My Favorite Stephen Schwartz Musicals
Born on March 6, 1948, Stephen Schwartz is an American composer who has been in the music business since the early ‘70s. He has created a number of hit musicals for both theatre and film. He is at par with other modern great composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim.
He has garnered three Oscars, three Grammys, four Drama Desk Awards, one Golden Globe Award, the Richard Rodgers Award for Excellence in Musical Theater, and six Tony Award nominations.
I grew up appreciating Broadway musicals. This is because my late mother exposed me to the soundtracks of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Carousel and The King and I; and Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, Camelot and Gigi.
By the time I was in high school, I became acquainted with the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, and Marvin Hamlisch. But the songs that continue to appeal to me are those composed by my favorite composer - Stephen Schwartz.
In this hub, I share with you five of those musicals I cherish most. Listen to them.
I saw a high school production once where they played as their background music the song Corner of the Sky. The melody immediately caught my attention when I heard it and for some time, I kept singing to myself the lyrics I've got to be where my spirit can run free / Got to find my corner of the sky. I soon asked the production crew where they picked up this tune, and they told me it came from the musical Pippin. Later, I saw two local productions of this musical, and that prompted me to get the soundtrack. Back then, though, Pippin could not be found in any of Manila's record bars, so I had to ask a friend who bought the LP from the U.S. to produce a copy for me using a cassette. (At that time, there were no CDs and vinyls.)
As soon as I had my copy, I played the soundtrack over and over again that my siblings even grew to like it.
I like Pippin not so much for the story, but for the score which is very ‘70s pop style. I love every tune. The musical opens with the number Magic to Do where the Leading Player (played superbly by Ben Vereen in the original production) and his troupe invite the audience to journey with them. I love the way Schwartz puts rhyme in all his songs, and how he composes the piano intro. Magic to Do begins with the catchy lines, Join us...leave your fields to flower / Join us...leave your cheese to sour.
As the story progresses, there are other great showstoppers like War is a Science, Morning Glow and the Finale. I snap my fingers to the jazzy beat of Simple Joys and I sing, Wouldn't you rather be a left-handed flea / A crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea / Than a man who never learns how to be free / Not 'til he's underground. But being a sucker for mellow tunes, I like most With You and Love Song where I’m so charmed by the la-la-la-la blending of Pippin and Catherine. Though I’ve heard several versions of this duet, I still like the original version sung by John Rubinstein and Jill Clayburgh. To this day, I enjoy singing Love Song with a male vocalist whenever I’m asked to perform it in a social gathering.
A dazzling number: “Magic to Do” with Ben Vereen as the Leading Player
Ben Vereen with “Simple Joys”
“Love Song” as performed by William Katt and Leslie Denniston
Although I detest watching the Gospels and our Lord Jesus Christ's life depicted in a modern setting, I like Godspell for only one reason – the music. Between Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, I find the latter more subdued in its presentation.
I’ve seen a couple of the local stage productions of this musical, but the film adaptation is better for me.
As in all Schwartz musicals, I love listening to every tune. With the exception of Turn Back, O Man, Bless the Lord, All for the Best, Light of the World and Alas for You, the rest of the songs are ballads. Great melodies are Save the People, All Good Gifts, By My Side and Beautiful City. But my favorites are still the popular Day by Day and the gentle On the Willows. (Even in some charismatic gatherings in Manila, these two tunes are now and then sung.)
The arrangement for the Finale is just awesome. The disciples first sing "long live God" which counterpoints with Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord, then ends dramatically with Day by Day.
“Day by Day”
“On the Willows”
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
As I graduated from college and started to work as a journalist, I continued to listen to Pippin and Godspell during my leisure time. I hadn't heard of a new Schwartz musical until Walt Disney Productions released its animated version of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. When I learned that Schwartz collaborated with composer Alan Menken on the score, I immediately bought the DVD.
A beautiful film with great music! Voicing Quasimodo, Amadeus star Tom Hulce does a stunning performance of Out There and the ballad Heaven's Light. Listening to these melodies reminds me of some of the tunes of Pippin.
I also love the sweetness of God Help the Outcasts and the humor of A Guy Like You.
The Prince of Egypt
When this movie was released in 1998, I was already married with a two-year-old child. My late husband and I watched this film in the cinema.
For this project, Schwartz collaborated with popular film composer Hans Zimmer. Since the story was about the biblical Book of Exodus, I guess it was appropriate that the melodies were serious in tone, with the exception perhaps of the light Playing with the Big Boys. Frankly, I was not entertained by this tune even if it was performed by comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short. In fact, I found this scene rather scary because of the eerie images of the Egyptian gods.
The songs in The Prince of Egypt are not as lively as the tunes of Pippin, but the melodies are haunting (Deliver Us, All I Ever Wanted, The Plagues) and the lyrics are stirring.
Viewers of this film will always remember the characters Miriam and Tzipporah rousing the Hebrews to proclaim, Who knows what miracles you can achieve...when you believe, somehow you will...you will when you believe.
The poignant “Deliver Us”
“All I Ever Wanted/Let My People Go”
“When You Believe”
Characteristic of Disney films, this is a charming fantasy-romatic comedy with animation mixed with live action. It is also one Schwartz-Menken opus where I like both the story and the music.
From the opening animated scene where the main character Giselle sings True Love's Kiss to the end where Prince Edward weds Nancy in the fairy tale world of Andalasia, the music is simply sweet and entertaining.
I particularly like the scene where Giselle and the people at the park deliver a lively, heartwarming number of That's How You Know. (Truly a Broadway showstopper!)
Then, there are the other delightful tunes of Happy Working Song, So Close and Ever Ever After.
A perfect blend of story and music. That's what Enchanted is.
“True Love’s Kiss”
“Happy Working Song” as performed by Amy Adams
“That’s How You Know”
After listening to the above songs, which of these musicals did you like?
A great read!
This book gives interesting insights on Schwartz’s musical projects and his collaboration with other musicians.