Friday, March 06, 2015


Today's birthday boy Stephen Schwartz might not get the respect of a Stephen Sondheim, or even a Jerry Herman, but when you think about it, for modern Broadway composers who write both words and music, he's about as big as it gets.

Almost 45 years ago, when he was in his early 20s, he wrote the score to Godspell, which no doubt is still being performed somewhere out there right now.  Then came another huge hit, Pippin (though he and director Bob Fosse didn't get along--Fosse banned him from rehearsals).  Then another blockbuster, The Magic Show, though that was probably more due to Doug Henning's tricks.  At this point, Schwartz is still in his mid-20s.

His career slowed down for a few decades, but he did some decent work on Working and Rags in the fallow years.  He also did some nice writing--mostly lyrics--for a few Disney films.

And then in 2003, Wicked, which may become the biggest hit anyone's ever written.  Close to 5000 performances and still going strong.

I admit his scores don't always resonate like Sondheim's (or Herman's), but he's tuneful, knows how to turn a phrase, and is better than most of the competition.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Did you review the "Into the Woods" film? I haven't seen it, but from what I've heard in ads, it isn't chock full of humable tunes.

But then, Schwartz often stretches for something people like to sing as well. Honestly, I like Wicked, but don't play the sound track much. Both Sondheim and Schwartz seem to have one blockbuster song per show, and then a lot of atmospheric music that keeps the show rolling along.

It really makes me appreciate the previous generations of Rodgers, Hammerstein, Hart, Berlin, etc., who could fill a show from start to finish with somgs you could enjoy outside the context of the shows for which they were written.

I was surprised a few days ago to find my daughter (18) watching West Side Story of her own volition. Now there are some stand-alone songs! Her favorite show is Oklahoma.

9:52 AM, March 06, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I didn't review Into The Woods, but I did mention it, at least in passing, in my film wrap-up. In general, I don't review new films, except for that year-end piece.

Into The Woods has been fairly successful for a Sondheim show--unlike Schwartz or Herman, he doesn't write blockbusters--and the film did surprisingly well, too (partly because it's performed a lot in high schools), but I think the show is okay but not much more. I also thought it didn't translate well into a movie, since the show can get away with leaving out big scenes (at the giant's place, at the Prince's ball), where you can sing about what happened, but in a movie it seems odd these scenes aren't there. The rewriting also took some of the complexity away, but that was probably necessary.

Sondheim has long been accused of not being hummable (go check out "Opening Doors" on YouTube where he goes into it musically in some detail), but he and his fans disagree, of course. I think he's brilliant, but it is often a cold brilliance.

Schwartz and Sondheim work in an age where Broadway no longer writes the popular tunes of the day, and scores are more integrated, based on character and moving along the plot. But I'm sure their fans would say the scores are one great song after another.

11:44 AM, March 06, 2015  

Post a Comment

<< Home

web page hit counter