My thoughts on Stephen Schwartz musicals

One of the composers I have seen more one musical belongs to Stephen Schwartz. He is a successful composer, and today I decided to write my thoughts on his musicals- as in the ones I love. They will be in a particular order- as in I will end on my favorite musical that he did. I loved all three of the musicals I am about to mention.

Godspell

  • I loved Godspell ever since I started college. Godspell was my first musical I saw at Central Piedmont Community College. What I remember most about that production belonged to some of the costumes. As a matter of fact, I did see three of the actors in future productions at CPCC. I did love Godspell- my parents did know I will love Godspell.

Pippin

  • I have loved Pippin since May 2015. I have wanted to see Pippin since I heard “Corner of the Sky”. I quickly fell in love with the song- that song told me a lot of what the musical was about. When I heard it won a Tony Award for Revival, I watched a preview, and wanted to see it even more. A spectacle- based, and a song I loved a lot. Too strong reasons for wanting to see Pippin. Pippin makes you fall in love with it very quickly- that is what “Magic to Do” allows you to do. The revival feels like you are in a circus. The Leading Player is an intriguing antagonist, and she does trick both the audience and Pippin
"Magic to Do" during the Pippin Revial

Wicked

  • Of all Stephen Schwartz’ musicals, it is the easiest for me to explain why I love Wicked. It is a story of two strong and complex young women who form a special and beautiful bond. That is rare in a musical to see that kind of friendship. On top of that complex friendship- you also come across an extremely complex love triangle. This is a musical where the friendship is much stronger than romance. As Wicked says- “I have been changed for good”. That is what Wicked did for me.
"For Good" during Wicked- Elphaba and Glinda

Conclusion

  • The songs in his musicals are both energetic and emotional. That is the type of music I want in a musical. At the same time, I want all the songs to sound like they all belong in the same musical- does that make sense?

“Corner of the Sky” Analysis

Everything has its season

Everything has its time

Show me a reason and I’ll show you a rhyme

Cats fit on the windmill

Children fit in the snow

Why do I don’t fit in anywhere I go?

Rivers belong where they can ramble

Eagles belong where they can fly

I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free

Got to find my corner of the sky

Every man has his daydreams

Every man has his goal

People like the way dreams have

Of sticking to the soul

Thunderclouds have their lightning

Nightingales have their songs

And don’t you see I want my life to be

Something more than long…

Rivers belong where they can ramble

Eagles belong where they can fly

I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free

Got to find my corner of the sky

So many men seem destined

To settle for something small

But I don’t rest until I have it all

So don’t ask where I’m going

Just listen when I’m gone

And far away you’ll hear me singing

Softly to the dawn:

Rivers belong where they can ramble

Eagles belong where they can fly

I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free

Got to find my corner of the sky

Stephen Schwartz, Corner of the Sky

It was the song, Corner of the Sky, that made me want to see Pippin. The moment I heard it I knew I wanted to see Pippin. We all have our “Corner of the Sky”. The first time I heard the song, I knew what it was about. It is about where you belong- that is what the lyrics “corner of the sky” is referring to. We all want to find that place of belonging. We all want our “corner of the sky”. That is what Pippin is looking for in the musical- he struggles to find his “corner of the sky” in the musical, but in the end he does. He trusted the Leading Player- he thought he was heading in the right direction, but in reality The Leading Player was heading him in the wrong direction- he trusted someone he never should have trusted. The Leading Player is easily manipulative- she is playful around Pippin making it seem like she is heading him in the right direction to find his “corner of the sky”. In the end, I love how he realizes that he never should have trusted her in the first place.

Everyone has their “corner of the sky”. I think that is why Pippin is a musical people can relate to. Don’t we all have a corner of the sky. That place of belonging. I bet a lot of us trusted someone like the Leading Player- someone that that we shouldn’t have. If we head in the right direction- we will find our corner of the sky. Just don’t trust someone like The Leading Player- if we do our entire lives, we will never find that corner of the sky. Pippin did defy the Leading Player at the end, and found his corner of the sky. He took the Leading Player out of his life. Take people like the Leading Player out of our lives- we don’t need them or else we will get further and further away from that corner of the sky.

Standouts in Musicals

I never really talked about this. Standouts do exist whenever you see a musical. But what exactly makes certain actors standout more than others. That is very very hard to explain. It always has something to do with their performance: they are the ones that go above and beyond with their performance. They add something unique to their portrayal. Below I will mention some of my standouts in some of the musicals I have recently seen.

Minor and Major Spoilers:

Les Mis ( Tour 2017): Nick Cartell, Matt Shingledecker, Joshua Grosso

Nick Cartell (Jean Valjean)- I know he was one of the standouts, but that is hard to describe. I could tell he was throughout his portrayal. I had seen him previously in the ensemble of Phantom of the Opera. So I loved seeing him go from ensemble to lead. Part of why he stood out is his breathtaking and soulful performance of “Bring Him Home”. It was strong enough, but quiet enough for what the song required. It truly sounded like a prayer.

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Matt Shingledecker (Enjolras)- Honestly don’t really know why he was a standout at all. But I could just tell he was.

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Joshua Grosso (Marius)- I like to describe his Marius as charming and awkward. I was extremely surprised of how much he stood out. I am always expecting Eponine to be the strongest actor in the love triangle, but in this situation, Joshua was the strongest actor in the love triangle. Much more my focus ended up being on Marius instead of Eponine. That sounds a bit odd in a way considering the fact that of all the characters in the love triangle, Eponine is my favorite character. But it did make me view the love triangle from a different perspective. It is important for me to get to know all three characters.

He embodied Marius perfectly while still bringing something new. I never knew Marius was awkward until Joshua. The awkwardness made me learn to love Marius even more. At “A Heart Full of Love”, he was like “I’m in love, but what on earth do I do with it”. It was really effective. As I was watching “A Little Fall of Rain”, he focused much more on comforting Eponine than showing how heartbroken he was. He showed his heartbreak at the end:  he actually acted stunned: he could not finish the song at first: he waited about 5-10 seconds: that is what I mean by stunned and then the way he said “grow” was hard for me to listen to. He really brought out all of his trauma and heartbreak during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. Because of what Joshua was able to do with Marius, he became my favorite Marius.

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Wicked (Tour 2016): Mary Kate Morrissey, Amanda Jane Copper, Ashley Parker Angel

About Wicked, I focus so much on Elphaba, Glinda, and Fiyero that I forget about the others so those three actors always easily standout from the others.

Mary Kate Morrissey (Elphaba): She was an excellent Elphaba. You never would suspect she was a standby. She embodied everything about Elphaba. She made appreciate a song I always hated and emotions in that song finally stuck. She was able to change her voice to match Elphaba’s. From a more innocent voice in most of act I to a more mature voice starting at “Defying Gravity”.

Amanda Jane Copper (Glinda): Here’s my rule about Elphaba and Glinda: you can’t have an excellent Elphaba without an excellent Glinda and vice versa. Amanda Jane Copper was just hilarious and every funny line of Glinda’s I laughed at. You could feel Glinda’s pain act II. You got to “For Good”, and I teared up at their very emotional song.

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Ashley Parker Angel (Fiyero): I was determined to get to the bottom of him this time around so I dug deeper. So the Lion Cub scene hit. He played that scene as if he has a crush on Elphaba, but doesn’t know it. I love how he played Fiyero in that way. He already showed weaker chemistry with Glinda and stronger chemistry with Elphaba foreshadowing the unrequited love shift in act II.

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Pippin (Tour 2015): Lisa Karlin

Lisa Karlin (Leading Player) -I was much more intrigued by the Leading Player’s portrayal than Pippin. She was able to be playful with a tad bit of evil in “Magic to Do”. Around Pippin, she was able to hide her darkness so that Pippin could trust her. So she was very crafty and very manipulative. In songs such as “Glory”, she was so much more dark and evil that you can tell that she was the antagonist of the musical. There is something very intriguing about the character. I may have been new to the show at time, but everyone I know about the character comes from just one actress. Usually I don’t know all of this information from just one actor or actress. This actress seemed to spend a lot of time getting to know her character and make it her own. She also tricked the audience.

Contribution Understudies Put to Theatre

I talked about this before, but I feel like understudies keep on being under appreciated. Without them, so many shows would be cancelled. You have to know how to truly respect them and what they are able to bring to their roles. From the years 2014-2017, I have had a lot of understudies and throughout those years, I have truly learned to really respect them. Without them, you know how much trouble theatre would be in? They would be in a lot. Below I will put a list of mine and if I remember anything about them, I will talk about them.

Possible Spoilers:

1. Grace Morgan (Christine)- I don’t fully remember her when I saw Phantom of the Opera. However, I remember getting choked up by this cast. I remember being drawn to Christine so I bet she was really good as Christine.

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2. Lisa Karlin (Leading Player)- This was my first time seeing Pippin. She was the true standout in this production. Everything I know about the Leading Player was based off of her portrayal. She was able to hide her evilness around Pippin to make it seem like she was someone he can trust and to do that she was very playful around him. She was quite crafty and in “Magic to Do”, I detected a small hint of evil, and then in “Glory”, she was much more dark and evil. Everything I know about this character is Lisa Karlin. Just by one actress, I know so much about one actress: that is impressive.

3. Sam Lips- due to being so intrigued by Lisa Karlin, I don’t remember a clue about Sam.

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4. Adam Bayjou- I literally was in the West End, and I was thinking “wait a minute, I am in the West End about to live my dream and I have a understudy for Jean Valjean”. I was a little bit nervous. Here is how I can say how brilliant he was: I forgot I was watching an understudy: think about that: if you forgot you watched an understudy, that is real talent right there. Below is a picture of me with Adam at Stage Door.

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5. Mary Kate Morrissey- When I have an understudy for Elphaba, it can be kind of scary for me because Elphaba is my all-time favorite musical character. She was actually the standby for Elphaba. Mary Kate embodied everything about Elphaba while bringing something new to the character. She made me appreciate a song I always hated, a song that always seemed emotionless to me: “No Good Deed”. She changed her voice to fit the character: act I: her voice was so much more innocent, but in act II, she changed it to be mature.

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6. Kaitlyn Frank- I did basically forget about her version of Katherine Plumber. I got so into Joey Barreiro as Jack that I did forget about the other acting. I also got mind-blown with the talent into the dancing. However, I recently saw my original Newsies review and it did say she had incredible chemistry with Joey Barreiro, who played Jack Kelly.

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7. Talia Simone Robinson- this was a bit of a coincidence. How is it that my 2nd professional cast of Les Mis did I end up with an understudy? I thought that was the craziest thing, but this time instead of Jean Valjean, my understudy was Eponine. Talia wasn’t the strongest actor in the love triangle: it was Marius instead. However Talia had extremely strong moments as Eponine. She did not start out that strong as Eponine, but she eventually was able to embody the role. She was flirty and playful around Marius. As I recall, I think I heard some tears at the end of “On My Own” and during that song, I got some goosebumps. Than during “A Little Fall of Rain”, each time she tried to move, she barely could showing that she was weak and just getting weaker indicting that she was dying.

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So RESPECT the understudies. They have much more talent than you realize. They are able to embody the roles more than you think. Look at all of these understudies. When I saw Lisa, I didn’t even know who the Leading Player was, and Lisa was able to get me so intrigued by that character and usually the first time I discover the antagonist, that usually that doesn’t happen. Then at Mary Kate, she made me appreciate a song I always hated for once. I was able to respect what Talia was able to bring to Eponine even though she didn’t start out that strong; she eventually was able to embody the role. It is not easy to be an understudy: they have to work harder than anybody. You have to be aware how many productions would be cancelled if they didn’t exist. Just appreciate them much more.

Who is The Leading Player?

I started with a character from Pippin because Pippin is a musical that is rarely talked about on this blog. The only character I can really analyze from that musical is The Leading Player.

The Leading Player is the antagonist and narrator of Pippin. She opens up the musical. She is very crafty, manipulative. and playful. In “Magic to Do”, she is full of surprise and is quite playful but at the same time there is a tad bit of evil in there. But once it transitions to “Glory”, you get an idea of how dark the Leading Player really is. She knows what she wants to do with Pippin, which is quite dark and evil. Even though she knows what she wants do with Pippin, she does not make it clear to the audience making her quite shady.

She is very playful around Pippin making Pippin believe that he can trust her. That allows him to listen to her so she is able to easily manipulative him. Not only does she it make it not that obvious to Pippin, she also makes it that not clear to the audience. So she tricks both the audience and Pippin.

She is this shady, crafty, dark, and playful character and is so intriguing.. Eventually Pippin eventually goes against the Leading Player’s wishes. The Leading Player is so complex. Everything I know about the Leading Player is based off of Lisa Karlin’s just brilliant performance of the Leading Player: when I saw Pippin May 2015 I was much more intrigued with the Leading Player than Pippin and part of that was because of the portrayal.

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Favorite Leading Player Actress

I have wanted to see Pippin since I first heard “Corner of the Sky”. I missed Pippin the first time it toured to Charlotte. When I saw Pippin, I was quite lucky because when my mom bought tickets for the two of us, there was only one day left with seats together. I managed to see Pippin in May of 2015.

I was very intrigued by the Leading Player than Pippin. A lot of that was because the actress playing the Leading Player was stronger than the actor playing Pippin. I saw Lisa Karlin that night and everything I know about the Leading Player comes from her performance. She was able to show in “Magic to Do” that she is a playful character, but at the same time, she was to some kind of evil in her voice. So her voice was playful but at the same time had a hint of evil. But in “Glory”, she changed her voice to be much darker and whenever she was around Pippin, her voice was more playful. So she kept on changing her voice depending on the situation. With Pippin, she was quite crafty and was manipulating him and he couldn’t tell due to her voice.

Lisa played the Leading Player as manipulate, playful, crafty, mysterious and dark. Even the audience couldn’t detect what her real motives are. She kept on leading Pippin in the wrong path and she was able to trick the audience into thinking that Pippin was heading in the right direction, but that wasn’t the case. She did trick me like that. Even though she was the antagonist, she was at the narrator and was intriguing and it can be hard to understand why she had those dark motives. It really looked like Lisa enjoyed playing the Leading Player. The fact that she can trick Pippin and the audience really shows just how manipulative she really is. She only really shows her darkness whenever she isn’t around Pippin.

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Hard Work of a Musical Actor

The word pretend truly reminds of how much work an actor needs to do in order to get into character. Each time I see a musical live, I am surprised at what an actor is able to do. In the past two years, I have seen six different musicals which are Music Man, Pippin, Newsies, Sound of Music, Wicked, and Les Mis. In these shows, the actors need to live the character’s lives eight times a week. The characters from these shows have been either comic, tragic, dramatic, romantic, etc. In all six of these musicals, there were both simple and complex characters. Some of the characters from these musicals were simple such as Winthrop , Theo, and the younger Von Trapp Children and some were more complex such as Elphaba, Glinda, Jean Valjean and Eponine.

In some of those musicals, characters age over a wide range of time such as Javert and Jean Valjean. In that same musical, even Cosette and Eponine get older over a nine year gap. In some of the character’s lives of these musicals, some tragically die, but while several characters die in Les Mis, their deaths are memorable. I cannot imagine what it is like to portray the tragic characters where you have to die eight times a week and where the character lives a very unfortunate life.

Some of these characters do not live tragic lives, but live a life filled with conflict and hardship and these are characters such as Elphaba and all of the Newsies. For the Newsies, that is especially difficult on Crutchie as he has a bum leg and has to rely on crutch. That makes him more vulnerable to certain situations, but he has such spirit and helps keep the group together and truly depends on Jack Kelly. Elphaba has to face a life of being a outcast all because she is green, but at least she finds love in Fiyero and friendship in Glinda.

Some of the actors from these musicals had to learn to dance and others had to know how to do aerobatics. I was the most impressed with the dancing from Newsies because it blows your mind away and those actors are jumping high, jumping over each other, back flips among other incredible things. I may have loved the dancing from Newsies the most, but I still loved the dancing and spectacle of Wicked along with the circus and dance elements of Pippin

Newsies was the only cast where the entire cast was basically all male and only like three females. I did love the other casts as well especially the ones from Les Mis and Wicked. When it comes to Les Mis and Wicked, I have high expectations. In Wicked, I saw one of the best Glinda and Elphaba pairings and they delivered “For Good” perfectly. As for Les Mis, I did have higher expectations only because I was seeing the show in the West End and the thing I truly wanted from the West End production was that the emotions needed to truly and deeply and powerfully move me. I was living my dream by seeing it in the West End and the entire cast delivered and that was the best cast I ever saw live.

Sometimes I get the most impressed by the understudies. In Newsies, Wicked, Les Mis, and Pippin, there were understudies for lead characters. Those characters were Pippin and the Leading Player from Pippin, Jean Valjean from Les Mis, Elphaba from Wicked, and Katherine from Newsies. Those understudies have to memorize more then everyone else and have to memorize different blocking depending on if they are one for a lead character or if they are one for their ensemble track. They are not always in for the character they understudy for, which means they have less opportunities. In fact, I was impressed with all of these understudies. All of these understudies truly impressed me mainly Jean Valjean, Leading Player, and Elphaba. Some people tend to forget how much harder these actors need to work compared to the regular actor in for a role. For an understudy to play Valjean or Elphaba, it can be quite scary to fill in the shoes of the main actor. Elphaba and Valjean are two of the most complex and demanding and well-known roles.

It takes way more then the actor alone to get into character. It even takes all of the work of the backstage crew to help them get into character. It helps when they actually look like the character through their costume and makeup. Backstage crew helps any lead or ensemble members handle the quick changes because characters go through more then one costume through the course of one show.

It takes several rehearsals to understand the particular production. The actors have to memorize lines, choreography,  blocking, and truly understand the character. You have to learn to portray the character in a way that makes it your own, but at the same time stays true to the character and lives up to the audience’s expectations. They need to express what the character is feeling along with what kind of a life the character lives. In musicals like Wicked and Les Mis, there is a lot of pressure for the actor because the characters are so well-loved by many. It is so cool how actors truly make the story come alive each and every night and the characters become real to you. The actors truly rely on the audience because the audience helps them make choices due to their reactions. There are many wonderful things to say about actors and so blessed that they are willing to tell their character’s stories over the course of a year and eight times a week. Think about how hard it can be to portray a complex character compared to a simple or how hard it can be to portray a character who has a very miserable and tragic life.

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