BWW Interviews: Stephen Schwartz, WICKED's Composer, Lyricist
By Rocky Christopher Fajardo
Manila, Philippines, February 6, 2014--For a truly gifted musical theater genius, WICKED's composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz is picture-perfect as the laidback, generous, fun-loving avuncular figure that is the embodiment of all the high-spirited uncles that you've had as a kid growing up. Schwartz, comfortably (and most suitably for the occasion) clad in a black and green sports shirt, dressed-down gray jeans, well-loved sneakers, and seeming much more like the genial "Wizard of Oz" than the green-skinned "Elphaba" (which ironically, he admits, he is more like the latter), was the defining image of easy composure. Ready to bigheartedly answer questions from a select few media representatives, he cheerfully made his entrance onto the plush, intimately-set ambience of the conference room prepared by Concertus Manila and co-sponsor Diamond Hotel Tuesday, February 4.
Looking well-rested, and fresh from his dinner the night before with friends, including fellow musical theater luminary, Tony Award-winning Filipina theater actress, Lea Salonga, Schwartz (a self-confessed morning person), is in a relaxed and unflustered state, even with only three hours left before leaving for his flight back to Los Angeles. With sheer delight, he shares his personal experience of the festive Filipino culture in celebrating town fiestas during his recent trip to see Tagaytay's Taal volcano, South of Manila. Continuing to recount how much he enjoyed seeing the elaborately dressed-up edifices of the town's local structures, he beams with excitement of having an excuse to finally visit the Philippines to be part of the Manila staging of WICKED.
Commending the Australasian touring production for a fantastic job (as he was present to attend a performance of WICKED at the Cultural Center of the Philippines [CCP] last Sunday), he vigorously goes on to say, "It's especially gratifying that I think we were able to bring you a really first-rate production of the show."
Having seen most, if not all members, of this touring company in their shows in Auckland, New Zealand, Schwartz admits that this is one of his favorite companies of WICKED. Praising the strength of the entire cast and production crew, most notably the two female leads Suzie Mathers (Glinda) and Jemma Rix (Elphaba), he also shares his appreciation for the excellent work of Karen Johnson Mortimer as local director for WICKED.
"I was very, very happy with what I saw; you know of course I have some thoughts about maybe little ways to make the sound a bit better, and certain small notes, which is sort of my job. But I have come to see productions in other places where there were a lot more work to do. I felt really good about what I saw here, and the audience was extremely enthusiastic the night I came to see it," he enthuses.
According to Schwartz, the WICKED repertoire we know now took more than three years of careful planning and structuring, which is the expected length of pre-production and actual production for any show of this grand scale.
"Intricate collaborations with friend and colleague, Winnie Holzman, for the book; extensive rehearsals with the musical department; and intensive readings and run-throughs with Broadway's original Glinda and Elphaba, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, respectively, were among the many preparations they had to push through before the finalization of the complete show," Schwartz recalls.