'Wicked' Composer Stephen Schwartz: Failures Drive Me To Succeed

07/08/2016 05:45 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2017

Last month marked Super Sunday on Broadway with the 70th Annual Tony Awards. As Tony Award host James Corden said, "this is like the Super Bowl for people who don't know what the Super Bowl is."

Stephen Schwartz knows the day well. As the composer of many hit musicals including Wicked, Pippin and Godspell, he has six Tony Award nominations. Last year he received a special Tony Award for his fierce commitment to fostering the next generation of artists. He has also won Oscars and Grammy awards.

For as long as he can remember Schwartz had a great passion for music. "I've always known what I wanted to do," he says. He grew up in a Long Island suburb called Roslyn Heights, in a subdivision called South Park, (no joke). His parents were friendly with their neighbor, a composer named George Kleinsinger who had a successful record called "Tubby the Tuba."

When Schwartz was six, his parents brought him along on visits to Kleinsinger. The composer played whatever he was working on at the time. "I would go over to his piano and pick out the tune," says Schwartz. "He said to my parents, 'I think Stephen has some musical ability. You might want to get him piano lessons.'" They did.

A few years later when Kleinsinger's show, Shinbone Alley, opened on Broadway, Schwartz's parents brought him to see the production. He was completely smitten. "I said this is what I want to do with my life,'" he explains. Curiously the musical, which was not successful, featured ensemble of dancing cats. "Many of the reviews said, "why would anyone want to pay to go see a bunch of dancing cats," which demonstrates the importance of timing.' says Schwartz.

While at Carnegie Mellon University he began writing songs for Pippin. By the time he graduated and was just 23,his first full musical made its New York debut. It was called Godspell. The show became a sensation and the song "Day by Day" climbed the Billboard charts.

Schwartz remembers Godspell's opening night. "We had gotten a not good review in the New York Times, but all the other reviews were great," he recalls. While he didn't know that the show would end up being a phenomenon, It was clear that it was destined to run."My wife and I were driving to Long Island to stay at my parents' house for a couple of days. I said to her, 'no matter what else ever happens in my life, this night happened and it can never be taken away from me,' says Schwartz. "I still remember that feeling and it is still moving to me."

Many of Schwartz's shows are beloved. Since opening on Broadway in 2003, Wicked is one the longest running Broadway shows in history and seen by more than 30 million people around the world.

Schwartz chooses his projects based on love. As he explains, "if somebody comes to me with an idea or I stumble across one,I think, I'd love to spend time in that world." That's the case with his latest collaboration with Princess Cruises and team of Broadway heavy hitters on the show Born to Dance.

Offering a unique insider view of the lives of Broadway dancers and famous choreographers, Born to Dance celebrates the role dance plays on Broadway through iconic musical hits like West Side Story, A Chorus Line, and Chicago. "Dancers are the unsung heroes Broadway musicals," says Schwartz. "It seemed such a nice idea to have them front and center, for the spotlight be on them...to be interviewed and express their feelings about being dancers." Created and directed by Broadway vet Daniel C. Levine, (Les Misérables, Chicago, Mamma Mia!), Born to Dance is scheduled to debut exclusively on Princess Cruises in the Fall of 2016.