Sunday, June 02, 2013

Defying Gravity, by Carol de Giere

Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked, by Carol de Giere

This isn't exactly a biography of Stephen Schwartz (the famous musical theater lyricist and composer), but rather one of his artistic output. We get a fair amount of vital stats along the way, but the book really starts with Godspell and ends with Wicked. Godspell is one of my favorite musicals; "All For the Best" is up there with "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair" from South Pacific and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" from Kiss Me, Kate. One of the tidbits we learn is that Toronto apparently had a company of players at one point performing Godspell that included Martin Short, Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Andrea Martin, and Eugene Levy with Paul Shaffer as the music director. I would have loved to have seen that!

Schwartz is hugely talented; not only did he create music for Godspell, Wicked, and Pippin on Broadway, but for Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Prince of Egypt on the big screen. (And of course many others I'd never heard of.) For all this talent he has been the recipient of many awards: three Oscars, three Grammys, one Golden Globe, but amazingly no Tony Awards. Bad timing seems responsible for the lack of Tonys; Godspell lost to Annie for Best Original Score, Pippin to A Little Night Music, and Wicked to Avenue Q.

Defying Gravity is a great look at not only the career of Steven Schwartz, but of the behind-the-scenes of making a Broadway musical as well. The story of Wicked occupies over half the book and tracks development from the initial idea through the various read-throughs and out-of-town tryouts, up to the debut and critical reviews. I found this to be terribly interesting; I had no idea of how many changes a show goes through during development, or more impressively how many songs get written and thrown away. Some people seeing a show multiple times in these early days could conceivably see a different show each time!

While some of the names and shows are presented as if the reader is already fairly familiar with the world of musical theater, overall it is quite accessible. de Giere has done a good job of describing both Schwartz's success and failures as well as his creative process. I found this a compelling—if simply written—book and thoroughly enjoyed it.

First Sentence:
On warm days in the Long Island suburb of Rosyln Heights, seven-year-old Stephen Schwartz could hear piano music coming through his open window.

1 comment:

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