FLASH FRIDAY: A Stephen Schwartz Salute - From GODSPELL To WICKED
This week we are shining our brightest of spotlights on one of the most successful composers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries - thanks in no small part to his classic scores for GODSPELL, PIPPIN and WICKED - who is also known for his extensive, multi-Oscar-winning movie work - lyrics for POCAHANTAS and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME; music and lyrics for THE PRINCE OF EGYPT - yet, to many Broadway babies, Stephen Schwartz is beloved most of all for his lesser-known scores that perhaps contain his richest material of all - THE BAKER'S WIFE and CHILDREN OF EDEN topping the list. While GODSPELL, PIPPIN and THE MAGIC SHOW all ran concurrently on Broadway in the mid-1970s when Schwartz was still only in his twenties, the 1980s proved to be far less frugal with a string of unsuccessful ventures that nevertheless possessed many compositional charms that have since become hallmarks of his work - look no further than WORKING's intellectual and moving ballad "Fathers & Sons"; or, better yet, the near-indescribable power of the subtly pop-influenced "Meadowlark" in the otherwise Gallic score of THE BAKER'S WIFE. While his considerable commercial success was partially due in no small part to his partnership with master animated musical tunesmith Alan Menken working on the songs for POCAHANTAS and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, Schwartz provided one of the most memorable and epic animated film scores of all-time with his solo Oscar-winning work on THE PRINCE OF EGYPT for DreamWorks - nabbing a Best Song Oscar for the hit Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey duet "When You Believe" (sung by Michele Pfeiffer in the context of the film itself). Nevertheless, onstage, the 1990s proved to be less fruitful for Schwartz, especially with his stunning work on the immensely impressive score for CHILDREN OF EDEN going virtually unnoticed as the show stumbled to a quick closure in the West End (although the Papermill Playhouse staged it more successfully later in the decade). THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME found new life in Germany thanks to a visually arresting production directed by James Lapine, as well as a more rounded-out score with a number of new compositions added to the mix of the gothic music by Menken with lyrics by Schwartz. Of course, the biggest success of Schwartz's career was still yet to come: WICKED may have come to New York with a whimper originally, but it has roarEd Louder than the MGM lion himself for the last eight years on Broadway - and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. WICKED is the hit of the century so far, no question, and, considering Stephen Schwartz already has three bonafide hits on his resume thanks to Bob Fosse's multi-Tony Award-winning original mounting of PIPPIN, along with the original productions of GODSPELL and THE MAGIC SHOW, celebrating his career with a fresh new production of his first musical, GODSPELL - now at the Circle In The Square - seems to be the perfect way to honor one of Broadway's brightest talents. So, that makes two on Broadway... but, what will be the third to mark the forty year anniversary of his record? Perhaps that is an answer we will find inside! Prepare ye the way of Stephen Schwartz!
So, GODSPELL to PIPPIN to WICKED and beyond, let's take a trip through the highlights of Stephen Schwartz's career - with some help from the likes of Raul Esparza, Whitney Houston, Aaron Tveit, Kerry Ellis, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Matthew Morrison, Vanessa Williams, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Joel Grey, Chita Rivera and many, many more!
Brothers and Sisters, believers and non-believers, let us ceremoniously kick off our celebration - complete with many of the most sensational moments from Stephen Schwartz's starry career - with a video blog the songwriter posted himself just this week discussing the creation of GODSPELL and his enthusiasm for the new revival that just began previews last night!
Beginning our look back at the roots of Stephen Schwartz's considerable success, here is the original cast of GODSPELL, led by Robin Lamont, performing "All Good Gifts" on THE TODAY SHOW, then hosted by Barbara Walters, in this clip from the early 1970s - followed by an interesting and controversy-based interview.
Now, check out members of the original cast - David Haskell, Stephen Nathan, Peggy Gordon and Jeff Mylett included -performing the show at the 10th anniversary celebration, singing "Save The People".
Moving to the movie version of the Biblically-themed musical, here is one of GODSPELL's most famous and beloved songs performed in the film in its own oddly enjoyable and undeniably idiosyncratic way by Victor Garber and the film cast - with some truly rockin' and far-out orchestrations - "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord".
Now, here is GODSPELL's most well-known song of all - the international smash hit song "Day By Day" as performed in the film version of the musical.
What song are you looking forward to seeing born again most of all in the new revival production? The score has a heavenly assortment of gems in anyone's estimation, that's for sure!
Bob Fosse's oh-so-famous white-gloved fingers can be felt all over nearly every inch of PIPPIN as observed in its video version, the original Broadway production and even in most productions put up across the country to this very day, nearly forty years after the show's first preview out of town. While John Rubinstein was excellent by many accounts in the original and William Katt was charismatic enough in the video, no actor has quite done everything that can be done with the role and this show more than any other in the American classic musicals canon screams out for a revival post-haste - especially with actors so amply able to take on the two titanic lead roles of Pippin and The Leading Player (originally played to Tony-winning perfection by Fosse veteran Ben Vereen). Believe it or not, this musical - just like GODSPELL which only returned to Broadway this week for the very first time in its forty-year-plus history - has never been revived! Check out some of the many, many reasons to fall in love with Schwartz's pop and folk-influenced score in our countdown!
To give some background on the pop culture prevalence of PIPPIN: Back in the 1970s, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 themselves covered two of PIPPIN's biggest breakout songs (if you can even remember or even know what those are when it comes to musical theatre material; I barely do) - "Corner Of The Sky" and "Morning Glow". The Supremes did their own take on the ballad "I Guess I'll Miss The Man", as well. While PIPPIN onstage is unmistakably Fosse - from the glowing gloves of "Magic To Do" to the final Brechtian black comedy black-out (in the original) - the songs of the show hold their own persuasive power and act as an early example of Schwartz's deft ability to weave the sounds of the moment - whether it be pop, funk, country or rock - and marry that with the great tradition of musical theatre in an inventive and entertaining way. Even secondary songs in this score have a way of, well, spreading a little sunshine around! See for yourself the magic hold of PIPPIN below with some of my personal favorite songs and clips.
"Magic To Do"
"War Is A Science"
"On The Right Track"
"Spread A Little Sunshine"
Next, here is an official bid for Raul Esparza to take on the central role of the Leading Player some day soon - see and hear him singing a frustratingly short clip of Pippin's tremendous anthem "Morning Glow" as only he can right here. The only word that comes to mind is an all-caps WOW!
Plus, here is Raul taking on The Leading Player's "Simple Joys" at a BROADWAY'S LEADING MEN concert. Simply perfect! But, who to cast as Pippin?
Last in the PIPPIN portion of our celebration, check out Michael Jackson leading the Jackson 5 in a live performance of "Corner Of The Sky" from 1972.
So, which of the above PIPPIN performance pieces - shall we say - burns the brightest of all for you? PIPPIN is positively packed with showstoppers and that is partly a credit to Schwartz's entertaining score, but, in equal measure, the Fosse influence. We shall hopefully soon see how well PIPPIN holds up and fellow Schartz fans should keep their jazz hands crossed for a revival!
POCAHANTAS, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT & Beyond
Next up in our look at the many sides of Stephen Schwartz's work over his impressive forty year career, we are going to view some of the classic music videos for Schwartz's most successful and beloved film projects, from POCAHANTAS to THE PRINCE OF EGYPT to THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and beyond!
Here is Vanessa Williams singing the Oscar-winning "Colors Of The Wind" from POCAHANTAS.
Next, we have Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey singing "When You Believe" from THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, which won Schwartz his first solo Best Song Oscar.
Last, check out this HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME clip: the score's most famous breakout ballad, "Out There".
Which Stephen Schwartz movie theme do you hold a particular preference for, especially with so many great selections to choose from? The above clips are just the tip of the iceberg as far as his movie scores go - a mere peek through heaven's eyes, shall we say. Be sure to seek out more! There are many, many riches to unearth in his vast catalogue of songs and scores - Hollywood, Broadway and otherwise!
What could possibly be said about WICKED that has not already been said by its countless fans worldwide, its vocal critics, its legions of web devotees or even myself in the above introduction? An entertainment behemoth the likes of WICKED only comes along once every decade or so - the 1980s had CATS and PHANTOM and LES MIZ, the 90s had RENT and the 2000s undoubtedly have WICKED standing above all others as far as worldwide success and notoriety is concerned. BroadwayWorld was thrilled to host the World Premiere of a song from WICKED as performed on the Season Two Finale of GLEE last year by Lea Michele and Chris Colfer and that is just one of the many examples of the impact that WICKED has had on pop culture and on a generation of theatergoers. To hear that exclusive world premiere of "For Good" from WICKED again, go to the article here!
Now, kicking off the WICKED portion of our discussion, check out original cast members - and that year's Tony-winner for Best Actress - Idina Menzel, alongside Kristin Chenoweth (a nominee), performing WICKED's biggest hit song, "Defying Gravity", at the 2004 Tony Awards - as introduced by the Wizard himself, Oscar- and Tony-winner Joel Grey!
Next, here is Idina Menzel's performance of "Defying Gravity" with the original West End cast of WICKED at the 2006 Royal Variety Performance.
Last in the trio, here is the first TV performance from WICKED, with Idina Menzel singing a slightly altered solo with chorus version of "Defying Gravity" on THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, taped while the show was still in previews on Broadway.
So, having seen Idina do all three, which version do you prefer?
Now, having had three doses of "Defying Gravity", here is Glinda's most beloved song, the sprightly and slightly sardonic "Popular", performed by Kristin Chenoweth on THE TODAY SHOW in 2004.
Following that, here we have Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel being interviewed by Katie Couric on THE TODAY SHOW following Chenoweth's performance of "Popular" and talking about their roles in the witchy OZ-themed musical long before it was the worldwide sensation that it is today.
As a special WICKED-themed bonus, here is WICKED's fiery duet - "As Long As You're Mine" - performed by eventual AMERICAN IDOL superstar Adam Lambert.
Finally, here is perhaps my personal favorite Stephen Schwartz song of all, "In Whatever Time We Have" from CHILDREN OF EDEN, performed here particularly magnetically by Matthew Morrison and Shoshanna Bean. Which Stephen Schwartz song speaks most eloquently and deeply to you?
For Good & Forever
With a history as rich and diverse as this one unquestionably is - the showbiz pizzazz and funkiness of PIPPIN to the rock riffs and epic atmosphere of WICKED to the contemporary adaptability of the timeless tunes of GODSPELL - a feature that the new revival production currently in previews supposedly amps up to a considerable extent - Stephen Schwartz has displayed a mastery of a multitude of styles and is one of the only contemporary Broadway composers to write consistently fascinating and unique new scores every few years for us to enjoy. The future looks quite bright - and green!
After taking this journey, what Stephen Schwartz score appears to be your personal favorite? What show can you not wait to see on Broadway sometime soon, whether back again or for the very first time - THE BAKER'S WIFE? CHILDREN OF EDEN? THE MAGIC SHOW? WORKING? PIPPIN? One thing is for sure: the time is right for a Stephen Schwartz revival of epic proportions and let's hope GODSPELL sets it off in a grand manner and another Schwartz show can join it and WICKED on the Great White Way!
Yes, what Schwartz musical do you think should complete the triptych to match his 1970s record of three simultaneous Broadway shows with WICKED and, now, GODSPELL back on the boards? Time will tell - in whatever time we have. For as long as we are living, a Stephen Schwartz show certainly seems as if it will be playing somewhere in the universe - and it will probably be WICKED.