Before launching into her signature song, “Defying Gravity,” Idina Menzel stopped to thank the evening’s honoree, Broadway and film composer Stephen Schwartz, who was seated in the first row at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
“Having Stephen Schwartz in my life, well, it changed the trajectory of my life. It changed everything about me,” she said, welling up with emotion. Having originated the role of Elphaba, the witch with the green complexion, in “Wicked,” Menzel spoke of the gift and privilege of giving voice to that character — “to embrace the power and the beauty of a unique, fierce, incredible woman and to feel the calm in owning that and not apologizing for who you are.”
The annual spring celebration at the Wallis — this time dubbed “An Evening of Wicked Fun Honoring Stephen Schwartz” — took shape in three acts on Thursday: a buffet dinner on the theater’s terrace; a musical show starring Broadway icons; and a post-show dessert reception with the stars under the stars.
Presented by Harry Winston, the evening event raised funds for the artistic, education and outreach programs of the Wallis, which serve more than 70,000 audience members, including thousands of students in underserved areas in greater Los Angeles each year.
The acclaimed composer of “Wicked,” “Godspell” and “Pippin,” Schwartz has also contributed lyrics to songs in the films “Enchanted,” “Pocahontas” and “The Prince of Egypt.” In her remarks onstage, Wallis Annenberg noted that by the age of 28, the six-time Tony nominee had three shows running simultaneously on Broadway and has now become one of only two composers who has had three shows run on Broadway longer than 1,500 performances.
“Stephen Schwartz once wrote this wonderful line,” said Annenberg from the stage. “‘People like the way dreams have of sticking to the soul.’ That is why we created this center six years ago. … We all need dreams that touch us deep down inside, that stick to our soul, and that is why Stephen’s career has been so extraordinary, so iconic, because his stories, his compositions, his glorious works of art speak to the deepest emotions about who we are and who we want to be.”
John Bendheim and Cathy Louchheim co-chaired the event, which drew a crowd including “Wicked” book writer Winnie Holzman; “First Date” composers Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner; and “Dear Evan Hansen” composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Backed by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Menzel, Liz Callaway, Isaiah Johnson, Megan Hilty, Jordan Fisher, Andrea Martin and Angel Blue sang their favorites of the composer’s songs.
A trio danced a classic Bob Fosse number from “Pippin,” and others ascended the stage to offer thanks or to tell stories. In addition to Annenberg, they included actor John Rubenstein, producer Marc Platt, screenwriter Cinco Paul, and, from the Wallis, executive director Rachel Fine and artistic director Paul Crewes.
If you missed the show, here are a few more highlights.
In a video clip from Kristin Chenoweth, David Copperfield and other admirers, Jason Alexander performed an over-the-top audition for the wizard role in “Wicked,” the movie.
Before singing her favorite number in “The Baker’s Wife,” Hilty recalled the composer’s generosity of spirit when, as a freshman theater student, she asked him a question and the kindness of his response made her feel “so important.”
Having played the grandmother in “Pippin,” Martin praised Schwartz for his ability at age 22 to get into the heart and mind of a person four times his age and write her role’s insightful, funny and wise song “that transcends all ages.”
As the show’s culmination, Schwartz took what he called a “look forward” with a song for a new play, “My Fairytale,” about the great storyteller Hans Christian Andersen.
Then, inviting the cast to gather around the piano as he sang “Can You Imagine That?” he joked that cast members need not sing along with him because the script called for them to look on adoringly.
In a conversation with The Times, Schwartz talked about his work as a mentor to aspiring composers. “I stumbled into it and found I liked doing it,” he said. “The problem is that it’s so random the way this business works and the way life works. You need, of course, talent and, maybe more than anything, perseverance and luck too. … It’s tough out there, and so, the more we can support one another, the better for all of us.”