AGMC is well into rehearsing No Rest for the WICKED: The Music of Stephen Schwartz and I, for one, am extremely excited! Returning to the 14th Street Playhouse after many years, the chorus will present performances on April 19 and 20. Tickets will go on sale soon.
One of the great things about working on this show is that we’ve had direct communication with Mr. Schwartz since its inception. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus premiered some of the musical arrangements in a tribute it made to the composer in 2012, and I met with Stephen briefly when he made an appearance at the international festival of GALA Choruses in Denver last summer. We have revamped the show, brought some new music to the table, and shifted our focus to include more music from his current hit Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz.
Now celebrating its tenth year on Broadway, Wicked is the third most successful Broadway musical of all time, grossing over $500 million–just behind Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King. The trio leads a stellar top-ten list in which Cats comes in only at number eight. The show is based on Gregory Maguire’s parallel novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West–a prequel to the original series of L. Frank Baum’s stories of Oz. Like Baum, Maguire’s approach–both in Wicked and three subsequent novels involving this set of characters–was darker than the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz or the stage musical Wicked.
Shortly after the first novel’s release in 1995, Universal Studios acquired the rights to make a film based on it–one that would also embrace the darker side of Baum’s characters. But while on vacation, composer Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, Children of Eden) read Maguire’s book and immediately saw the potential for a musical. Upon discovering Universal’s plan, he quickly approached them with an impassioned plea to consider producing it for the stage instead. Universal maintained a stage department that had produced only a few successes–The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas being one of them–but they heard-out Schwartz and agreed to build a stage version with him behind the music and lyrics. At the time, producer Marc Platt headed up the project, but shortly thereafter left Universal to form his own company. Fortunately he was allowed to take Schwartz’s burgeoning show with him.
Wicked premiered in San Francisco in mid-2003 to mixed reviews. Critics loved the spectacle and casting, which included Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, but were lukewarm about the book, music, and lyrics–something that generally doesn’t bode well for a musical. After a three-month rewrite, however, the show opened on Broadway in the fall of 2003. Today, Schwartz credits the critics for helping them realize the need for those initial and extensive changes. As he put it, an “objective eye” is essential to the creation of a musical theatre work.
Ten years later the touring production of Wicked is still on Broadway and on the road. In 2007, I had the privilege of seeing a semi-permanent Los Angeles production (Megan Hilty, star of TV’s “Smash”, was playing the role of Glinda at the time). Like most everyone, I was spellbound by the magic of Wicked and found it creative, fresh, and very engaging. If you haven’t seen it, make a beeline the next time it plays in your area. (It looks like it won’t be back in Atlanta anytime soon, unfortunately. Tour dates are currently scheduled through February of 2014 and don’t indicate a return flight to the land of the Phoenix.) But be warned before you go: it will be full of gay men and teenage girls. That’s just the way it is.
So as we prepare for our wicked tribute to Mr. Schwartz, the strains of “What is this Feeling? (Loathing)”, “For Good”, “Wonderful”, “Sentimental Man”, “Popular,” and “Defying Gravity” are in the air of our rehearsal halls. Music from Wicked opens the second act of our tribute and marks the debut of the AGMC Women’s Chorus Project–a 30-voice ensemble under the direction of Melissa Arasi. The men of the AGMC will be welcoming them to the stage as the women sing “One Short Day”. Unlike the visitors in the story, however, we hope this new ensemble’s one short set will firmly plant itself and pave the way for the project to become a permanent, self-sustaining resident of the metro area.
Look for more information about No Rest for the WICKED: The Music of Stephen Schwartz on our website in the coming weeks. You’ll find interviews with the creative team, thoughts from the performers, looks behind the scenes, and much more. This will blog will always have the most up-to-date information.
But for now, mark your calendars. The wicked clock is counting down the days until the AGMC paints this town green!
(If you want to know more about the creative process of Stephen Schwartz, read Carol de Giere’s fascinating biography of the composer, “Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, From Godspell to Wicked”.)