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Stephen Schwartz

Stephen Schwartz was born in New York City in 1948 and raised in Roslyn Heights, Long Island.

Stephen SchwartzHe began taking piano lessons when he was six years old, and in high school he wrote and directed plays. He studied drama at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and composition at Juilliard. While at college, he collaborated on a musical called Pippin, which was based on the exploits of Charlemagne's son. Following graduation, he made an unsuccessful attempt to stage the show and then spent two years working for RCA as a record producer. In 1969, his first break as a composer came about when he was commissioned to write the title song for the Broadway play Butterflies Are Free.

Off-Broadway hit

Basing his work on St Matthew's Gospel, 21-year-old John-Michael Tebelak originally wrote Godspell as a master's thesis. It was staged unceremoniously at the pocket-sized experimental Café La Mama theatre, where producers Edgar Lansbury and Joseph Beruh stumbled upon it. Seeing its potential, the producers commissioned a delighted young Stephen Schwartz to rewrite the score to Tebelak's book. 'To this day. I don't know why they called me about the score.' recalls a bemused Schwartz. 'I can hardly believe, given my inexperience, that I was anyone's first choice.' The choice, however, proved inspired. The show opened off-Broadway in May 1971 to enthusiastic audiences. By the time it hit Broadway five years later, it had established itself well enough to enjoy another healthy run.

The success of Godspell prompted Leonard Bernstein to hire Schwartz towrite the lyrics for the modern sections of his Mass (1971), which opened the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Pippin panache

Suddenly. Schwartz found himself sought after by Broadway producers. Stuart Ostrow, in particular. wanted to stage Stephen's college musical Pippin (1972). Furthermore, he hired the acclaimed director-choreographer Bob Fosse to give it image and style. With his typical theatrical panache. Fosse created spectacular effects for each number, which Schwartz believed smothered the concept of his show. For example. the production opened with illuminated hands weaving patterns through smoke, which ultimately drew more attention to Fosses inventiveness than to the show's themes. Nonetheless, Pippin was well received, playing on Broadway for over four and a half years.

Schwartz's next project, The Magic Show (1974) — about a washed-up New Jersey nightclub and its new magic act — suffered from a flimsy story and a forgettable score. However. illusionist Doug Henning almost single-handedly
conjured up a show and kept it running for a startling 1.920 performances.

In 1976, Schwartz made a brave attempt at traditional musical comedy. Forsaking his accustomed style of pop music, he wrote The Baker's Wife (based on Marcel Pagnol's 1938 film) in the vein of Rodgers and Hammerstein. To this intimate tale of a village baker who cannot bake when his wife leaves him, Schwartz brought some of his most beautiful, sensitive songs. The show toured the country. but it did not catch on with audiences. Unfortunately. it remains unheard on Broadway, although it had a brief London run.

Changed fortunes

Schwartz wrote the book and four songs for Working (1978). a musical that compared various occupations. However, the production lasted only 25 performances. As a lyricist, he was back on Broadway again in 1986 for the ill-fated Rags, with music by Charles Strouse. The show. closed after only four performances, despite a fine score. The fault lay with a dull libretto, which was about immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York.