Fynsworth Alley: 10 Questions with Stephen Schwartz

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

10 Questions with Stephen Schwartz


In addition to being a writer, you’re also a director and occasionally a performer. How do you think these roles affect each other in your work?

I think it’s extremely useful for writers (for theatre) to have some knowledge of what a performer has to go through in order to make material work. Long before I was doing my little singing gig, I had said that the most single useful course that I took at Carnegie Mellon, where I went to school, was an acting class. And even though I’m quite a poor actor, I thought that learning about what actors had to do and what that was about was extremely useful in writing material that was meant to be acted. Similarly, I think it’s obvious to say that having experience as a director is useful in writing material that’s meant to be staged. It’s good if you can actually write something that’s stageable.

What is the last Broadway CD you’ve listened to?

I’ve listened to one recently that I loved and I’m happy to endorse: Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, which I loved and recommended highly.

If you had to choose a song to be remembered by, which song of yours would it be?

That’s an interesting question. I think I would probably choose – and I will answer that specific question as opposed to what’s my favorite song – and I’m going to answer the finale to Children Of Eden, which is “In The Beginning,” just because of what it’s about. I not only like it musically, but I like what it says. And so, it’s basically for philosophical reasons, but I guess I’d choose to be remembered by that.

Are there songs or shows of yours that you wish you could go back and change?

All of them, more or less. Sure, I think there are always things that you feel… First of all, I do go back and change things. I’m sort of an inveterate meddler and futzer, and therefore when shows get done, I do change them, if it’s a major production. I call someone and say “you know, this lyric always stunk, and I have a better line for it. Why don’t you use this one instead?” Yeah, and I do it with all of them. I mean there are shows that I feel are more bulletproof than others. I wouldn’t futz a whole lot anymore with Godspell or Pippin or Children of Eden, and I’m always futzing with The Baker’s Wife.

How do you feel about workshopping?

I think it’s an extremely important and valuable part of preparing a new show. I don’t think it’s the only part, and I think you can get fooled at a certain point by workshops. I think there’s a point when you need to move beyond workshops to actually doing a production with an audience – not necessarily the final production, but that being said, I always do workshops, and I think they’re really valuable.

Can you tell us anything about the project you’re working on now, Wicked?

The official facts are that it’s based on a novel by Gregory Maguire. It’s essentially the story of the Wicked Witch of the West and how she came to be the Wicked Witch of the West, and her complex relationship and friendship with Glinda, because they are girls in school together. The book for the show is being written by Winnie Holzman, and I’m doing music and lyrics. We have a draft of the first act done, and we’re doing a reading just for ourselves at the end of this month, just to hear what we’ve got and what we have to change. And my hope is that we’ll have enough stuff that’s keepable that we can, by the end of the year, finish the rewrites of the first act at least to a second draft, and have a first draft of the second act, so we have a draft of the whole show that we can read next January or February.

Is there a Broadway show you wish you had written?

When I heard about Runaways, Liz Swados’s show… as soon as I heard the idea, I thought “oh gosh, I would love to have done that. That’s a really good idea.”

You’ve done music for theatre and television and film, as well as music just for albums. Do you have a favorite?

In terms of the process itself, I like doing theatre up until the point where you actually have to do the commercial part of it. I like the writing of theatre, not so much the production element, which is very unpleasant. And I like recording because I’m a control freak, and I have so much control in the recording studio.

What are the CDs currently in your CD player?

This is sort of like the come as you are party – right now they’re all classical. One of them is this sort of amusing and interesting recording of Parsifal in Italian. It has Maria Callas; it’s a very silly recording, but in many ways it’s very cool because it’s Wagner conducted in an Italianate way. Actually, Steve Sondheim was over for dinner the other night, so I was playing music I knew he would like, so there’s some Ravel stuff in there, because I know he likes Ravel. I’ve got Schuman sonatas in there… Rachmaninoff piano concertos 1 and 2, the soundtrack to The Red Violin by Corigliano, and some baroque works by Pachelbel and so on and so forth. In my car I’ve been listening to Sting again recently. 10 Summoner’s Tales is in, and I think Nothing Like The Sun is in there. I’ve also been listening to John Bucchino’s new CD Grateful quite a bit.

Your son Scott is in the theatre. How do you feel about that? Is that something you encouraged? Discouraged?

Really, neither. As a parent I’m a big “follow your bliss” believer and this was what he wanted to do, and therefore I was encouraging and supportive, but if he hadn’t wanted to do it, that would have been fine too. I remember the moment of seeing a show he directed in college and realizing he was a first-class director, and my appreciation of it went past the fact that he was my son into realizing that he was enormously gifted. And that was a very exciting moment.

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