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Golden Boy

Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz talks shop at KSU.

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Academy Award-winner Stephen Schwartz sympathizes with the bad guys. In his latest Broadway production, Wicked, the composer and lyricist retells The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch's point of view. "We tend to paint such a black-and-white picture of the world," he says. "Things are more complex than that."

Schwartz will speak about his career Monday as part of Kent State University's Spotlight on Success series. The school is also staging Children of Eden, Schwartz's 1996 tweaking of Genesis into a modern fable about dysfunctional families. It's his favorite work -- a booming musical complete with murder, floods, and ultimately hope.

Like most Broadway-bound babies, Schwartz was hooked at an early age: His parents took him to a few shows, and he was smitten. "Not just with theater," he says, "but with the idea of theater." His first hit came with the Grammy-winner Godspell in 1971, followed by Pippin a year later. Shortly thereafter, his plays were being adapted for the big screen. A decade ago, Schwartz was asked to write the music for Disney's Pocahontas, and a whole new world unveiled itself. "There was a period of time when these animated films were like stage musicals," he says. "The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast were essentially using the techniques of stage musicals."

Schwartz won Oscars for his standout songs in Pocahontas and The Prince of Egypt -- acclaim that made it tempting to work exclusively in film. But Broadway remains his first love: He's now basking in Wicked's success and planning his next show.

Though he didn't have a hand in any movies last year, Schwartz will watch next Sunday's Academy Awards with interest from the comfort of his couch. "It's more fun to make popcorn and watch at home," he says. "And I can't tell you what I voted for [Best Picture], but I'll be very surprised if The Lord of the Rings doesn't win."

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