'Wicked' composer won't withhold work from LDS groups over Prop 8

Published December 15, 2008 7:45 pm

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Stephen Schwartz finds Mormon organizational zeal on behalf of California's Proposition 8 to be "reprehensible," but the award-winning composer of hits such as "Wicked" has no plans to withhold his works from Utah or LDS-related singing groups.

For more than a week, Mormons in show business have whispered rumors that Schwartz might punish Mormons for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' involvement in passing an initiative establishing marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Some feared that music from "Godspell," "Pocahantas" or "The Prince of Egypt" could no longer be performed in Utah, while others felt they might personally bear the brunt of Schwartz's alleged anger toward their church, whether they voted for the ballot measure or not.

After all, some Mormons in the industry already have said they felt pressured to leave their jobs for donating to the Yes on 8 campaign. Scott Eckern resigned as musical director at the California Musical Theater in Sacramento and Richard Raddon stepped down as director of the Los Angeles Film Festival.

On Dec. 10, KTVX Channel 4 news reported that Jon Powell, a former Mormon and a gay activist, called on the music industry to refuse to license certain material to LDS musical groups. In the piece, Powell specifically targeted Brigham Young University's Young Ambassadors, a group of which he was once a member.

Powell said he received an e-mail from Schwartz that read in part, "I'm looking into it. If it truly is a 'promotional' group, rather than just student singers, I will try to do something about it."

Worried Mormons can now breathe a little easier.

"I have not withdrawn the use of my songs by the BYU Young Ambassadors and do not intend to do so," Schwartz said Monday in an e-mail. "They are a student singing group."

Nonetheless, he urged all "fair-minded Mormons to reconsider their position and come to support the right of homosexuals to marry the person they love … I continue to believe that the most important tenet of any religion is 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' "

Still, Mormons in New York City continue to feel the heat from friends and colleagues.

Some LDS actors and producers have considered removing BYU or the University of Utah from their resumes, rather than face questions about their faith. Others simply keep quiet about their church affiliation in an ironic "don't ask-don't tell" strategy.

"I was really fearful when I came back to the theater after the election," said Natalie Hill, who is a lead in a current Broadway revival of "Grease." "People who worked in the hair room who had been seriously my friends became hostile. It was not like we could ever have a real dialogue about it. They didn't want to know what I thought and didn't care."

Hill was troubled by anti-Proposition 8 protests outside the LDS temple in Lincoln Center, which included hostile sentiments aimed at Mormons.

"I would never go to a place that my gay friends consider sacred and protest," said Hill, who supported the measure and blogs about her life at mormoninmanhattan.blogspot.com. "One gay friend told me that drastic times call for drastic measures and that might mean violence against Mormons. You can't reason against that kind of thinking."

She does support civil unions and resents any accusation of homophobia.

"Just because a person is gay, I don't assume they have AIDS," Hill said. "Just because I'm Mormon, don't assume I hate gays."

In the past month, Matthew Herrick, an actor and singer who teaches voice at New York University, has had endless conversations about Proposition 8 with gay friends. He is among many Latter-day Saints in show business who feel the gay community should have equal civil rights, Herrick said, and unfair generalizations about Mormons could harm people's professional lives.

"A large majority of my male associates in the theater are gay. I love them dearly and they know that," said Herrick, who is married and has three children. "I support them in their fight and struggle and yet they know I am a strong member in a church that does not. Yes, a disproportionate percent of the backlash against Prop. 8 is aimed at my church. Hopefully, a lot of it is just talk."


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