Thursday, January 15, 2009

Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz from Godspell to Wicked

While reading the first half of this book I hated to put it down. Carol de Giere is a detailed reporter with a storyteller’s gift for narration that makes this biography of Stephen Schwartz a delight, especially for anyone in love with musical theatre.

It was in the second half, which is devoted entirely to one show -- Wicked -- that the book began to drag for me. I enjoyed Wicked when I saw it when it opened in 2003, but not enough to read 15 chapters about its creation and development. This is really almost enough for a book of its own, and certainly out of proportion with the first 15 chapters which cover Schwartz’s childhood on Long Island, his education, personal life, theatrical career ups and downs and his success as a songwriter for animated films.

As a whole, though, the book is a good read. It’s a gift to be able to see into the creative process of someone as immensely talented as Stephen Schwartz. De Giere, a freelance writer, did extensive interviewing with Schwartz, his friends and family, and people he’s worked with on many levels -- collaborators, actors, directors -- to put together a portrait of the development of such musicals as Godspell, Pippin and The Magic Show, Working and, of course, Wicked. She includes lyrics to many of his songs, as well as great photos of Schwartz with his family and production shots and backstage photos from his shows.

De Giere has written Defying Gravity in such a way that it will appeal to a wider range of readers than just Schwartz fans, although that category alone is legion. Pippin, The Magic Show and Wicked have all played more than 1,900 performances on Broadway, making Schwartz the only songwriter in the history of the Great White Way with three shows that have reached that milestone. Not to mention how many times Godspell alone has been performed around the world! Defying Gravity goes beyond just one man’s legacy to offer hope and a roadmap for others on the creative journey. I especially like the Creativity Notes, separate commentaries in which Schwartz offers insights, humor or painful lessons from the experience of getting a show to the stage. These are worthy reading for any theatre professional.

I’ve been recommending Defying Gravity to all my theatre friends. Check it out for an in-depth look at a gifted artist of our time and the world of stage that so many of us cherish.

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