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Concerts

Composer Stephen Schwartz talks about 'Wicked,' storytelling

Schwartz to appear Oct. 7 at College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center

Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz will perform songs from "Wicked" and other musicals as part of the show "Defying Gravity: Stephen Schwartz and Friends," which will take place at 8 p.m. Oct. 7 at College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn.
Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz will perform songs from "Wicked" and other musicals as part of the show "Defying Gravity: Stephen Schwartz and Friends," which will take place at 8 p.m. Oct. 7 at College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn.

"Wicked" composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz was as surprised as anyone when in February, the musical surpassed "Rent" to become the 10th longest-running production in Broadway history.

"Wicked" originally opened on Broadway in October 2003. The award-winning composer will perform songs from that musical and others as part of the show "Defying Gravity: Stephen Schwartz and Friends," which will take place at 8 p.m. Oct. 7 at College of DuPage's McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn.

Schwartz will be joined by Broadway vocalists Debbie Gravitte and Scott Coulter. Tickets to the show are available at McAninch's website, atthemac.org.

Suburban Life reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Schwartz about the upcoming show.

Schelkopf: You've been doing this show since 1999. What do you like best about doing the show?

Schwartz: I do maybe three or four of them a year. It's very enjoyable for me, first of all. The two singers I work with are great singers and friends. We have fun traveling together. ... We put together new versions of songs or new things that occur to us, and the audience always seems to have a pretty good time.

Schelkopf: I imagine it must be difficult picking the songs for each show?

Schwartz: Yes, there are many conversations about what to put in and what to leave out, but we usually have fun with the selections we make. We'll do some familiar songs, obviously, but we try to do a different spin on them, and then pick some songs that the audience won't be quite as familiar with. We also do some mash-ups that are fun for us to come up with.

Schelkopf: In sitting down to write a composition, what are some of the things that you are looking to achieve?

Schwartz: Well, usually it has to do with storytelling. Most of what I write is for a bigger story, and so, I'm concerned with [such things as] what is the storytelling job of the song and if the characters express themselves specifically. ... To help further a story is usually what I'm trying to do. And even individual songs usually have a story behind them that I'm trying to tell.

Schelkopf: "Wicked" premiered on Broadway in 2003 and is now the 10th longest-running Broadway show. Does that surprise you?

Schwartz: Of course. I just got back actually from London, where we celebrated our 10th anniversary there, which also surprises me. ... That's a long time, obviously, for a show to run. We did know pretty early on in the process of doing "Wicked" that it seemed to strike a chord with audiences and that there was a good chance that it would be successful, but one can never plan on something sort of crossing over into phenomenon status. That has so much to do with timing and with what's going on in the world and things that really aren't directly having to do with the show itself.

Schelkopf: Why do you think it has struck a chord with audiences?

Schwartz: First of all, I think the character of the Wicked Witch, Elphaba, as an outsider and someone who is struggling for acceptance strikes a chord with a lot of people. One of our producers, David Stone, is fond of us saying that everyone has that green girl inside us. And I think that has been borne out by the audience's response. ... And then the other thing I think is the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, the two witches, the kind of deep friendship that forms despite their initial antipathy and the bumpy road that it goes through. ... I think that kind of friendship, particularly between two strong women, is something that has a lot of contemporary resonance.

Schelkopf: Is there anything that you would like people to take away from the show?

Schwartz: I'm not writing shows to have a moral, like an "Aesop's Fables." I write about characters that I find compelling and ideas that I find important, and then people will take from the stories what they will.

Schelkopf: I understand that you are working on the movie adaptation of "Wicked." What excites you about that project?

Schwartz: The ability to use all the tools that cinema gives you is very, very exciting. Obviously there are a lot of things that we were not able to do on stage that we can do on film. ... It will require a different way of telling the story. I'm going to write a couple of new songs for areas that we weren't able to do on stage. ... It's really exciting to revisit this material we love and are passionate about, and find a way to do it in a different medium.

Schelkopf: Of course, you've had a long career and at one point, your musicals "Godspell," "Pippin" and "The Magic Show" were all running on Broadway at the same time. Would you view that as a highlight of your career?

Schwartz: You know, I don't think in those terms. Each project is its own thing. I'm trying to bring each project to a successful conclusion where it has a life and reaches an audience. ... Some of them have thrived on Broadway and some of them have not. Some of them have run a long time, some of them have not. ... But I have been fortunate in that most of the projects I've done have had a continuing life, and that's basically my goal for them. I don't worry too much about the specifics of Broadway or not.

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