Stephen Schwartz is the king of Broadway adaptations, but there’s a secret to the success of his shows like Wicked (besides Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth). He doesn’t just adapt any old story, even if it has a huge fan base. This is particularly pertinent in this day and age when nostalgia sells. We’ve seen it on TV, in the form of remakes like Fuller House and Charmed; on the big screen — where do we even begin? — and, on Broadway with shows like Mean Girls, Pretty Woman and Tootsie (coming 2019) .
But the Grammy and Oscar Award-winning composer (nope, he hasn’t won a Tony yet! though he did snap up an the honorary, “non-competitive” Isabelle Stevenson Award at the Tonys in 2015) thinks we need to be a bit more selective when it comes to remakes and adaptations. “The truth of it is, I think some of them work and some of them don’t,” Schwartz told Broadway Spin at a special performance of his new show onboard Princess Cruises, Born to Dance. “Some of them are good ideas and some of them, not so much,” he shared. Wicked — which celebrates its 15-year anniversary on Broadway this week and is the second-highest grossing show of all time behind The Lion King — was clearly a good idea.
So how does the mastermind behind Wicked decide what deserves a Broadway reboot? It’s about more than recognition. It’s about relevance. “I think it’s important that, if a work comes with a certain brand recognition, the audience also connects with it today. There has to be a reason for it to exist in the now,” he explained. “Otherwise, why are you doing it?” Not everyone thinks this way, though. “Without naming names, I could cite some examples of shows that don’t have a good enough reason, and then others where I felt they really found a fresh important way to tell the story again.”
Fifteen years after its debut on the Great White Way, Wicked is in-process of being adapted for the big screen. And, yes, we asked him about it. Don’t get your hopes up though. He wouldn’t say a word about the production. “Oh, you know I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not going anywhere near that. I will tell you the film is in development, we’re on our way.” That’s good enough for us… ’cause it will have to be.
While you’d think after the success of Wicked, people would serve him the rights to anything he wanted on a silver platter, that’s not the case. “There were two books I wanted to adapt, neither of which I could get the rights for,” Schwartz revealed. One of them was later turned into a Tony-winning play. So… who turned him down?
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” he quipped. “I couldn’t get those rights and instead they went and made that excellent play.” Schwartz has no hard feelings, and either do we… although, we can’t help but wonder now what it would have been like as a musical. The other one that got away (or that he hasn’t caught yet!) is Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind. “I always think Perfume would make a really interesting and dark musical, but I couldn’t get those rights either,” he sighed.
Instead Schwartz shifted focus to other projects: one was bringing Disney’s The Prince of Egypt to the stage at TheatreWorks in Silicon Valley last year. The other is a movie musical about Hans Christian Andersen. Schwartz actually played one of the new songs from the film for an audience of roughly 1,000 friends and family at his 70th birthday party earlier this year (… AND WE WERE THERE!). Spoiler: the song is really, really good. Oh, and the movie is rumored to be starring Baby Driver‘s Ansel Elgort. Let’s end on that note.