Broadway Composer Stephen Schwartz Halts N.C. Shows to Protest HB 2, Encourages Others to Follow | Arts

Broadway Composer Stephen Schwartz Halts N.C. Shows to Protest HB 2, Encourages Others to Follow

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Wicked won't be returning to DPAC until HB 2 is repealed. - PHOTO BY JOAN MARCUS
  • photo by Joan Marcus
  • Wicked won't be returning to DPAC until HB 2 is repealed.

When Gov. McCrory called opposition to HB 2 “political theater,” he probably didn’t foresee a response from the national theater community. But now the curtain’s going up on the state’s first professional entertainment embargo, one whose effects have the potential to change the face of theater and other live entertainment in North Carolina. It follows a flood of negative responses from businesses, institutions, and civic groups, local and international.

Broadway World reported Thursday night that composer Stephen Schwartz has revoked performance rights to his musicals in North Carolina in protest of the legislation, which denies transgender people the right to use the public bathroom that matches their gender identity. In an email cited in the article, Schwartz invited others in the theater community to join him in an embargo on productions in the state until the legislation is rescinded.

The Grammy, Tony, and Academy Award-winning composer has written eighteen musicals, including Wicked, Godspell, Pippin, and Children of Eden. At least five of his works are slated for production in North Carolina over the next month, four of them in the Triangle. Jason Cocovinis, director of marketing at Music Theatre International, which handles the production rights for Schwartz’s works, confirms the embargo, but says that shows already licensed will be allowed to go forward. No new touring or local productions of Schwartz’s musicals will be permitted until he decides to end the embargo.

“I feel that it is very important that any state that passes such a law suffer economic and cultural consequences, partly because it is deserved and partly to discourage other states from following suit,” Schwartz wrote in his statement. “In the 1970s, I, along with many other writers and artists, participated in a similar action against apartheid in South Africa, and, as you know, this eventually proved to be very effective.”

The greatest impact of Schwartz’s stand would come if other playwrights and composers were to follow suit. In closing, the composer wrote: “If you are in agreement, you may want to join me in refusing to license our properties to, or permit productions of our work by, theaters and organizations in North Carolina until this heinous legislation is repealed.” 

North Carolina’s final productions of Godspell and Pippin before the embargo will play in high schools and a community theater (see below). But Wicked, Schwartz’s smash musical based on The Wizard of Oz, has been a bestseller at DPAC in recent years. It won’t be returning until HB 2 is overturned. If the embargo gains traction across professional theater and variety arts, that won’t be the only blockbuster avoiding the state.

If our legislators continue to define North Carolina as a pariah, DPAC could suffer the same fate as Sun City, the South African venue that became the focus of an international performers’ boycott against apartheid in the 1980s. And theater companies large and small could find themselves blocked from staging major works by modern-day playwrights. That would mean a lot more Shakespeare and classics—and a lot fewer works by women and minority playwrights, the opposite of what we need.

Before the embargo begins, Godspell will be presented by the Towne Players of Garner (April 1523), Rolesville High School (April 16), and St. Mary Magdalene School (May 57). Pippin comes to Sanderson High School April 1316.


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