BWW Interviews: ENCHANTINGLY WICKED, An Evening With Stephen Schwartz
When the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) decided on this season’s theme, Sensational, it was simply fitting that they contacted Stephen Schwartz to collaborate with them for a performance of some of the composer and lyricist's most sensational hits, ranging from Broadway’s Godspell, Pippin and Wicked to films such as Enchanted, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas. The collaboration will culminate in a two-night only event March 20-21 in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall. Appropriately titled “Enchantingly Wicked,” the show will feature performances by Schwartz and the SFGMC as well as guest appearances by dynamic operatic soprano Melody Moore and San Jose’s The Choral Project. Highlighting the event will be the world premiere of “Testimony,” a moving piece that Schwartz wrote especially for SFGMC from a wonderful source of inspiration.
“I wanted to do something that was based on Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project,” said Schwartz, when asked where the idea for “Testimony” came from. “I strongly believe in that project and think it was sort of a genius conception.” Savage’s project reaches out to LGBT youth via videos of real people sharing their stories and letting them know that it truly does get better after high school. “I got in touch with Dan Savage and the organization and they sent me a lot of their interviews. I wrote almost no words. Pretty much all of the words are taken directly from the interviews and things that people said. I don’t want to give too much away but “Testimony” is a sort of journey by people who started from a point of feeling terrible about who they were to a point of not only acceptance but joy.”
Many of Schwartz’ most powerful works seem to deal with themes of the outcast and those that are misunderstood and bullied. Wicked’s Elphaba is taunted for being green. Hunchback’s Quasimodo, as well as Esmeralda, struggle for acceptance and Pocahontas sings of the need to accept people who are different. But Schwartz is quick to point out that he’s not preaching. “I’m basically telling stories and dealing with characters that I find compelling as honestly as I can,” he says. “I think as a writer, particularly over time, if you have a body of work your point of view can’t help but come through, but I’m not writing out of a social agenda.”
That said, he is unequivocally admiring of those who stand resolutely for change and says of Savage’s work, “The project has already done an enormous amount of good in ways not just specifically related to what they were trying to accomplish but just in general the whole idea of bullying has been brought to the fore.”
Certainly the SFGMC members have been ambassadors for the LGBT community and have been voices for change as well. And, as their website states, “The group of men is also a family of love and support, celebrating our gay pride through musical excellence.”
Standing over 275 members strong, the chorus rose to prominence starting in 1978 and was the world’s first gay-identified choral group, inspiring the formation of an international LGBT choral movement. Sensational is their 34th season of making magical music together. “I think the SFGMC is a wonderful organization and I’ve heard recordings that they’ve done and I think they’re terrific,” said Schwartz with effusive praise. And he’s looking forward to an evening with the other guest performers. “I also know the artistic director from the Choral Project and have worked with them and think they’re great. And Melody Moore, who’s from the bay area, may be the finest soprano in the United States right now. She did my Opera [Séance on a Wet Afternoon] when it was done in New York and she’s going to sing a couple of arias from that and I’m going to play for her.”
"Enchantingly Wicked," promises to be a night of high energy entertainment and, with the world premiere of the musical work “Testimony,” also a poignant and uplifting night. “I liked using the words of the people who contributed to the “It Gets Better Project,” said Schwartz. “So 'Testimony' is quite authentic in terms of what’s being expressed and then I just set it musically.” Music is what everyone in this performance has in common. It’s sure to be a Sensational night.