Stephen Schwartz, composer of Godspell and Pippin fame, performed several of his old and new songs in a cabaret gig at NY's Rainbow & Stars, April 27. He'll also bring the show to the Tilles Center on Long Island, N.Y., May 16. For tickets to the Rainbow event ($20 cover, $15 minimum) and information call (212) 632-5000.
The occasion is the release of the songwriter's first solo CD, Reluctant Pilgrim, on Midder Music Records. The recording goes on sale in stores June 15 but will be available at the concert or through Midder Music at (212) 665-0699 / e-mail: email@example.com.
Schwartz also wrote lyrics for the animated Disney films The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas; the latter won him an Oscar. His most recent stage project was Snapshots, conceived by Michael Scheman and David Stern, with a book by Stern. It played at Virginia Stage Company through Nov. 17, 1996.
"I've done concerts before, usually as part of something where people were doing other stuff as well, so I'm a bit nervous," Schwartz told Playbill On Line, April 25. "I had my first rehearsal with my band yesterday. Mostly what I'm doing are new songs from the CD. The CD's guitarist (Jay Condiotti) will be playing at the gig, as is my friend Ann Marie to sing back-up. Percussion and synth will also be at the concert."
Though he grew up playing classical music and listening to Broadway show tunes, Schwartz was also strongly influenced by folk music, because his parents liked it a lot. "I didn't get into late 50s rock, but with the advent of the Motown sound and folk-rock and the Beatles, Mamas and Papas, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro -- all those people -- I think my taste underwent a shift in college that, frankly, remains to this day. I'm not that into show music anymore, though I'm a big fan of Ragtime, which I think is marvelous. For pleasure, however, I listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter or Ani DiFranco. These tastes come out in what I write, even if the structure is more traditionally theatrical because I'm older; I'm not gonna write as if I'm 23 or even 33." Though the cabaret gigs and CD are consuming Schwartz's time, Schwartz's most high-profile work is being done for Disney movies, such as The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Michelle Pfeiffer and Sandra Bullock have been signed to provide voices for the animated musical The Prince of Egypt with Ralph Fiennes and Val Kilmer expected to join the cast of the Schwartz piece as well.
Schwartz, who shared two 1996 Oscars March 25 with Alan Menken for their Pocahontas score, wrote both music and lyrics for the story of Moses, the Biblical leader who guided the Jews out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. The film is expected in Christmas 1998 from DreamWorks, the $1 billion entertainment consortium of Stephen Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.
Schwartz is no stranger to Biblical stories. He is composer/lyricist of Godspell and Children of Eden, and wrote lyrics to Leonard Bernstein's Mass. Secularly, Schwartz also wrote The Magic Show and The Baker's Wife.
In a 1995 interview with Playbill On-Line, Schwartz tried to downplay the notion that he has a particularly spiritual bent in his work. "In every single instance, I didn't initiate those projects," he said. "They've been suggested to me. John-Michael's [Tebelak, librettist of Godspell] work was already in existence. It even already had songs -- by cast members. One stayed in ['By My Side']. Children of Eden was suggested to me by a friend in California, and in the early stages he was working on it. And Prince of Egypt was either Jeffrey Katzenberg or Stephen Spielberg's idea. They basically said 'We want to do that story.' Of course, I like those stories because they're very big, emotionally. So, when they're suggested to me, I like doing them. So I'll take some of the blame."
In his more recent interview, Schwartz said, "I just finished the songs for Egypt. The step-out tune, probably, is "When You Believe," and there's a huge 7-minute opening called "Deliver Us," just recorded in London last week with an orchestra of 120 people and a chorus of 70. It's one of those big, epic animated pieces."
"I'm pretty sure my deal will close this week for a television deal," Schwartz added. "It's for Disney and their new, 2-hour version of Sunday night's "Wonderful World Of Disney," which I grew up with as a child. Each week they'll have a special program for kids and families. I know they're doing a re-do of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Cinderella," and I'm gonna do an original musical for one of those weeks, which should really be fun since I've never done television before. I should know more about that within a week or so."
Schwartz's film & TV commitments have admittedly diverted his attention from theatre projects. "Because I've been so busy, Snapshots has been put on the back burner a bit. It had a successful production at Virginia Stage, though there's still work to be done on it. It's tricky, `cause it's not quite a revue and not quite a musical. I've gotten very busy, though, and the fellows who put it together are busy, too."
As for Children Of Eden, it's about to released "all over everywhere," says Schwartz. "MTI, Music Theatre International is now representing it, and I've been told there'll be upwards of 60 productions on by the end of the year in various regional, college and community theatres. What I have to do now is get all the music written out; there are new orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin, who did Floyd Collins. I don't actually know who's doing the first production, but a day ago I was at Penn State because they were doing the production of it."
"We've had very intense interest in it," said MTI vice-president Carol Edelson. "We sent out 120 offers and 30 productions are actually booked in already. NJ's Paper Mill Playhouse is gonna be doing it, possibly Nov. 4-Dec. 14." Also on tap are AL's Birmingham SummerFest will do it in July. Likely venues include CA's Palo Alto TheatreWorks and FL's Seaside (in Daytona Beach).