Magic to Do: Fifty Years of Stephen Schwartz Musicals

SBO Staff • ChoralFeatureNovember/December 2019 • November 22, 2019

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Introduction: The Spark of Creation (song from Children of Eden)

Stephen Schwartz, famous composer and lyricist of Broadway and film musicals, had his very first song appear on the Broadway stage in October 1969, 50 years ago. This article pays tribute to Schwartz’s career focusing on his music and offering learning scenarios to use with your students. The article’s title derives from the song from Pippin.

Stephen Schwartz: A Sentimental Man (song from Wicked)

Stephen Schwartz was born on March 6, 1948 in New York City. While attending Mineola High School in Nassau Country, New York, Schwartz studied piano and composition at the Juilliard School. He attended Carnegie Mellon University, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in drama. After receiving his degree, Schwartz returned to New York City and went to work as a producer for RCA Records. His Broadway career began shortly after with a single song. Schwartz contributed the song “Butterflies Are Free” to the play of the same name by Leonard Gershe.

Musicals: It’s an Art (song from Working)

Schwartz’s Broadway musicals include Godspell, Pippin, The Magic Show, The Baker’s Wife, Working, Rags, Children of Eden, and Wicked. He also wrote English lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, a work commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to open the Kennedy Arts Center in 1971, named after her first husband, President John F. Kennedy. Schwartz also wrote lyrics and composed music for the films Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Prince of Egypt, Enchanted, Reluctant Pilgrim, and the TV musical Geppetto.

The Songs of Stephen Schwartz: Perfect Harmony (song from Rags)

Famous songs from Schwartz’s musicals include “Corner of the Sky” (Pippin), “Day by Day” (Godspell), “Colors of the Wind” (Pocahontas), “Stranger to the Rain” (Children of Eden) and “Gifts of Love (The Baker’s Wife). In the book Showstoppers! The Surprising Backstage Stories of Broadway’s Most Remarkable Songs, Gerald Nachman highlights two of Schwarz’s songs from Wicked: “Popular” and “Defying Gravity.”

Schwartz has received numerous awards and nominations for his work including three Academy Awards, three Grammy Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, one Golden Globe Award, the Richard Rodgers Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre, and six Tony Award nominations. He received the Isabelle Stevenson award, a special non-competitive Tony, in 2015.

Learning Scenarios: Learn Your Lessons Well (song from Godspell)

Stephen Schwartz’s life and music can be explored via learning scenarios. Various curricular frameworks can help define assignments, projects and performances such as the Multiple Intelligences, learning styles, habits of mind, thematic learning and interdisciplinary learning. Carol de Giere’s book Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked is a useful resource about Schwartz’s background and career in musical theatre.

The Life and Music of Stephen Schwartz How did Schwartz’s childhood lead him to become a famous and revered contributor of musical theatre and film?

Liturgical Works Schwartz’s work on Godspell and Bernstein’s Mass are related to the Bible and the Catholic Mass. Students can analyze these works historically and musically.

Pippin The story of Charlemagne’s son, what messages and songs bring Pippin’s world to life?

Wicked Considered a background story about the witches of Oz, how are the witches depicted and what songs help develop the story and the main characters? Consider Gregory Maguire’s book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West as resource material.

Disney Scores Schwartz’s work on Disney animated musicals is noteworthy. Explore his Disney works and specific songs that he contributed to their scores.

Performance Students can perform Schwartz songs vocally or instrumentally in chorus, recital or a school musical.

Summary: Gifts of Love (song from The Baker’s Wife)

Stephen Schwartz’s music has found a prominent place within Broadway musical theatre and film musicals. Schwartz’s compositions can benefit students by expressing magic to do.

Keith Mason, Ph.D. writes extensively about musicals in the curriculum and commemorates milestone anniversaries of musicians and musicals.

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