NEW YORK. Schwartz’s admirers filled Carnegie Hall in New York, on Friday, April 12, 2013, for a tribute marking both his 65th birthday and the 10th anniversary of his monster hit, “Wicked,” still one of the tougher tickets in town.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Well, you could practice, practice, practice.
Or you could be a hugely successful Broadway composer like Stephen Schwartz, whose admirers filled the famous venue on Friday night for a tribute marking both his 65th birthday and the 10th anniversary of his monster hit, “Wicked,” still one of the tougher tickets in town.
The house band for the evening was the New York Pops orchestra, celebrating its own 30th anniversary this season. It accompanied four Broadway singers as they performed selections from Schwartz’s career, including from his early hit “Godspell,” ‘’The Baker’s Wife,” ‘’The Magic Show” and “Pippin,” a revival of which is now in previews on Broadway.
There were also excerpts from animated films Schwartz has composed either music or lyrics for: “The Prince of Egypt,” for example, “Pocahontas” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” But the biggest cheers came for songs from “Wicked,” sung by one of the show’s former Broadway Elphabas, Julia Murney, and a former Glinda, Jennifer Laura Thompson. Murney belted out a spirited rendition of “The Wizard and I,” and the two shared “For Good,” that poignant song of friendship between witches.
Schwartz, who turned 65 in March, spent most of the evening in the audience but came onstage to give a little background about “Wicked” and its path to glory, playing excerpts of a couple of failed attempts at a song for Elphaba called “Making Good” that never made it into the show. Ultimately, Schwartz said, his son had told him the song just wasn’t working, and he ditched it, to come up with “The Wizard and I” a bit later.
Murney and Thompson were joined by fellow Broadway actors Norm Lewis, who brought the deep and rich voice he displayed as a terrific Porgy in the recent “Porgy and Bess” revival (despite tripping up on some lyrics), and Jeremy Jordan, a rising Broadway star (”Bonnie and Clyde,” ‘’Newsies”) who now appears on NBC’s “Smash.” Lewis sang a jaunty “Magic to Do” from “Pippin” and Jordan delivered a soaring “Morning Glow” from the same show. All the singers were accompanied by Essential Voices USA, a New York choral ensemble composed of both professionals and amateurs. Steven Reineke, conductor of the Pops, was an enthusiastic master of ceremonies.
The highlight from the chorus, directed by Judith Clurman: Schwartz’s moving “Testimony,” with lyrics inspired by the “It Gets Better” project aimed at supporting gay youth. The number, performed recently by the San Francisco Gay Men’s chorus, has become popular online.
As one would expect from a man getting to have his birthday party at Carnegie Hall, Schwartz seemed quite happy to be headlining the venue for the first time. “I always wanted to play with the New York Pops,” he quipped as he took the piano.