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Stephen Schwartz at The Berman, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Stephen Schwartz is what you call a bit of an over-achiever.

Since the late 60s the composer has amassed a dizzying roster of hit projects, including “Godspell,” “Pippin,” “Rags” and “Wicked” on stage, a variety of Disney projects (“Pocahontas,” “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame”) and “Enchanted” on screen and a variety of other works. He’s won Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe and the Richard Rogers Awards for Excellence in Musical Theater, and Schwartz has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the American Theater Hall of Fame.

And in the “but wait, there’s more...” category, Schwartz has a variety of projects in the works, including the film version of “Wicked,” a new stage adaptation of “The Prince Of Egypt” and a new version of “Rags.”

Schwartz also takes it to the stage, too, with “Defying Gravity,” a presentation of his works -- named after his 2008 memoir -- with plenty of talk to accompany the tunes...

• Music caught-the New York-born Schwartz, 69, early; He attended classes at the Julliard School while he was still in high school. So there was no Plan B, but he does acknowledge that in an alternate universe “I would love to have been a professional tennis player, except I didn’t have the ability. So that was never a serious consideration. There have been times I was at school and thinking of being a psychotherapist. I think they’re related in some way because I think writers are very interested in what makes people tick and why people behave the way they do, the different layers of motivation -- some of which people are aware of, some of which they’re not. This is all the stuff of writing and particular dramatic writing, writing for theater. So I think it’s very related.”

• The “Defying Gravity” show not only gives Schwartz a chance to talk about his compositions but occasionally gives him some fresh insight and perspective into the work. “We mix up what we’re going to do and do different things basically to amuse ourselves,” he says by phone from his home in Connecticut. “It’s interesting seeing how people respond and different things seem to take on different meanings, depending on what’s going on in the world and in our country at the time. Obviously this is a very fraught time; It was very interesting to do ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ in Germany recently given everything that’s going on with the response to immigrants and people who are different, because that’s a great deal of what that show is about. But (the show) is very non-politically and basically just for fun and just about songwriting and the songs, but things can’t help but have a context.”

• The “Wicked” film adaptation is perhaps the most highly anticipated of Schwartz’s coming attractions and is already in motion with Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book for the musical, and director Stephen Daddy. “That’s a process and in fact Winnie is coming into New York next week and we’re going to be working on the screenplay, so that’s moving along. It will be so much fun. We’re having such a good time, Winnie and I, looking at how we can tell the story cinematically and what we can do in the movie that we weren’t able to do on stage -- and what worked on stage that’s not going to work in a movie and figure out how to reapproach it. Obviously we like the material a lot and like being in that world, and getting a chance to visit it in a fresh way has been enjoyable and exciting.”

• Schwartz routinely has several endeavors going on at once, but he has no problem keeping track. “I’m very good at compartmentalization,” he says. “I think everybody has experience in life of feast or famine, so there’ll be a stretch of time when not much is happening and then a time when everything seems to happen at once. If you’re going to be in my line of work that’s an occupational hazard.

• While he’s an east coast boy, Schwartz does have family roots in Michigan that he says “was one of the motivations for me of going back to do this particular show. My daughter and wife went to the University of Michigan. My niece went to Michigan State, and my brother-in-law and mother-in-law went to Wayne State. There are a lot of Michigan connections. I know how to sing the (University of) Michigan fight song...”

If You Go:

• Stephen Schwartz: “Defying Gravity” with Scott Coulter and Liz Callaway

• 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22.

• The Berman Center for the Performing Arts at Maple and Drake roads in West Bloomfield.

• Tickets are $48-$80.

• Call 248-661-1900 or visit theberman.org.

Web Site: www.theberman.org

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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