Marc Shaiman is one of the most versatile and flamboyant forces in popular American entertainment. The songwriter and composer has shown a particular talent for musical theatre, with his knack for crafting catchy, pop-drenched melodies breathing new life into Broadway musicals. Shaiman has been particularly candid about his first theatrical crush: 'The Divine Miss M', otherwise known as theatrical force of nature Bette Midler, who he first spied playing Tzeitel in a Broadway production of Fiddler On The Roof when he was nine years old. Determined to make his mark in music, he relocated to New York after graduating high school. His first significant break occurred when he met one of Midler's back-up singers Ula Hedwig and become musical director for The Harlettes. His childhood icon Midler was quick to notice and appropriate his talents, employing him first as vocal arranger, later as musical director and producer as their outrageous early 70s performances mixed together stand-up comedy, burlesque and Vaudeville to strong critical notices and, as he recalled, 'the poster on my wall came to life'. As a producer Shaiman brought Midler the Grammy-winning songs 'The Wind Beneath My Wings' and 'From A Distance', but it was their collaboration on her emotional Emmy-winning performance for Johnny Carson's penultimate The Tonight Show on May 21st 1992 that remains a highlight. Not least for a powerful rendition of 'One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)' that summoned tears from the host.
In-between duties with Midler, Shaiman penned the Emmy Award winning Sweeney Sisters skits for the late night US television staple Saturday Night Live during the 1980s, and also appeared as the piano player. On the set he formed a friendship with comedian Billy Crystal and write his applauded song melodies. Crystal proved a crucial conduit into the motion picture universe as Shaiman took to film scoring like a natural after making his debut with behind-the-scenes TV comedy Broadcast News in 1987. Shaiman has been prolific since, penning Academy Award nominated scores for Nora Ephron's romantic comedy Sleepless In Seattle (1993), Rob Reiner's The American President (1995), a three-way female comedy staring Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn The First Wives Club (1996), Robin Williams vehicle Patch Adams (1998), and outlandish animated musical South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999).
While scores have represented a healthy portion of Shaiman's daily bread he showed compositional flare of a different kind when he wrote the music and, alongside his long-term partner Scott Wittman, co-penned the lyrics for 2002's Broadway adaptation of John Waters' 1988 comedy film Hairspray. The score took in many of the musical genres of the 1960s, from Phil Spector's Wall of Sound to pumping soul and even Steve & Eydie styled vocal duets, as they deftly spotlighted the thoughts and feelings of the show's characters. While the pair won a Tony Award for their score, presented at the televised 2003 ceremony by Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, they also excited headlines when they celebrated by kissing onstage, a moment later credited as a gay watershed in live television. The couple also added four new songs to 2007's film remake of Hairspray, which held the record for biggest sales at opening weekend for a movie musical until it was surpassed a year later by the hugely successful Mamma Mia.
Revelling in their upfront media profile, Shaiman and Wittman caused a major media stir at 2005's Oscars after the late comedian Robin Williams asked them to pen a satirical song about animated character SpongeBob Squarepants being gay. While they responded with a ditty that included lines such as 'Pinocchio's had his nose done/Sleeping Beauty's popping pills/The Three Little Pigs aren't kosher/Betty Boop works Beverly Hills', it was axed by the producers for being too provocative. While Williams silently protested by appearing onstage with his mouth taped over, Shaiman took his outrage to the press as the SpongeBob furore and the Academy's act of censorship became a genuine water-cooler moment. Shaiman's gay activism also saw him publicly protest against California's Proposition 8, an initiative that strongly opposed same-sex marriage. In response he penned the FunnyorDie.com video Prop 8 – The Musical. A star-studded cast including Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Allison Janney and Rashida Jones helped it accrue 1.2 million hits on its first day online on December 3, 2008.
The success of Hairspray forged a much tighter working relationship with Whitman, with theatres and TV the biggest recipients. After penning the songs for the 2006 scattershot Broadway musical Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me and successfully adapting crime caper Catch Me If You Can for the stage during 2009, Sam Mendes enlisted their help in turning the Roald Dahl children's story Charlie And The Chocolate Factory into a musical on London's West End in 2013, breaking several box office records along the way. Shaiman's own experiences on Broadway proved invaluable in informing his first major small screen venture, penning the songs for two series of 2012's behind-the-scenes drama Smash. Shaiman's busy resume has brought him into the ambit of many of the modern music's biggest grossing artists since he first worked with Midler, with super divas of the calibre of Mariah Carey, Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli all recipients of his stardust touch.
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