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Aug 22, 2017 10:49 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Stephen Schwartz Show Will Conclude 2017 Music Mondays Series At Bay Street

Stephen Schwartz at the Bay Street Theater.  DANA SHAW
Aug 22, 2017 11:12 AM

For more than four decades, acclaimed composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz has stimulated the human connection to music with his works, which range from modern masterpieces like “Pippin” and “Godspell” to Broadway blockbusters like “Wicked” to childhood staples like Disney’s “Pocahontas” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

And on Monday, August 28, at 8 p.m. this legend of stage and screen will close out Bay Street Theater’s Music Mondays summer series with a cabaret titled “Stephen Schwartz and Friends.”

Joining him are a group of noteworthy performers: Tony nominee and Emmy winner Liz Callaway, honored cabaret veteran Scott Coulter and Tony-award-winning actress and vocalist Debbie Gravitte.

Mr. Schwartz, interviewed by The Press last week, said he has worked with each artist professionally in the past and is looking forward to presenting this cabaret with such a world-class group of players.

He’s also known the three performers on a personal level. Ms. Gravitte, he said, lived close to his residence in Connecticut—making them practically neighbors. As for Ms. Callaway, he said the two often play tennis together. And while he originally met Mr. Coulter on the cabaret scene, the two have “hung out and have [remained] friends for awhile now.”

The concert, Mr. Schwartz said, will consist of many of his own songs—some familiar to audiences and others not so much.

“The three singers are excellent singers and they each have very distinct styles so we do a bunch of mash-ups and duets and trios—it’s fun,” Mr. Schwartz said.

The cabaret, however, is not Mr. Schwartz’s first appearance at Bay Street this summer. He has been a humongous presence in the theater’s current Mainstage production of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” having penned the jazz era music that supplements the show.

Director John Doyle called Mr. Schwartz personally to ask him to provide music for the show—a co-production of Bay Street and Classic Stage Company in New York City. This required him to write music to accompany lyrics already provided in Shakespeare’s original text.

“[John Doyle] asked me if I’d like to do the music and I’ve always admired his work, but had never worked with him and haven’t done any Shakespeare songs since I was in college so it seemed like a fun assignment and it turned out to be so,” Mr. Schwartz said.

It was also Mr. Doyle’s idea for the music to evoke a ’30s jazz style sound, which Mr. Schwartz admitted was “way outside [his] normal style.”

“It was fun to do some research into that musical genre and try and write within it,” he said.

Much of his inspiration came from listening to radio stations that exclusively play music from that time period, as well as from sheet music he browsed to find obscure songs that stepped away from some of the better known composers of the era—like Gershwin and Rodgers and Hart, explained Mr. Schwartz.

“I felt out what the different harmonies were and the way the melodies worked and tried to internalize that style,” he said.

Writing the music to “As You Like It” was also a new experience for him in that he was not writing lyrics—forcing him to alter his process a bit.

“Basically, I was setting lyrics and trying to do so in the style John asked for, but the goal is obviously to write tunes that will stick in the ears of the audience and also to set the words in a way to make them comprehensible and meaningful—to support the emotion and the scansion as Shakespeare wrote them,” he explained.

Following his performance at Bay Street on Monday, Mr. Schwartz will dive headfirst into working on the stage adaptation of the 1998 animated musical “The Prince of Egypt,” which will be directed by his son, Scott Schwartz, in a California production that goes into rehearsals next month. And concurrently to that, he said he is working on a “revisal” of a show titled “Rags,” which he wrote lyrics for in 1986. While it didn’t succeed initially, he said it is now being given a new life with a new book and new songs and will premiere at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut.

“I’m sort of going to be bouncing back and forth between Connecticut and California as those two shows happen,” Mr. Schwartz said. “That’s what’s in my immediate future.”

And despite being one of the world’s most sought-after composers and lyricists, Mr. Schwartz finds the time to nurture up-and-coming artists through a workshop he has run for the last 20 years. Many of the writers who have passed through his workshop are now celebrating success on Broadway and beyond.

In these workshops, he said, he discusses elements of craft, how to approach writing for a character, setting a musical tone or palette for an entire work while also encouraging them to “hang in there with the kind of persistence that is required in a pretty difficult business.”

“It’s something I enjoy doing and I learn as much from them, if not more, than they do from me,” he said.

“Stephen Schwartz & Friends” takes place at Bay Street Theater on Monday, August 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $69 to $125. Call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

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