CHICAGO — Acclaimed Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz says he’s hard at work on a full draft of his next endeavor, the musical ‘‘Houdini’’ that has actor Hugh Jackman playing the legendary illusionist.
‘‘I’m specifically writing for Hugh in terms of what I think will sound good in his voice and what sorts of things will really help him to do the things that he does,’’ Schwartz said in a recent interview during the Dramatist Guild of America’s conference in Chicago. He is the group’s president.
The Academy Award- and Grammy Award-winner — famous for ‘‘Wicked,’’ “Godspell,’’ and ‘‘Pippin’’ — said a reading of the new full show is scheduled for December and he’s been ‘‘writing away on it’’ with a collaborator. So far, he said, they have a full first act of ‘‘Houdini.’’
‘‘As soon as we finished it, of course, we immediately said, ‘We have to rewrite this entire thing,’’’ Schwartz said. ‘‘But nevertheless we’re moving on to try to get a complete draft.’’
‘‘Houdini’’ is scheduled to reach Broadway during the 2013-14 season. Schwartz said he hopes the show will make an out-of-town debut in Chicago before it premieres on Broadway.
So far, the fun, he said, has been writing music with Jackman in mind. Schwartz said he’s considering ‘‘Where does he want to stretch himself? Where does he want to do something that he feels he has and we feel he has that he hasn’t really shown before?’’
In April, admirers of the composer packed Carnegie Hall in New York for a tribute marking both Schwartz’s 65th birthday and the 10th anniversary of ‘‘Wicked,’’ which is still a tough ticket. But that show’s success doesn’t amount to pressure, he said.
‘‘It sort of makes you feel, ‘I have this big hit running, well if this doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out’,’’ Schwartz said.
Schwartz’s work on ‘‘Houdini’’ could serve to counteract what he calls a recent ‘‘artistic slump’’ in commercial musical theater with shows that he says are safe and formulaic.
‘‘I’ve found the last couple of Broadway seasons pretty disappointing from the point of view of musicals,’’ Schwartz said. ‘‘Though from the point of view of plays it’s been pretty exciting.’’
Besides ‘‘Houdini,’’ Schwartz has been focusing on his role as president of the dramatist guild, which represents more than 6,000 playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. Besides Schwartz its board of directors includes Stephen Sondheim, Edward Albee, Terrence McNally, and Tony Kushner.
Schwartz cited censorship at schools and theaters as one threat that is proving stifling and discouraging for playwrights. He said his own 1971 work, ‘‘Godspell,’’ has become more controversial recently.
‘‘It’s very discouraging if you write something and then you can’t get it on unless it’s approved by the establishment that happens to be in power,’’ Schwartz said, adding that he would remind theater groups and producers, ‘‘why they went into this business in the first place. Why did they want to be a theater?’’
The guild hopes to prevent that discouragement, he said. ‘‘The whole reason that all of us became writers is that we have things we want to say and issues we want to deal with and I believe very strongly in the right to self-expression,’’ Schwartz said.
The guild has the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund that can help writers with censorship, copyright, and other issues, he said.
‘‘Really that’s what theaters should be doing, is causing audiences and people to think about things and look at things in a different way,’’ Schwartz said. ‘‘Not flag-waving for whatever the prevailing point of view is at that point.’’