Stephen Schwartz: Taking A New Look At 'Rags'


Stephen Schwartz looks pretty composed these days considering his bicoastal shuttles.

When we met for this interview, he had just gotten back to his Connecticut home from California, where a stage version of DreamWorks’ 1998 animated film, “The Prince of Egypt,” was preparing for its world premiere at TheaterWorks Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, staged by his son, veteran director Scott Schwartz. (The show then will open in Denmark next year.)

Then he was off to the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, where he was overseeing the progress of a “revisal” of the 1986 musical, “Rags.” Then he returned to the West Coast to zero in on the shooting script for the film version of “Wicked,” set for release in 2019.

But over coffee in the breakfast nook of the Ridgefield home he has for his visiting parents, children and grandchildren — his own manse is not far away — Schwartz, 69, had the focused cool of an old pro. After all, he is one of the most successful Broadway composer-lyricists with “Pippin,” “Godspell” and “Wicked” among his credits. He also created lyrics and/or music for such animated films as “Pocahontas,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Enchanted,” earning him three Oscars. He’s received three Grammys and has been nominated six times for Tony Awards. In 2015 he received a special Tony Award for his work supporting young artists.

But today is about “Rags,” and the unique task of turning the musical, which ran for only four performances in 1986, into a viable show that suddenly reflects the political zeitgeist, with a future life. It’s not the first time the musical — with its rich score by Charles Strouse (“Bye Bye Birdie,” “Annie,” “Applause”) and Schwartz’s deft lyrics — has been worked on since its closing.