Oscar®, Grammy® & Tony Award®-winning composer Stephen Schwartz chats to us about his new show for Princess Cruises Born To Dance

Australian cruisers will be amongst the first to see the newest show by Oscar®, Grammy® & Tony Award®-winning composer Stephen Schwartz.

His first musical production (which showed on Emerald Princess during its six month season cruising out of Sydney last summer) Magic to Do– combined his lifelong fascination with magic with some of his most famous songs, such as “Magic to Do” from Pippin and “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. Now Schwartz has created the second show Born to Dance– a tribute to Broadway choreography featuring performances that celebrate some of Broadway’s most-famous hits from West Side Story, A Chorus Line and Chicago.

We chatted to Stephen from LA to talk all things Born To Dance, and managed to wheedle out some important info on other upcoming projects too (including the upcoming Wicked film adaption!)

Kat: So “Born to Dance”, us Australian’s are going to be amongst the first in the world to see this new work. Can you introduce it to us in your own words?

Stephen: Yeah a couple of years ago I entered into a partnership with Princess Cruise Lines. It came about because they approached me about doing a review of my work called “Magic To Do”, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s songs of mine accompanied by cool magic. As we were working on that we found that we were having a good time. And Princess was interested, and continues to be interested in upping the level of their entertainment and trying to make it unusually, of a high level for what is thought of as cruise ship entertainment. And they asked if I would, so to speak, come aboard-

(both laugh)

Stephen: – in a partnership to try and find them shows that would be of a higher level. I came across this show called “Born to Dance”. It was recommended to me by one of the producers of “Wicked” David Stone, because friends of his had developed it. And I saw a video that they had done as they were developing it and I thought it was really perfect in many ways for Princess, and for their ships. So I brought it to them and they were enthusiastic about it.

Kat: It seems like quite an accessible show which I think is probably what you need for that audience. So it’s more like a casual, kind of, viewing experience?

Stephen: Well that’s what I mean, it doesn’t have a lot of plot. After all, their audience are not all english speakers. But what it does have is great music and really cool dancing and interesting information because it is in part, a survey of the development of Broadway choreography. So it will show, you know, uh, a number or two from Agnes de Mille, and from Jerome Robbins, from Bob Fosse and from Gower Champion. And some of the more contemporary choreographers, but it’s also accompanied by interviews with both Broadway dancers, and Broadway choreographers talking about the influences on them of the artists who’d gone before. Also, what it meant to them to dance. The challenges they faced. In a way, somewhat like, um, “A Chorus Line” but with this- but they’re talking about themselves not playing characters.

Another one of the nice things about it, and why it seemed to me, so appropriate for the ship, is that these ships travel with a group of dancers- usually about 17 dancers. Mostly what they get to do is be back up to singers and this really spotlighted them, and the extraordinary skills that they actually have. And on each ship, an interview with some of the dancers on the show-

Kat: Oh the actually ones that will be performing?

Stephen: The actual ones, yeah. So the audience really gets to know them as people and it turns out that it’s not just exciting and fun, but it’s quite moving. And, the dancers of course are thrilled to be doing it. And the audience’s really respond strongly to it. So it seems to be working out very well.

Kat: And was there anything that when you did “Magic To Do”, that you sort of learned and built on with that sort of audience and that sort of environment in the show, that needed to happen? Like, was there anything that, sort of changed, in the approach or?

Stephen: Well, sure, I mean each time one does something in a new medium, or a new format, you learn. You know, like when I went from writing Broadway shows and musical theatre to doing animated features and then to doing live-action musicals. Each medium makes its own demands and on the ship, you know, it’s quite a concentrated period of time. It’s 50 minutes, no more than that. They have extraordinary technical capabilities on these ships, which I didn’t really know about before they really have a state-of-the-art theatre.

But as I said, one wants to make sure that you are communicating what you need to, not just through words, because some of the audience are not English speakers or at least English is not their first language.

Kat: But I do think the language of musicals is universal. (laughs)

Stephen: No, I agree. And of course, the whole point of doing this was not just to do a sort of review that is somewhat mindless, et cetera. The whole point was to up the level of entertainment and have the audience have an experience that is emotionally satisfying, and has a component of something that they’re learning or something that they’re experiencing for the first time.

Kat: Yeah, and you’re definitely working with an amazing team there as well.

Stephen: They’re fantastic, yeah.

Kat: And there’s four shows isn’t there? This is the second of four?

Stephen: Eventually yeah, this is the second of at least four shows I will bring them. In fact I have a meeting tonight about the next show which is going to be again in the Pacific for the ships that are in Asia. And it’s an adaptation of an Asian folktale which is being devised by John Tartaglia, who is sort of an expert, not only in theatrical storytelling, but using puppetry. And I went to him and said, you know, “Would you be interested in coming up with a show that uses puppets the way you do, but not for children?”. For basically an adult audience, and he’s come up with some ideas and a show that I think is going to be really exciting and beautiful. So, that’s the next one coming up.

Kat: I really don’t think it’s fair that it’s only on the cruise ships.

Stephen: Well, that’s the point (laughs), I mean, what Princess wanted was something where it could only be seen on one of their ships. Now, having said that the extraordinary response that “Magic To Do” has gotten, has started them thinking about after these shows have been on their ships for a while, exclusively, launching a stage version-

Kat: (Gasps) Yes!

Stephen: Of the shows. So I think that’s very likely to happen with “Magic To Do” and indeed subsequently with “Born to Dance” if we have a successful experience with “Magic To Do”.

Kat: Oh, that’s good news then. I really don’t think I’m the right audience yet for cruise liners’ but if it was a shorter trip, maybe I would’ve just jumped on it, you know?

Stephen: Thank you for saying that because the point of what we’re trying to do is, are shows that people would want to see, you know, in any locale. The fact that they’re only available, at least when they’re first created and for the first few years on a Princess ship, is- is the whole point of what Princess is trying to do.

Kat: I really think they should work on developing a specific cruise for musical theatre. I know they have them for other audiences. I know they have a dance party one. So I think they should have a musical theatre party cruise.

Stephen: I think that’s an excellent idea. You know, so I hope someone from Princess is listening!

Kat: Well, I just had one more question and it really is a bit self-serving. But what else is in the works for you at the moment apart from this show for Princess and then the third one? I know that the “Prince of Egypt” musical is readying for October-November, is that still right?

Stephen: That is correct and that is certainly front burner for me now. We’re coming up to the first production of the stage adaptation of the “Prince of Egypt”, which will be at a relatively small regional theatre in California, as we develop the show.

Also a kind of fun thing for me- I was asked by the excellent director, John Doyle, who is doing a production of “As You Like It” this summer and then bringing it to his company in New York. There are a lot of songs in “As You Like It”, so he asked if I would write the music for the songs that Mr. Shakespeare (laughs) wrote the lyrics to. So I’m doing that and that’s going to be coming up in August. So those are sort of front burner theatre stuff. And then of course, in fact tomorrow, I have a meeting with Winnie Holzman, the book writer of Wicked, as we continue to work on the screen adaptation of that.

Kat: We’re all waiting very eagerly for that!

Stephen: Well, we’re working hard on it!

Kat: Well, it was really amazing talking to you again, thank you so much.

Stephen: Thank you, you too. Oh and I’m coming down there again this coming February with my ASCAP musical theatre workshop. We did a round of them in Australia a few years ago with aspiring Australian musical theatre writers. So we’re coming to work with them again in February!

Kat: Oh, well we’ll see you then!

Stephen: Yes, I look forward to being there!

Stephen Schwartz’s Born To Dance can now be exclusively seen on locally-based ship Golden Princess. You can view the trailer and more information here!