Wicked's Stephen Schwartz Is Fighting Real-Life Injustice With Uprising of Love
Elphaba would be proud.
Stephen Schwartz, composer of Wicked and Pippin, has come across his fair share of compelling stories. When those stories are fictional, he puts them to music. When they feature real-life discrimination, he uses music to bring the injustice to light.
Upon hearing about the struggles of LGBTQI activists in Russia, Schwartz helped to kickstart plans for Uprising of Love: A Benefit Concert for Global Equality that will take place September 15 at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre. The event, set to feature performances by two-time Tony winner Patti LuPone, 16-time Grammy Award winner Sting, Bollywood star Celina Jaitly, the Broadway casts of Wicked and Once, and many more, will benefit the Fueling the Frontlines campaign. Schwartz recently spoke to TheaterMania about what concertgoers can expect, and also discussed his admiration for Sting and the reason he identifies with Elphaba.
How did you get involved with this event?
The [Uprising of Love] organization formed around the Sochi Olympics, and I happened to go to a cocktail party that they were holding at the time. I had an opportunity at that party to meet some of the athletes and activists from Russia and hear their personal stories, which were extremely compelling and sort of heartbreaking and admirable. They expressed the concern that once the Olympics were over, and the media attention went elsewhere, that everybody would forget about the issue and that they themselves would be in considerable peril. So I talked to some of the people who were involved with the organization and said, "Can we do something to call attention to this problem?" And as we were discussing the idea of doing a big Broadway benefit, the thought was to expand the focus so that it was international. Not just about Russia, but other countries [that] oppress or persecute LGBTQI people.
What kinds of stories did you hear at that party?
People being arrested. People being beaten up. People being afraid to speak.
Why is this a cause that drew you personally?
The sense that I got from talking to these people was that it was a cause where attention being paid to it and raising some money could actually make a difference. Early on in the marriage-equality debate in this country, I and a lot of people involved with Wicked did some benefits, concerts, raised awareness, and money. Over time that paid off…it actually made a difference.
I sort of get riled up about injustice. It is a cause for me, kind of like Elphaba in Wicked. Maybe that's one of the reasons that I identified with her…There's lots and lots of things we can't do anything about, but this is one where some progress can be made. It's going to take a while, but we can.
Which Uprising of Love performers are you particularly excited about?
Sting is such a hero of mine. I've admired him and his work for so long. I've been very, very influenced by [his work]. So to actually have his participation, and frankly, simply to be able to hear him sing three songs in concert, that's extremely exciting to me. And it's always great to see and hear Patti…she's always amazing. I'm quite interested to hear some of the international performances that I don't know…I think it's going to be a very cool concert.
What does Wicked have planned?
I'm performing with them. Bruce Cohen asked me if I would sing "For Good" with the company. So I'm going to do it with Stephanie J. Block, who was our very, very first Elphaba and is showing up six months pregnant. But she was right with us at the beginning [of Wicked], helping to develop the show, and was probably the first person ever to sing that song. It seemed an appropriate one to do for the evening.
What should people know about the Fueling the Frontlines campaign?
The whole point of Frontlines, and there will be information about it that evening, is that they go into the countries themselves and they help get activists connected with one another. So that, again, is what I mean about you being able to make a difference. The money goes to people on the ground helping to work within the countries where the situation is most egregious — trying to mount a counter attack, if you will. And that has proven successful, so it's a really smart and effective organization.
That sounds like a good reason to go to a concert.
This is a very important cause, and one that I'm very proud to help support. And when do you get to hear Sting in a venue as intimate as this?