Stephen Schwartz, who will receive the founders award at Tuesday night’s ASCAP Screen Music Awards in Los Angeles, says the forthcoming movie of his Broadway mega-hit “Wicked” will feature “at least two” new songs.
“Director Stephen Daldry is waiting on us for a draft of the screenplay,” Schwartz tells Variety, referring to himself and original book writer Winnie Holzman. “We’re just having so much fun, revisiting that material we love so much, and thinking about everything you can do on screen to retell the story.”
Schwartz says he hasn’t written any new music yet, “but there are new songs planned.” And, he says, fans expecting a carbon copy of the Broadway show should steel themselves for a new experience. “There are things that work on stage but won’t work on film,” the songwriter notes. “In order to do something that will work on its own merits, you have to do something different. The only concern is people who would be coming expecting to see a filmed version of the play. They’re not going to see that.”
Universal’s long-awaited screen version of the Tony-winning 2003 musical is slated for release Dec. 20, 2019.
The ASCAP founders award goes to songwriters “who have made exceptional contributions to music by inspiring and influencing their fellow music creators.” The list of past recipients is a who’s-who of music royalty, from Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell to Burt Bacharach and Hal David. “I’m a little overwhelmed to be considered in that category,” Schwartz says.
The veteran music-maker has won Oscars for his songs featured in “The Prince of Egypt” and “Pocahontas”; and in addition to “Wicked,” has written other Broadway classics, including”Godspell” and “Pippin.” Schwartz has also served as artistic director for the ASCAP musical theater workshop in both New York and Los Angeles for more than two decades. He has mentored dozens of younger songwriters, including current Broadway favorites Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) and Justin Paul and Benj Pasek of Pasek and Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen”).
“There is something pedagogic in my nature,” Schwartz admits. “I like analyzing why things work or don’t work, and I enjoy communicating that to people who are interested. I find I learn an enormous amount, as one always does when one is teaching.”
“Musical theater is a medium I care about, so I like helping aspiring writers to find their way, and maybe avoid some pitfalls that I fell into myself,” he continues. “Over the years, so many writers who’ve come through the workshop have gone on to big careers. It’s very gratifying to see them with shows on Broadway and around the world.” Among those are Glenn Slater (“A Bronx Tale”), Matthew Sklar (“Elf”) and Steven Lutvak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”).
Schwartz has also done his share of movies, too, including collaborations with composer Alan Menken on animated Disney films like “Pocahontas,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and “Enchanted”; and both music and lyrics for “The Prince of Egypt,” which (like many other films these days) is also being transformed into a stage musical. “Prince of Egypt” will debut Oct. 5 at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Calif.
He has also extensively revised “Rags,” his 1986 show with composer Charles Strouse, for a new production this fall at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House. The Schwartz-Menken “Hunchback” is now playing in Berlin and Tokyo, and there is talk of a new production of Schwartz’s 2009 opera “Seance on a Wet Afternoon.”
“I’m still working with a lot of new projects, current and pending,” Schwartz says. “I still love musical theater and musical movies – telling stories and using music to do it. It’s fun for me.”
Asked about his own mentors, Schwartz says he “didn’t really have any,” but cites two New York composers who were helpful when he was starting out: Leonard Bernstein, for whom Schwartz penned the words for “Mass”; and George Kleinsinger, whose obscure “Shinbone Alley” was the first Broadway musical Schwartz ever saw.
“That first show you see changes everything,” he says.