Playwright Stephen Schwartz brings his impressive theatrical history to Clermont

By : Anna M. Johnson
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There are some things you just intrinsically know: You live “Day by Day,” you “Let it Go.” Have you heard of the Tony-award winning musical Wicked? How about Pippin or Godspell? The man behind all of these musicals is award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, of course. Schwartz is bringing his music to the Clermont Performing Arts Center on Nov. 13 with his show Defying Gravity: Stephen Schwartz and Friends.

Schwartz has been active as a composer, lyricist and director since before 1970. His work spans many platforms, from stage to screen to page. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1968 and wrote Godspell just two years later in 1971. He has contributed to Disney musical movies and has two of his own solo albums. He was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009, and has a biographical book called Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked.

His most notable work is Wicked, which has been running on Broadway since 2003. Wicked won three Tony awards in 2004 and has continued to receive acclaim over the span of its run. It has been translated into many different languages and currently has six professional productions running all over the world. The touring production in United States is coming to the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando in January.

Schwartz has won Oscar awards for his work on Disney’s Pocahontas in 1996 and for The Prince of Egypt in 1999, and has won Grammy awards for Pocahontas, Pippin, Godspell and Wicked. He also won the Isabelle Stevenson Tony award in 2015 for his work as a humanitarian. The Tony Awards website says the award was given “for his commitment to serving artists and fostering new talent through his work.”

Schwartz talks below via email about his show, what he is currently working on and shares advice for our readers in the theater world.

The title of the concert is Defying Gravity: Stephen Schwartz and Friends. Who are these mysterious friends? Will there be any surprise appearances by Broadway stars?

I actually have three friends, and luckily, they are all joining me to participate in the concert! Seriously, they are three terrific singers, all of whom have in fact appeared on Broadway. One is, while we’re on the subject, a Tony Award winner. But I prefer to remain mysterious beyond that.

Tell me a little bit about what you will doing at the concert. How did you choose what pieces to perform? Are some pieces more “popular” than others?

We have put together a program combining better known songs with some less familiar ones. We try to put a bit of a new spin on the better known ones, sometimes by creating medleys and mash-ups. There’ll be solos from myself, as well as the other singers, plus duets, trios, etc. We always have a lot of fun putting these concerts together, and in our experience the audience usually does too (or at least so they tell us).

Are you currently working on anything?

As always! I just premiered a new show in Vienna last month about the creation of the opera The Magic Flute, and next year should see the first full production of the stage adaptation of Prince of Egypt. Plus Alan Menken and I are starting on a new movie for Disney. So yes, I have a few balls in the air.

I saw you’re also going to Jupiter, Florida, which is another off-the-beaten-path location. Why Florida specifically?

Because it’s November, and thus it’s always an attractive destination for us Northeasterners (though if the state winds up voting inexplicably stupidly on Nov. 8, it will be a less attractive destination).

Most of our readership at Watermark is comprised of LGBTQ+ individuals, many of whom have grown up listening to your work. Who do you have in mind as your audience when you write? Or do you have anyone in mind?

I don’t really have an audience in mind when I write. I’m trying to tell a story and get inside the character and the emotional situation. Essentially, it’s writing via method acting. (Although you’d never want to see me try to act; that’s why I do it in private!) By the way, I like the “+” in “LGBTQ+” I haven’t seen that before!

Did the Pulse tragedy affect your choice to share your music in Orlando at all?

I’d love to say it did, because it was an event that had such huge emotional impact on me and so many of my friends. But the show had been booked well before. It so happens that the night after the Pulse tragedy, I was part of a benefit concert in New York to raise money to fight North Carolina’s anti-gay law HB2, and we were told the sponsors would be sharing some of the money raised with Pulse-related organizations as well.

Can you offer any tips for aspiring actors/composers/directors/theatre people?

You have to show up. Easy to say; not always easy to do. But perseverance can be the most important talent of all.

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