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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

Genius in Action

Theater Review

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   Stephen Schwartz isn't exactly a household name around these parts. But mention some of the songwriter's credits, including Godspell, Pippin and the current box office smash Wicked, and people start paying attention. The Grammy-winning Schwartz has a smooth, self-deprecating onstage manner that played well Sept. 26 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. Dressed all in black, perhaps as a nod to his New York roots, Schwartz played piano as he led the audience through many of his hits. His boyish, animated face conveyed much of the emotion that his voice-hindered by a cold-could not. Impressively, he started the performance with a song from a show that only die-hard musical theater fans would recognize, The Baker's Wife.

  Soon the audience was given a rare glimpse at genius in action, as Schwartz summarized the etymology of one of his best-known songs from Wicked. As a side note, few creative types are able to "tell how it's done." But Schwartz took the audience patiently through the story of how successive rewrites led to the song's final version. Given his cold, Schwartz must have been especially grateful for the two singers he brought along for the program, named Stephen Schwartz and Friends. Debbie Gravitte and Scott Coulter, both well-known New York artists, performed flawlessly. Under Stephen's direction, they took the program from stage to film. Schwartz has contributed music and lyrics for a number of Disney films, including Enchanted, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Prince of Egypt. All were well represented in the program's repertoire.