Scott and Stephen Schwartz: Keeping theater in the family

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Posted: Dec 08, 2015 10:27 AM
Scott and Stephen Schwartz: Keeping theater in the family

NEW YORK (AP) — When director Scott Schwartz needs an expert opinion, he can always turn to a guy who knows a thing or two about the theater — his dad.

Schwartz's father is Stephen Schwartz, lyricist and composer of such celebrated shows as "Wicked," ''Godspell" and "Pippin."

They consult regularly about their own projects, appreciating the extra set of eyes and ears, while somehow putting aside the father-son dynamic for a more director-composer vibe.

"We trust each other, we know each other very well," said Stephen Schwartz. "We have quite similar artistic sensibilities — not entirely — but similar enough that we don't tend to be at loggerheads very often."

Scott, artistic director of the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, New York, recently leaned on dad when he was directing "Gigantic," a musical comedy from the Vineyard Theatre now playing at Theatre Row's Acorn Theatre.

Stephen Schwartz, 67, saw an early workshop version of the show set in a fat camp and had a few issues with the second act. By the time he caught it a second time, those issues were solved, but now there were problems with setting up the story.

"It's not as if I'll say, 'You should do this' because that's not actually very useful," said the father. "What I will say is, 'I didn't understand such-and-such' or 'You lost me at this point.'"

Scott, 41, who directed "Golda's Balcony" and the musical "Jane Eyre" on Broadway, said he likes getting such feedback.

"It's coming from the perspective of wanting the other person to succeed and do the best work they can," he said. The two keep things professional: "It's a fun, continuing discussion that we have."

It works both ways, too. The son went to an early reading of "Wicked" and had trouble with Elphaba's first song.

"The song just didn't seem to be landing, and when Scott came to the reading, he said, 'Listen, I feel that whole scene is a bad idea,'" said his father.

The younger man's comments led to scrapping the scene — with the agreement of the other creative team members, of course — and the addition of the song "The Wizard and I," which his dad said "was pretty much entirely Scott's suggestion."

"I know that if Scott tells me something is not working, it's because he genuinely feels it's not working. Both of us don't mince words because we are being asked for our honest opinion," said Stephen.

Scott grew up listening as his father filled the house with music. "When I was a kid, I was exposed to music all the time and I have very fond memories of hearing my father write some of his most famous songs."

After a brief fling with the idea of being an actor, Scott pivoted to directing in high school and went to Harvard University, where he fell for the avant-garde offerings at the university's American Repertory Theater.

Though he downplayed the connection to his famous dad when starting out, father and son have recently directly collaborated on a few projects, including a "Godspell" tour and a musical of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," which Scott Schwartz directed. Stephen Schwartz supplied lyrics.

This winter, Stephen Schwartz is visiting a workshop in Vienna of his new romantic comedy musical, "Schikaneder." He's asked someone special to fly over and offer his opinion — his son.

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Online:

http://www.vineyardtheatre.org/gigantic