Connecticut Composer's Tunes Get New Run In 'Scrapbook' At Goodspeed

It's not as if Stephen Schwartz was just hanging out at his Ridgefield home this fall.

The composer's "to do" list was staggering: Working on lyrics to a new Bollywood animated movie musical, jetting around the world from Toledo to New Zealand to check in on productions of the musical "Wicked" and prepping for a private look-see in December of his Broadway-bound show, "Houdini" which stars Hugh Jackman as the master magician.

But an intriguing little show featuring music from throughout his 40 year-plus career — but presented in a new context — well, that's something in which he could make some time.

"Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook" is a developmental production of Schwartz's stage songs that begins performances Thursday, Oct. 24, at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in Chester. The six-actor show, directed by Daniel Goldstein, runs through Nov. 17.

Goodspeed has had an ongoing relationship with the Connecticut composer, having presented a revival of Schwartz's "The Baker's Wife" at the Chester theater in 2002 and then a revival of his "Pippin" at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam in 2006. The composer also received the Goodspeed Award for distinguished achievement in musical theater.

But "Snapshots" is a different type of show, says Schwartz during a luncheon interview at a restaurant in Old Saybrook before swinging by the theater. Conceived by Michael Scheman and David Stern, it has been kicking around in various forms for 15 years but this latest incarnation with a new book by Stern is especially fresh and compelling, says the 65-year-old composer.

The show began years ago as a traditional song cycle of his tunes, but a story-line gradually took over to the point that Schwartz says it is now hard to categorize the entertainment: neither a simple "best-of-Schwartz" revue nor a book musical.

The show, according to the theater's description, centers on Sue and Dan, "a couple who after 20 years of marriage have drifted apart. Together they discover a box of photographs which leads them to relive the memories of their past selves."

Lyrical Changes

But while the melodies meshed with the characters' various situations and emotions along the way, some of the lyrics didn't quite fit.

"So at one point when I had some time, I thought if this new idea is to work I needed to write new lyrics for some of the songs."

For instance, the infectious tune, "No Time At All" in the show "Pippin" is performed by a sage and spunky grandmother urging the title character to celebrate life. In "Snapshots," it now has the point of view of an innocent, hopeful youth looking forward.

"What I like about the project," says Schwartz, "is that I don't know of any comparable show that has done what this one is doing," he says. "Fifty percent of the lyrics are new which may feel strange for some people's ears while others may find intriguing."

For Schwartz, the lyrical re-do was "fun" and a chance to revisit familiar turf. "I didn't know I had written so many coming-of-age songs," he jokes.

"The idea of taking existing music and putting lyrics to that music is not something that is unfamiliar to me," he says, pointing to his collaboration as lyricist with composers such as Alan Menken and Charles Strouse. "Even when [writing both lyrics and music] myself, I'm often starting with music first anyway."

For many audience members, he says, it may be a moot point. "Many of the tunes aren't all that familiar. I don't feel the majority of people are going to come in knowing everything by heart anyway."

All the songs in "Snapshots" are from Schwartz's stage shows — "Wicked," "Pippin," "The Baker's Wife," "Godspell," "Rags," "Personals," "The Magic Show," "Working," "Captain Louie" and "Children of Eden" — with the exception of one tune from the film "Enchanted."

Busy Season

Does Schwartz feel any sense of nostalgia in dealing with the sweep of a decades-long career?

"It's such a strange feeling to start out as the new kid on the block — and to really have been a kid when I started." (Schwartz was 21 when he had his first song on Broadway; 23 when "Godspell" opened in New York; and 24 when "Pippin" became a smash.) "I guess the [elder statesman] feeling is particularly acute for me now because of the recent revivals."