Pippin in the center ring: razzle-dazzling!

Pippin 1
Sasha Allen (center) is the Player, in the touring production of Diane Paulus’ revival of Pippin, the 1972 musical by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson. The exuberant new production is set in a circus. Below: John Rubinstein, who originated the role of Pippin in 1972, now plays Pippin’s father, King Charlemagne. Pippin is played by Matthew James Thomas. Photos by Terry Shapiro

Now this is how you revive a musical.Sure, you could set Les Misérables or Sunday in the Park with George in a circus with results that would likely be as baffling as they are entertaining. But when Diane Paulus was inspired to set her revival of Pippin under the big top, she was going for something more than a bright and shiny gimmick. Working with “circus creator” Gypsy Snier of the acclaimed Montréal-based theatrical circus company 7 doigts de la main, Paulus crafted a physical production that mirrored the emotional journey of the show’s central character.

It’s a brilliant concept and one that reenergizes the 1972 show and features its score by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson off to their greatest advantage. Pippin still feels a little like a hippy ’70s musical (a good thing in my book), but this production finds something even more universal in it and makes it feel surprisingly of the moment.

The touring production of Paulus’ Tony Award-winning revival pulled in to the Golden Gate Theatre as part of the SHN season, and it’s a walloping good time. Everything from the cast (singers, dancers and acrobats), to the sets (by Scott Pask) to the lights (by Kenneth Posner to the music (band under the direction of Ryan Cantwell) is first rate and throbbing with life. That’s what you want from this show: color and fun and good old-fashioned razzle-dazzle – until you don’t.

And that’s the trick of Pippin. Originally directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse the show was sly and sexy and funny, doing for war and raping and pillaging and greed what Chicago (also a Fosse production) did for fame whoring. Fosse’s troupe of players, led by The Player, lent a cynical tone to Pippin’s quest for fulfillment. He thinks he’s extraordinary and destined for great things like fame, wealth and cosmic importance, but the players around him know better and continually pull him back into reality.

Pippin 2

In Paulus’ production, that world of carnal lust, power lust, filthy lucre lust is embodied by Sasha Allen as The Player and by the extraordinary ensemble creating the acrobatic circus world around her. Everything is thrilling and gasp-inducing and marvelous and colorful – all the things you want a seductive world to be. And as Pippin, played here as on Broadway by Matthew James Thomas, moves through his journey toward fulfillment (“gotta find my corner of the sky”), the spinning circus of war and politics and sex and revolution is pretty seductive (and incredibly fun to watch).

Act 1 ends in a blaze of glory, but Act 2 presents a big challenge as Pippin actually evolves and begins to embrace a simpler life where fulfillment can be found in work, in nature, in relationships with other people. That writhing, bounding, thrusting mass of players and stunt people becomes a whole lot less important, which means the tone of Act 2 is quite different from Act 1. It’s slower, quieter and boasts a lot less dazzle. Some would say Act 2 is inferior to Act 1 for that reason, but to remain true to Pippin’s story, that’s how it has to be, and this another reason Paulus’ choice of the circus world is so astute. When the circus begins to abate, you really feel its absence. The problem isn’t the lack of spectacle but rather the blandness that begins to infuse Schwartz’s score here. Songs like “Kind of Woman” and “Love Song” are nice, but not nearly as satisfying as earlier tunes like “Magic to Do” or “Morning Glow.”

But the overall concept is a huge win, and it helps make sense of the book, allowing the audience to have a whole lot of fun along the way. Among the many highlights are “War Is a Science” as Pippin’s papa, King Charlemagne, teaches him how to head into battle. Charlemagne, or Charles as he’s called here, is played with gusto by John Rubinstein, who originated the role of Pippin in the original production. Rubinstein seems to relish every minute on stage, and he shows off some fancy knife work in the circus arena.

The show is all but stolen by Lucie Arnaz as Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother. Paulus and Snider have devised a routine for her that is at once astonishing and beautiful. The song, “No Time at All,” becomes the true showstopper of the evening – it’s a sing-along, a wonderful circus act and a surprisingly heartfelt communication between grandmother and grandson. (Side note: Andrea Martin, who won a Tony as Berthe on Broadway, reprises the role the last two weeks of the run in San Francisco.)

Another highlight is Sabrina Harper as Fastrada, wife of the king who would like their son Louis (not Pippin) to ascend the throne. Her number, “Spread a Little Sunshine,” shows off choreographer Chet Walker’s Fosse-inspired moves and gives us three lightning-fast costume changes (costume designs are by Dominiue Lemieux).

The show is chock full of wonderful little moments, from the conversation with the beheaded man to the disembodied legs pushing the cart to the hilarious chickens in the barnyard. It’s musical theater pageantry at its best (though the sound in the Golden Gate leaves something to be desired), and it’s a joy to run away with this unique, ultimately quite moving, circus.

[bonus interview]
I had the pleasure of interviewing Pippin circus creator Gypsy Snider, a San Francisco native and member of local circus royalty, for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.

Pippin continues through Oct. 19 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $40 to $210. Call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com.

Review: `Stephen Schwartz and Friends’

Out of the ruins and rubble
Out of the smoke
Out of our night of struggle
Can we see a ray of hope?
One pale thin ray reaching for the day

We can build a beautiful city
Yes, we can; Yes, we can …

Friday night at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz diverged from his set list after opening his show, Stephen Schwartz and Friends, with the sweet “Chanson” from his 1976 show The Baker’s Wife.

Sitting at the grand piano, the diminutive Schwartz, 60, warned the sound and lighting crew that he was going rogue. Inspired by the election of Barack Obama and heartened by watching the president-elect’s first press conference that afternoon, he shuffled aside the song “Reluctant Pilgrim” so he could sing “Beautiful City,” a paean to hope from his 1973 hit Godspell.

The expertly chosen, inspirational song, which echoes Obama’s rally cry of “Yes we can!” was slightly out of Schwartz’s range, but when the spirit moves you, notes hardly matter.

In the 90-minute Schwartz showcase, which closes out Broadway by the Bay’s 43rd season (and continues with shows at 2 and 8 p.m. today, Saturday, Nov. 8, and at 1:30 and 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9), the veteran composer shared the spotlight with three dynamically different singers: Tony-winner Debbie Gravitte, cabaret and Broadway vet Liz Callaway, and award-winning cabaret crooner Scott Coulter.

With Schwartz at the piano, each of the singers had a defining moment. For Gravitte, it was playing the waitress Dolores from Schwartz’s adaptation of the recently departed Studs Terkel’s Working, who elevates the level of service in “It’s an Art.”

For Callaway, there were two great moments: in the sadly sweet “Lion Tamer” (from 1974’s The Magic Show) and her bravura version of “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife, which is a song she has been singing for years and sings just about better than anybody else. She also joined forces with Coulter on the “love medley” with Callaway taking the lead on “As Long As You’re Mine” from Wicked and Coulter on “In Whatever Time We Have” from Children of Eden.

For Coulter, who’s more of a pop/soul singer than a Broadway belter, the best number was the achingly romantic “So Close” from last year’s Disney film Enchanted (lyrics by Schwartz, music by Alan Menken). But Coulter also soared on the medley of “Just Around the Riverbend,” another Menken-Schwartz Disney collaboration, this one from Pocahontas, with “Corner of the Sky” from the 1972 smash Pippin.

In addition to singing some heartfelt solos – “Forgiveness’ Embrace” from his 2002 album Uncharted Territories and “For Good,” the emotional finale of Wicked – Schwartz offered a master class in songwriting for musicals by taking us through the evolution of “The Wizard and I,” the young witch’s cris de coeur from Wicked.

The original song for Elphaba to declare her dreams and ambitions was called “Making Good,” and though he tried several versions of the song, it just wasn’t working. So, with help from book writer Winnie Holzman, input from his director son Scott Schwartz and with inspiration from A Chorus Line (give them what they want but make them wait so they’re more grateful), he eventually landed on the show-stopping belter that helped make Wicked such a phenomenal success.

In a giant medley of hits, Schwartz and his singing friends were able to knock out “Day by Day,” “Magic to Do” as well as his Oscar-winners, “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas and “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt.

Another hopeful song, “Someday” from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, ended the show, but Schwartz’s impromptu burst of light from earlier in the show was still ringing through the hall:

When your trust is all but shattered
When your faith is all but killed
You can give up, bitter and battered
Or you can slowly start to build

A beautiful city
Yes, we can; Yes, we can
We can build a beautiful city
Not a city of angels
But finally a city of man.

Click here to read an interview I did with Schwartz for Theatre Bay Area magazine.


Stephen Schwartz and Friends is at 2 and 8 p.m. today, Saturday, Nov. 8, and at 1:30 and 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware St., San Mateo. Tickets are $17-$45. Call 650-579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.

Here’s the song “Beautiful City” from the 1973 movie version of Godspell (for which the song was written):

`Wicked’ witches swarm Union Square

Green-faced fans of all kinds swarmed San Francisco’s Union Square on Friday, Sept. 26 – Wicked Day in San Francisco, according to a proclamation from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom – at a party celebrating Wicked’s return to the city that gave it birth next January. Photos by J. Lynne McVey


San Francisco has often been compared to the Emerald City of Oz. On Friday in Union Square, the comparison was more than apt.

A full-on party, complete with balloons, bubbles and babies bedecked in witchery, surrounded the noon hour in celebration of Wicked, the worldwide hit musical about the witches of Oz that got its start in San Francisco.

Wicked, which premiered at the Curran Theatre in 2003, has become a phenomenon of over-the-rainbow proportions. The show returned briefly in the summer of 2005, but this January, Wicked flies back into town – this time at the Orpheum – for an open-ended run that producers foresee lasting at least a year.

It was no coincidence that the face-painting booths, the singing and trivia contests, the proclamation from the Mayor’s office declaring Wicked Day in San Francisco and performances by cast members from the Los Angeles company occurred on the same day that “Wicked” tickets went on sale.

SHN/Best of Broadway CEO Greg Holland described Wicked as a “theatrical earthquake” first felt in San Francisco. “We were the first fans,” he said, “so we take pride in the show’s coming back.”

Producer David Stone who, along with producing partner Marc Platt, helped bring Wicked to life, said it’s an emotional thing to bring the show back to the place it started.

Looking around a Union Square crowded with miniature witches, moms and daughters, teenagers and fans of all stripes and colors, Stone said he remembered being locked in a hotel room with the entire creative team at the Clift for eight hours making cuts.

Looking up at the Cheesecake Factory atop Macy’s, Stone remembered taking star Kristin Chenoweth (who originated the role of Glinda) out for a giant piece of cheesecake to ease her worries when some of her funny lines had to be cut for legal reasons (MGM, the movie studio behind The Wizard of Oz, was being very careful about what the Wicked folks could and couldn’t use from the land of Oz).

“I remember Marc and (composer) Stephen (Schwartz) having an animated discussion in front of the Geary Theater that ended up in the street,” Stone said. “And one time, Kristin was taking a breather in front of the theater when a homeless man came up to her and said she looked like an alien. She was pretty upset until she realized she was still wearing her head microphone and earpiece.”

After the event over lunch, Stone recalled the tough birth of Wicked.

“New musicals just don’t want to be born,” he said. “The whole creative team basically saw the same show from the beginning, and we worked toward that, but the last 10 to 20 percent was tough to work out. We knew it was working and saw what it could be. That put the pressure on us not to screw up.”

Stone admitted that tension mounted, especially between Schwartz, director Joe Mantello and book writer Winnie Holzman.

“Everybody loves each other now – and why not? – but the nearly four months we took off between San Francisco and Broadway was tough. March and I did a lot of shuttle diplomacy. But by the time rehearsals started in New York, everyone was fine.”

Stone said those months in between the San Francisco production and the opening of New York was the best possible route the show could have taken. He credits Schwartz with the idea of not rushing straight to Broadway.

“I can’t even tell you how valuable that time was,” Stone said. “Stephen knew that once the train left the station, it would be unstoppable. It cost us a million and a half dollars, and it was worth it. I don’t know about these shows like The Little Mermaid, Young Frankenstein and Shrek and how they have time to get done what needs to get done between out of town and Broadway.”

Now that Wicked is a worldwide sensation – with four companies abroad in London, Australia, Japan, Germany and four in the U.S. in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and on tour – Stone finds his days consumed with witchy business that sells about $9.5 million in tickets every week.

But he has managed to produce other shows, some of which we’ve seen in San Francisco such as Fully Committed, The Vagina Monologues and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

He may be working again with the Spelling Bee team of composer William Finn and director/librettist James Lapine, who are reportedly at work on a musical version of the hit indie film Little Miss Sunshine. He’s hopeful about a rock musical that’s still evolving called Next to Normal about a woman (played by Alice Ripley) with bipolar disorder and the effect her illness has on her family.

Earlier in the day, Stone summed up his Wicked experience with a memory: the first preview at the Curran and Idina Menzel as Elphaba, the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West in training, makes her entrance and comes running downstage toward the audience.

“Here was this character people had known and been scared of most of their lives and she turns out to be nothing like they thought she was,” he said. “She’s more complicated than they could have imagined, and that’s a big idea to put across, but the audience got it in a moment. In that moment we understood what this show might be. This country likes to point fingers and say you are this: right or left, black or white. Maybe there’s no right or left or red or blue – only green.”

Wicked begins performances on Jan. 27, 2009 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$99. Call 415-512-7770 or visit www.ticketmaster.com or www.shnsf.com

`Wicked’ witches head west, Taylor Hicks follows

Wicked, the hit musical positively rolling in green, had its world premiere at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre before heading to Broadway ‘s Gershwin Theatre, where it has broken the house record 18 times and regularly grosses more than $1.4 million each week.

Now one of the most successful shows in Broadway history (3.6 million people have seen it on Broadway alone since 2003, and all told, the Broadway production and its four North American companies have grossed nearly $950 million), Wicked is coming back to where it all started.

“There’s no place like home,” as Dorothy Gale learned at the end of The Wizard of Oz, the inspiration for Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked, which in turn inspired composer Stephen Schwartz to create the musical.

SHN/Best of Broadway celebrates the Wicked homecoming with a giant party in San Francisco’s Union Square from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 26, which also happens to be the day tickets go on sale for Wicked‘s run at the Orpheum Theatre beginning in January 2009 (tickets are $30-$99).

The party will feature cast members (currently at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles) and a whole lot of fans participating in trivia contests , karaoke contests, CD giveaways and “magical makeovers” (which must involve, as Elphaba the witch might put it, a degree of verdigris, meaning green faces). The free bash is hosted by Don Bleu from Star Radio and Jessica Aguirre from NBC TV.

In other SHN/Best of Broadway news, it was announced today that “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks, now playing the Teen Angel on Broadway in the revival of Grease, will reprise that role when the show goes on the road and heads into the Golden Gate Theatre next March.

This is the production used a reality show, “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” to cast its leads and marks the first Broadway production of the show to incorporate songs from the 1978 movie, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Sandy,” “Grease” and “You’re the One That I Want.” (and p.s., shouldn’t it be “You’re the One WHOM I Want?” Just asking).

Visit www.shnsf.com for more information on both Wicked and Grease.

Review: `Snapshots’

Opened June 21, 2008 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

The cast of TheatreWorks’ Snapshots creates scenes from the life of a married couple set to recycled Stephen Schwartz songs. Photos by David Allen


Stephen Schwartz songbook turns into Snapshots revue

The idea of a musical revue was green before we even knew what green meant. Revues reuse and recycle, just as all good citizens should do.

We’ve had standard-issue revues along the lines of A Grand Night for Singing (Rodgers and Hammerstein), Jerry’s Girls (Jerry Herman), Cole! (Cole Porter),
Side by Side by Sondheim (Stephen Sondheim) in which shiny, happy people (usually too shiny and too happy for my taste) tap their troubles away with seemingly endless medleys clever twists on songs by great composers that we know and love.

Then there’s the jukebox musical (hello, Mamma Mia!), which recycles old songs (usually pop songs not written expressly for the theater) and shoehorns them into some semblance of a story, however awkward.

And then there’s Snapshots, the long-gestating revue of songs by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of Godspell, Pippin and Wicked to name a few of his better-known shows. This is a revue with jukebox aspirations, which is to say, songs from Schwartz’s shows from the last 30 years are forced into the service of an all-new story.

Conceived by Michael Scheman and David Stern, the show has been re-worked and refined right up through its most recent incarnation from Mountain View’s TheatreWorks. Schwartz and Stern (who gets final credit for the book) have been involved in this latest production, and the results are surprisingly good. IN theory, a cobbled together show like this shouldn’t work – it sounds unappealing.

But under director Robert Kelley’s care, there’s a real show here. Not everything works as Schwartz’s re-configured songs attempt to tell the story of how the marriage of Sue (Beth DeVries) and Dan (Ray Wills) has come to the breaking point, but some of the songs work beautifully, and some genuine feeling comes bubbling up.

Spun out in the attic (cluttered, useful set by Joe Ragey) of Sue and Dan’s Connecticut home, the story of the marriage is triggered by snapshots dating back to childhood when Dan, just after losing his mother, moves to the neighborhood and meets Sue, the woman who will be the love of his life.

In childhood the couple is played by Brian Crum and Courtney Stokes, and in the college to middle years by Michael Marcotte and Molly Bell. Everyone helps out by playing various other characters – lovers, friends, children (Crum even dons cheerleader drag) — to fill out the story.

One goal of any revue is to give audiences a concentrated sense of a composer’s life work. We should leave with a sense of who Stephen Schwartz is and what his musical palette has to offer. The overarching impression of Schwartz that comes through here is one of someone straddling two worlds: the pop-infused Broadway of the ’70s and ’80s (which can’t help sounding a little dated) and a more timeless musical theater sound.

Songs from Pippin and The Magic Show, for instance, even in new arrangements by Steve Orich (and under the musical direction of William Liberatore and his quartet), are strongly anchored in a hippie-ish pop, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just very specific, while songs like “Popular” (from Wicked) and “In Whatever Time We Have” (from Children of Eden) still have Schwartz’s strong pop sensibility but connect to a bigger musical theater sound that helps them work better in this new context.

The best re-worked song is “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife. Usually performed as a diva’s showstopper, the song in the context of Snapshots is performed by the three women in gorgeous harmony who are approaching the song from different places in their lives. It works so well, in fact, you wish the rest of the show could match its intensity.

Though there’s some emotional connection to the beleaguered married couple at the center of the story, our attachment to the individuals is lopsided. The woman, Sue, is far more interesting, and it’s hard to see what she ever saw in Dan and why she pined for him for so many years. The women get all the interesting songs, and as a result, the character of Dan doesn’t amount to much. In fact, one key moment, when Dan finally stops seeing Sue as a pal and recognizes his love for her simply happens – no defining moment, no song, nothing.

In the end, you have to wonder if all the futzing and fussing with old songs is really worth it in the telling of a new story. Wouldn’t a new Stephen Schwartz musical be more exciting than something recycled? Snapshots is perfectly enjoyable, well performed and staged, but it can’t help leave its audience wondering what lyrically and musically interesting things Schwartz still has to offer.

Snapshots continues through July 13 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $26-$64. Call 650-903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

To keep up with Stephen Schwartz visit his Web site: www.stephenschwartz.com

Stephen Schwartz shares musical `Snapshots’

In terms of Broadway composers, Stephen Schwartz is up there with Sondheim and Lloyd Webber as one of the latter-day saviors of modern musical theater.

From his first show, Godspell, right up through his most recent hit, Wicked, Schwartz has been up, down and in between, but his work has been constant. Some of that work has been for movies as well. He won Oscars for his work on Disney’s Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and earlier this year, three of the songs he and Alan Menken wrote for Disney’s Enchanted were nominated for Academy Awards.

At 60, and with Wicked showing no signs of slowing down (the national tour hits the Bay Area yet again in February 2009), Schwartz doesn’t need creative projects, but a long-gestating revue/musical – we’ll call it a revusical, though Schwartz himself calls it a “musical scrapbook” – is coming up for air once again. Way back in the mid-’90s, Michael Scheman and David Stern, who were then both working on one of Broadway’s most notorious flops, Nick & Nora, approached Schwartz about using songs from his existing catalogue and turning them into something more than a revue – a book musical that told a story through songs and gave the songs – some familiar, some obscure – a new spin.

“They had a lot of down time working on Nick & Nora,” Schwartz explains on the phone from the TheatreWorks rehearsal hall in Mountain View. “They had the idea of taking my songs and putting them into a new story framework. I said it would be impossible for me to allow that. I’d never seen it done successfully and frequently seen it done unsuccessfully. But I said do a reading, I’ll come and we’ll see. They did, and I have to say, they had some interesting takes. For various reasons, nothing went much further. A few years later, the thing reared its head.”

The show, called Snapshots, saw incarnations in Norfolk, Va., and more recently at Seattle’s Village Theatre in 2005, but the TheatreWorks version that begins previews today (June 18) and opens Saturday, June 21, is even more fully revised and includes songs from Wicked.

Schwartz insists that this is not a revue because it does indeed tell a story (penned by Stern) about a middle-age couple whose marriage is on the brink of collapse. A box of old photos sends the couple reeling into the past. The structure allows six actors to play the couple at various ages. Schwartz thinks the concept really works this time around.

“I’ve seen this tried before, and the script and the songs are inconsistent in both lyrics and tone,” Schwartz explains. “The songs were clearly not meant to fulfill dramatic moments in this particular story. It always seemed like a shotgun marriage. When I saw what was being developed for this story in terms of interesting relationships, I said if you’re really going to do this, the lyrics ought to be revised and songs ought to be rearranged or put into medleys to tell the story properly. That’s what we’ve done. This is truly a hybrid in almost the true botanical nature of the word because it yields a strange, exotic flower for fruit.”

Schwartz estimates that all the songs – most from his shows and movies, with only the title song freshly penned – have been about 50 percent rewritten, which could irk his fans.

“I can see how audiences will either be intrigued by it and think it’s cool or some will say it’s too weird and that they’re not accustomed to hearing certain songs with new words,” he says. “It’s adventurous and challenging, which makes it fun.”

Admitting that some might consider it sacrilege to re-write songs like “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife or “Popular” from Wicked, Schwartz says he relishes revisiting and revising his own work. In some cases, there are only a few lyrical changes, a verse here, a line here. In others, it’s the same tune with entirely new words.

“If, for instance, you know `Lion Tamer’ from The Magic Show, you’re suddenly going to hear words you’ve never heard before,” Schwartz says. “Other songs, like `Popular’ are pretty much the same except for a few words but in a totally different situation. If people are willing to get their heads turned around a little bit, then it’s fun. If that’s hard for them to do, it will just be annoying or disturbing.”

The last time Schwartz was in the Bay Area was to fine tune the world premiere of Wicked. He was so busy then that he didn’t deign to chat with journalists.

“In all honesty, the San Francisco run couldn’t have been better for us,” he says. “The show was well enough received that no one was panicking or feeling it was a disaster – no throwing of bathwater or babies. It was clear there was work to be done and revisions to be made in the book and the score. The critical community was, frankly, very helpful to us. We learned a lot from the reviews, which were honest and constructive in the aggregate, unlike New York, where the critics make up their minds before they come to the theater. It’s not just the negativity the critics express but their corruption.”

TheatreWorks, thankfully, is far from that critical crowd. Schwartz says he had enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the company and its founding artistic director, Robert Kelley, who is directing Snapshots. Schwartz even remembers – barely – a previous attempt at a Schwartz musical revue done at TheatreWorks in the late ’70s or early ’80s, but he can’t quite remember the name.

His big project at the moment is an opera commissioned by Opera Santa Barbara based on the movie Séance on a Wet Afternoon, a 1964 British film about a psychic who kidnaps a child to “prove” her abilities. The opera is slated to have its premiere in December 2009.

And for Wicked fans who were hoping that Schwartz and team might turn the book’s sequel, Son of a Witch, into a musical, don’t get your hopes up.

“I’m not big on sequels,” Schwartz says. “I don’t quite get why other than for economic incentive, they’re necessary. We told that story. I can understand the perspective of Gregory Maguire (the book’s author) about writing a sequel. I encouraged the writing of the sequel and another. I think he should make it a trilogy.”

Snapshots continues through July 13 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, corner of Castro and Mercy streets, Mountain View. Tickets are $26-$64. Call 650-903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org for information.

Enchanted by `Enchanted’

Last night I attended a screening of Disney’s big holiday movie, Enchanted, and I have to say, I was pretty charmed by the notion of a classic Disney animated feature turned on its head and morphed into a modern-day, live-action musical.

The trailer gives you a pretty good idea what the movie’s all about:

The songs are by the Academy Award-winning dynamic Disney duo of Stephen (Wicked) Schwartz and Alan (Beauty and the Beast) Menken. The pair previously collaborated on Disney’s Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And though there aren’t enough songs for my taste, there are two — a huge, joyful production number in Central Park that ends in a veritable festial surrounding Bethesda Fountain, and a romantic waltz at a ball sung by Jon McLaughlin — that make me anxious for the CD (slated for release Nov. 20, and the movie comes out Nov. 21).

Amy Adams plays Giselle, a gentle (and somewhat simpleminded) lass who has Snow White’s woodland cottage and affinity for all creatures great and small. In her hand-drawn animation bliss, she has Ariel’s red hair and Belle’s taste in clothes. Her Prince Charming (Edward, actually, played by James Marsden in his second musical of the year after Hairspray) is more taken with himself than with Giselle, but every prince needs his princess.

Of course Edward’s stepmother, the Queen (Susan Sarandon chewing the scenery), has a problem with a potential new queen, so she and her bumbling sidekick (Timothy Spall) figure out a way to kick Giselle out of animated fairy tale land and into the harsh reality of Times Square.

Soon Prince Edward, the sidekick and, eventually, the queen herself, end up in the real world, where people, doggone it, just don’t spontaneously burst into song.

Giselle is saved from a downpour by handsome lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey, naturally), single dad to an adorable princess-deprvied daughter (Dad wants her to have strong women role models like Marie Curie and Harriet Tubman). Of course they think this beautiful redhead is absolutely bonkers, but they both fall for her charms.

Robert’s somewhat harsh girlfriend is played by Idina Menzel (the Tony Award-winning star of Schwartz’s Wicked), who doesn’t even get to sing a song, which is a shame.

There’s a lot of charm in this movie — not the least of which is a computer-animated chipmunk named Pip that nearly steals the picture — and the “let’s make fun of musicals while loving them at the same time” tone works well .

That said, I have reservations — and they’re cynical and very non-fairy tale in spirit. I can just hear the Disney corporate meetings that concocted what amounts to a giant commerical for its new line of princess toys and princess costumes and princess birthday party kits and princess everything under the sun. The princess business is already booming, and this movie is sure to kick it into even higher gear (I hear there are already Macy’s tie-ins).

I’m all for girl-power, feminist-revisionist fairy tales, and when, at the end of Enchanted, it’s up to Giselle to save her mister in distress, it should be a lot more triumphant than it is. There were so many opportunities to be clever and smart here, and Adams’ utterly captivating performance (sincere and silly in equal measure, knowing and hearfelt and, yes, enchanting) could have take the movie to a much more finely etched portrait of female empowerment and charm. But the script (and the heavy-duty special effects) ultimately disappoints.

And may I chime in with all the 10-year-old girls and complain that we don’t get to see the final, most important wedding (there is a wedding, but it’s not really the one we want to see). And there should be a great final musical number, not a soundtrack song by Carrie Underwood.

Here’s the official Enchanted Web site. There are film clips and behind-the-scenes glimpses.