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Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked eBook Kindle
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This is a fantastic book about Stephen Schwartz career, extensively detailed and packed with a huge variety of information. There is also a significant number of photographs, some of them not easy to find in other sources (they are black and white in printed version, but they can be seen in full color in the digital format version). Although this book brings a lot of data on Schwartz personal life, it is not a standard biography, since the primary concern of the author was to adequately describe and analyze Schwartz cultural production over the last decades. The process involved in the creation, conception and execution of each artistic work is fully presented, ever since his first projects (such as Pippin and Godspell), with notes on authorship, partnership, song and lyric writing and necessary improvements and changes along the way to its final stage version. The first chapters are about Schwartz’s childhood and college years, together with the creation of Pippin and Godspell and the lyrics for Bernstein’s Mass. After that, there are chapters on The Magic Show, The Bakers Wife, Working (1 chapter for each show) and some “smaller” productions. Next, it is time for the animated cartoons, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Prince of Egypt (and the contend that took him off Disney’s Mulan, even after going on a field trip to China in preparation for working on this project). By reading these chapters, I notice how often religious themes are present in Schwartz’s works (Godspell, Mass, Children of Eden, Prince of Egypt), and I got surprised in reading that is was entirely unintentional. The most comprehensive section of the book is dedicated to Schwartz biggest hit: Wicked. There are fifteen chapters only about this show – which is a delight to fans. Details are given on:
- the very first moment when Schwartz came up with the idea of turning Maguire’s book into a musical while riding a boat;
- all the way through obtaining the rights and funds for the musical;
the process of writing songs and sharing comments and ideas about lyrics and libretto with Winnie Holzman;
- the choice of the right colleagues and actors to work with (and all the struggles Schwartz had to face with his creative team along the process of putting on the show – actually, something recurrent in his career);
- the first readings and rehearsals;
- the San Francisco try-out and, finally, Broadway opening, followed by the show immediate success.
I got interested in this book by now because I am Brazilian, and two official Schwartz’s musical productions are currently on show in my city, both fully translated into Portuguese – Wicked and Godspell. Reading this book before and after attending those shows gave me a more in-depth understanding of them and so I would recommend it to all theater lovers, in Brazil or anywhere else!
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Although I had seen Godspell in 1972, I was not keenly aware of Mr. Schwartz until my children chose Wicked for their theatre experience when we visited London in 2010. Clearly I was not the first to be blown away by the power of that musical. I had to know more about the creative development of such a work. That lead me to "Defying Gravity." I actually read the last chapter first, then worked to the beginning by chapters. Odd, but true.
Ms. de Giere's exploration of creativity in the person of Mr. Schwartz is one of the clearest views I've found of what it takes to make something magical. She covers the inspiration, the perspiration, the tenacity, setbacks, trouncings and triumph. That has been very helpful for me and my own creative work.
I was particularly touched by the story of how Wicked was reworked after its pre-Broadway run in San Francisco. The authors--Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman--stood their ground to exercise the power to reshape the show before opening in New York in 2003. The theater is much different from cinema. One of the greatest differences is ownership. A dramatist--in this case, Schwartz and Holzman--may LICENSE a show to a producer but as authors they still own it. Wicked's creative recess between San Francisco and New York is perfect proof of that difference. There are so many stakeholders, so much talent demanding to be put to work. So many egos. So much money, so little time. For me, Chapter 28 is the most compelling in "Defying Gravity."
I found "Defying Gravity" to be engaging, uplifting, insightful, and more. I loved it on first reading and have returned several times to appreciate various parts. That's why I'm writing this 5-star review--I love this book. I hope you find this review helpful.
The last section on Wicked goes through the whole creative process of what is going to probably be the most successful musical of all time. A must for budding musical theater writers.