Stephen Schwartz’s 70th Birthday Concert At Hudson Theatre, Monday, April 24th, 2018, Reviewed
The state of the Broadway musical isn’t all Stephen Schwartz’s fault. There is Andrew Lloyd-Webber as well. But really, Stephen Schwartz wrote the music and lyrics to “Wicked,” part two of the daytripping of Broadway, part one being 1982’s “Cats” and ever since, whatever the Dramatists Guild Foundation might claim, the entire art form has been in free fall. And at the forefront of the free fall, is a Stephen Schwartz, honored by everyone from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, The Greatest Showman) to Tony, Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid) to Tony Award-winners Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen) and Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer and lyricist Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen, Coco) and double E.G.O.T.-winning composer and lyricist Robert Lopez. The children of mediocrity that Schwartz built. The crowd roared, a who’s who of Broadway, but they would do: Schwartz might sell enough tickets but can you compare him to, say, Cole Porter. And while you might say, who can you compare to Porter? How about the Gershwins?
In celebration of Stephen Schwartz’s 70th birthday, the Dramatists Guild Foundation (“a national charity that fuels the future of American theater by supporting the writers who create it”), many of Broadway’s biggest stars came out to honor Schwartz in trickly unctuous blather. The evening began with film of the likes of Victor Garber, who starred as Jesus in Schwartz’s only masterpiece “Godspell” (Jesus and the disciples as hippies in New York) and Kristine Chenoweth (who starred in the original production of “Wicked”) before Patina Miller opened the evening from a song off “Pippin” and MC Paul Shaffer told how Schwartz, at the age of 24, gave Paul, at the age of 22, a huge help in his career. Next were the twin brother Cotts, Casey and Corey (Casey is a star of CW’s “Riverdale”) playing up sibling rivalry on “What Is This Feeling?” So on and so forth, Darren Criss rearranged “Out There” from Disney’s take on “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” lyrics by Schwartz, music by Alan Mencken, a sort of the Sherman Brothers for morons, Alan Mencken himself performed on piano a medley of the songs they’ve written together. Renee Fleming killed on one song (not sure what it was), and Matt Gould, probably the single most talented person there, was very moving on “Children Of Eden”. Best of all Stephen Schwartz’s TESTIMONY, inspired by the It Gets Better Project was conducted by Judith Clurman’s Essential Voices USA (EVUSA), led by conductor Judith Clurman, and an inspiring chorale of hope fopr the LGBTQ community.
But not much of a song. None of it was much of a song. These guys are crazy if they think this is great Broadway musicals, Schwartz appears to be a decent, philanthropic man, with a great eye for talent and as deep inside the Great White Belt Way as you can get, but he doesn’t have great songs, and he doesn’t have great musicals. Not even the loathsome “Wicked” without which, just this season, no “Anastasia” or “Frozen” or “Mean Girls”. You can fool everybody you are responsible for getting a job for all the time, but you can’t fool me… Happy 70th, Stephen, I’m glad you don’t read your reviews.