San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' March 20-21 Tribute to 'Wicked' Genius Includes Exclusive New Song Inspired By 'It Gets Better' Campaign
Many months ago, when composer Stephen Schwartz received an email from the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus asking permission to perform a concert entirely of his work, the wheels started turning.
Impressed by the nearly 300-member chorus's reputation for high-quality, creative productions, Schwartz was instantly excited. Then, during conversation with SFGMC artistic director and conductor Dr. Tim Seelig -- and inspired by his own love for writing choral music -- he made the decision to compose an original piece exclusively for the show.
But the Broadway legend and multiple Oscar-winner, perhaps best known to younger audiences for his soaring arrangements in smash musical Wicked, knew it had to be something special.
"I wanted to do something that was subject matter meaningful to the Chorus itself, to the organization," recalls Schwartz, who first shot to international acclaim in the '70s when both Godspell and Pippin swept the Great White Way. "That's when I started thinking about the 'It Gets Better Project.'"
Started by out author Dan Savage as a response to a rash of suicides among LGBTQ youth, "It Gets Better" is a campaign urging real people to share stories of growing up gay, overcoming bullying and finding acceptance and happiness in their lives. A long-time fan of Savage -- who has published books and written his "Savage Love" sex and advice column for a quarter-century -- Schwartz was moved by the project.
"I thought that was a really brilliant idea!" says the three-time Grammy winner, "It's very, very necessary, and one of those simple but incredibly effective ideas just waiting for somebody to have it.
"And, of course, [Dan] would be the one to have it!" Schwartz says.
Working with "It Gets Better," Schwartz watched an estimated 100 YouTube videos and read The It Gets Better Book: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living. From those, he began to pull actual quotes, phrases and emotions to put to song.
Those feelings and emotions all make their way into Schwartz' breathtakingly poignant new composition "Testimony," already being hailed as the "It Gets Better Anthem." Making its world premiere at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall March 20-21, SFGMC performs it for the very first time in front of a live audience as part of its latest extravaganza, Enchantingly Wicked.
The concert showcases pieces from throughout Schwartz' four-decade career, including songs from Broadway, his feature film work in Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Prince of Egypt, Enchanted and more. San Jose's The Choral Project and acclaimed opera soprano Melody Moore also perform. Schwartz join the chorus onstage to play piano on and sing some numbers as well.
Still, the focal point of the evening is clearly "Testimony."
"It's about people who are made to feel unacceptable because of who they are and finding the courage to accept one's self and celebrate that rather than be ashamed of it or feel you can't go on living because one was born the wrong way," says Schwartz.
It's subject matter few handle as masterfully as he does. Just note the runaway success of Wicked, Schwartz' musical adaptation of author Winnie Holzman's creative retelling of The Wizard of Oz.
"Wicked for many different reasons -- partly the subject matter, partly the nature of the characters and the characters themselves -- has resonated strongly with younger audiences," says Schwartz. In particular, the production strikes a chord, he says, with "people who feels themselves to be outsiders in some way."
No wonder they relate to the production's heroine, the green-skinned Elphaba! Rather than being "The Wicked Witch of the West" known to popular culture, she is instead revealed as a kind, talented and terribly misunderstood young woman thrust into competition by public perception with Galinda (Glinda, if you will), "The Good Witch."
"Elphaba is kind of a metaphor for people who sense themselves to be different and feel themselves to be outcast," the composer explained during a recent telephone interview from his Connecticut home. "I think, particularly growing up, that can be so important."
One doesn't need to be green to relate, Schwartz says. Which, he notes, brings the conversation full-circle to his new piece, "Testimony."
Though inspired by "It Gets Better," the song makes one passing reference to the campaign's name and never specifically mentions being gay. This is in no way a slight to the original intent of the campaign, he says. It only serves to make the message as universal as possible.
"This is beyond a 'growing up gay' experience," he says.
"One of the things that really struck me when I was reading these individual statements people made was how alone they felt," he says, "How much they felt they were going through something all by themselves that nobody else ever had.
"The amazing value of this project is letting people know their experiences are not unique to them. They are, in fact, not alone," he says, "Bringing that message is the power, the brilliance of 'It Gets Better.'"
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Presents Enchantingly Wicked, Tues.-Weds., March 20-21, at Davies Symphony Hall. 8pm. Tickets $15-75.
For More Information, Visit: http://www.SFGMC.org
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the dates of the SFGMC performance. The post has been updated to reflect that the performance will occur on March 20-21.