours of interviews with Schwartz and over 100 interviews with his colleagues, friends, and family. Her sympathetic yet frank narrative reveals never-before-told stories and explores both Schwartz’s phenomenal hits and expensive flops. The book also includes a series of “Creativity Notes” with insights about artistic life, and more than 200 photographs and illustrations.

Opening Night of Godspell

Guest Blogger: Carol de Giere, author of Defying Gravity

Godspell opening night final curtain call, with director Danny Goldstein, composer Stephen Schwartz, producer Ken Davenport, and the cast

If any musical merited a buoyant launch this Broadway season, it was the revival of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell. And on November 7, just after 7 pm, it happened. The festivities began as the show’s new cast bounded across the stage and even bounced skyward on the official opening night at Circle on the Square theatre. During the second act’s most energetic number, “We Beseech Thee,” the performers opened trap doors to access mini trampolines built into the stage floor, so they could hop in time to the music. Throughout the evening, the crowd wildly cheered each song and even some of the parable enactments. Hunter Parrish, who plays Jesus and normally announces the intermission, shouted out: “It’s opening night!”

Among those celebrating the show’s opening was Stephen Schwartz, who, forty years ago, wrote the infectious tunes that helped make Godspell so popular. My husband and I were fortunate to be among the 700-plus people present; we found ourselves sitting in the row behind the Schwartz family. I’ve known Stephen since the year 2000, when I starting writing a book about his creative efforts. In 2008, Applause Theatre and Cinema Books published Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked. I’ve since stayed in touch with all things Schwartz so I can write an update in a few years, as well as work on a new book on Godspell.

Author Carol de Giere at the opening night of Godspell on Broadway

For me, the evening’s theme was not just joy, but trust and letting go. I knew how hard the cast and creative team worked during the thirty previews until finally the production was ready. Critics had already witnessed performances over the previous few days and would post their comments after the opening. So for those magical hours, everyone could let go of worries and just enjoy.

To prepare this revival, director Danny Goldstein trusted the source—the forty-year-old script and score—and also reached for ways to make it new. I explored the show’s original development in Defying Gravity, and now found the blend of traditional and innovative to be exciting. I loved hearing the cast enact parables using an amazing array of accents and cultural references, from Lindsay Lohan to Steve Jobs.

To purchase the book, please visit DefyingGravityTheBook.com or applausebooks.com

The previous day I had interviewed the arranger Michael Holland, whom Schwartz had trusted to layer in a fresh sound for this production and future cast album. I knew that the musicians had worked through dozens of changes as they refined the performance before the launch date.

This revival will undoubtedly help a new generation discover the joys of Godspell. Hopefully some of them will want to read about the creative process behind the original production.

For information about Godspell on Broadway, visit my Schwartz site.
Read a free sample chapter of the book.
Visit DefyingGravitytheBook.com

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