John-Michael Tebelak was born in 1949 in Berea, Ohio. He initially wrote Godspell at 22 as his Master’s thesis at Carnegie Mellon University. He was struck by the joy he found in the Gospels, but disheartened by an experience attending an Easter Vigil service in a t-shirt and overalls; he was frisked for drugs after the service. In Godspell, he hoped to take away the barriers between young people like himself and the Gospels. He did not finish his coursework, but Carnegie Mellon awarded him the degree anyway.
When Godspell came to New York, Tebelak directed it in its initial version at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, and with Schwartz’s score at the Cherry Lane Theatre, the Promenade Theatre, and on Broadway. After Godspell, Tebelak directed Elizabeth I on Broadway (1972), The Glorious One off-Broadway (1975), and Ka-Boom, as well as Fuente Ovejuna in Madrid (1975). He co-wrote the 1973 film version of Godspell with David Greene. He also worked as a dramaturg for the Episcopal Church of Saint John the Divine in New York, and directed liturgical plays there. In 1980 and 1981, Tebelak directed Godspell and Cabaret, respectively, at the Berea Summer Theatre in his hometown.
In 1980, Tebelak was sued by a former partner, Richard Hannum. The lawsuit was among the first to look at the rights of cohabiting same-sex couples.
John-Michael Tebelak died of a heart attack in 1985, at age 35, predeceasing his parents, sister, and niece.
Stephen Schwartz was born in New York City in 1948. He studied piano and composition at Juilliard while in high school and graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1968 with a BFA in drama. He worked briefly as a producer for RCA Records before acting as musical director for the first American rock opera, The Survival of St. Joan. He wrote the title song for the play Butterflies Are Free, which was also included in the film adaptation.
He won several awards, including two Grammys, for the music and additional lyrics for Godspell in 1971. After Godspell, he collaborated with Leonard Bernstein on the English-language text of Mass, another religion-based musical. In 1972, Pippin premiered on Broadway, where it ran for almost five years. It was nominated for 11 Tonys, including Best Original Score, and won 5. In 1974, with the opening of The Magic Show, Schwartz had three successful musicals running in New York at the same time.
His other stage successes include Children of Eden (1991), which ran in London’s West End and has been popular in community theatres, and the Broadway hit Wicked (2003), for which he won a Grammy and which is still running in its initial production.
In film, he collaborated with Alan Menken on the songs for Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), and he also wrote the songs for The Prince of Egypt (1998), winning Oscars for the score of Pocahontas, “Colors of the Wind” and “When You Believe.” He worked with Menken again on Enchanted in 2007.
In 2009, he co-wrote two songs on a Five for Fighting pop album. His most recent musical, Snapshots, premiered in Chicago in 2011. It used music from some of his previous songs with modified lyrics.