Stephen Schwartz: The Highs and Lows
Stephen Schwartz, the composer and lyricist of Wicked, has been a prominent fixture in the musical theatre world for over forty years, writing the music and lyrics for Godspell when he was just 23 years old.
Godspell opened off-Broadway in 1971 and proved to be a palpable hit, running for a full five years before transferring to Broadway, where it ran for an additional year. Famous for the song, ‘Day By Day’, it is based on the Gospel of Matthew and tells the story of Jesus and his apostles. The play was turned into a film in 1973 and a revival is currently running on Broadway.
Just over a year later, Schwartz struck gold again with Pippin, a musical following the adventures of Charlemagne’s son in the Middle Ages. Directed by renowned choreographer, Bob Fosse, the original production ran for nearly five years and successfully transferred to the West End. A revival opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London on 22 November, 2011 to lukewarm reviews.
In 1976, he wrote the music and lyrics for The Baker’s Wife, a tale of French provincial life, which failed to reach Broadway after an out-of-town tryout. A cast recording of the show became a cult classic, and in 1990, Trevor Nunn mounted a production in the West End. This, too, proved to be a flop, and it closed after just 56 performances.
Schwartz returned to the Bible again with Children of Eden, for which he wrote the music in 1991. Commissioned by the RSC, the play opened in the West End to poor reviews and closed after less than three months. A revised version of the musical was mounted at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 1997, but again, this production failed to transfer to Broadway. A one-night-only concert version is planned for London’s West End on 22 January, 2012 to benefit research and treatment of Crohn’s disease.
After failing to achieve the critical and commercial success of his previous hits, Schwartz set sights on the film industry, teaming up with composer Alan Menken on Pocahontas, which won him Oscars for Best Score and Best Song for “Colours of the Wind”. They joined forces again on another Disney film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Schwartz then worked with Hans Zimmer on The Prince of Egypt, winning a third Academy Award for “When You Believe”. Released by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, the song was a hit across the globe and later became a Christmas number one single for X Factor winner, Leon Jackson.
In 2003, Schwartz returned to Broadway for the first time in over 25 years, writing the music and lyrics for Wicked, earning a Tony nomination for Best Score. The production was a huge hit, regularly breaking box office records. It is still playing after over 3,000 performances. The West End production opened in 2006, and although it received mixed reviews from critics, audiences have been enchanted, awarding it the Olivier Audience Award for Most Popular Show in 2010.
Most recently, Schwartz worked on a musical revue of his songs entitled Snapshots, which opened in Chicago in September 2011 to poor reviews.
Schwartz is currently in talks to take Wicked to the silver screen, an adaptation that is expected to be released in 2014.