For a long time the 1998 animated film “The Prince of Egypt” didn’t have an official stage adaptation. But that didn’t stop fans from putting on live versions of the musical anyway—as Stephen Schwartz, the composer of “Prince of Egypt” (not to mention Broadway shows like “Wicked“), unexpectedly discovered a while back.
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
“When I was working on something in Copenhagen, I saw that there was a pirated version being done at a town in Sweden nearby,” Schwartz recalls on the new episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety’s theater podcast. “I went and saw it! They sort of made up their own script and then stuck the songs in.”
That unauthorized production was just one of many indicators that “theater groups, colleges, church groups and community theaters around the country and around the world wanted to do a stage version,” he said. In response to the demand, Universal and DreamWorks eventually got the ball rolling on an official stage version that expands the story with several new songs by Schwartz. The show eventually bowed on the West End in 2020 and is now hitting VOD in a release from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
On the new “Stagecraft,” the composer delves into the backstory of his work on the musical and discussed collaborating with his son, Scott Schwartz, who directed “Prince of Egypt.” He also gives an update on the big-budget, two-part movie adaptation of his Broadway blockbuster “Wicked”—”I know [director] Jon Chu has been editing, but I haven’t seen anything yet”— and explained all the ways that “Wicked” remains a big part of his life 20 years after the musical’s Broadway premiere.
“Just last weekend, I was in Philadelphia to see the tour,” he notes. “I was taking notes and working with the sound guy at the soundboard, et cetera. … Everyone works extremely hard to maintain the show, and I’m part of that. I just got an email today about a cast replacement, asking if I would look at the video that this young woman submitted.”
Most productions of “Wicked” around the world are replicas of the Broadway production, but not all. There was recently an entirely new staging in São Paolo that turned heads with its realistic flying effects. “It was extremely cool,” Schwartz says. “She came right out into the audience and you felt at one moment that she’s actually gonna land on the audience. There was this gasp as she dropped.”
Meanwhile, the composer is also at work on a new musical, “The Queen of Versailles,” starring his former “Wicked” collaborator Kristin Chenoweth. He describes it as “a pop score, maybe a little country-inflected,” and discussed writing tunes specifically for Chenoweth, a formally trained soprano.
“Kristen has an extraordinary range, but the character she’s playing in ‘Queen of Versailles’ would not have that soprano,” Schwartz says. “In ‘Wicked,’ we developed the concept that Glinda has a public persona who sings in soprano and a private persona who is, you know, more chest voice. ‘Queen of Versailles’ is almost all set in that part of Kristen’s range.”
He adds, “But I know her voice very well and, you know, obviously my job is to make her sound great on every single note. So we have found a way to sneak in her soprano in one sequence. Just because we should. Because it’s Kristin!”
To hear the entire conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.