PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Marc Shaiman

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Marc Shaiman Composer Marc Shaiman is not kicking back this summer.
Marc Shaiman
Marc Shaiman

He's spent the first half of the should-be lazy days of the season completing the orchestrations for the movie version of his musical Hairspray (due to be released July 20), and then helping to promote the film, which stars John Travolta, Christopher Walken and Michelle Pfeiffer. Overlapping those duties is a two-week workshop of his next show, the stage version of the film "Catch Me If You Can." The New York laboratory, directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (the Hairspray team), and starring Nathan Lane and Christian Borle in the Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio roles, began on July 16. An exhausted Shaiman took a short break recently to talk to Playbill.com about his packed schedule.

Playbill.com: To what extent were you involved in the filming of the movie "Hairspray"?
Marc Shaiman: I heartbreakingly wasn't part of the actual filming. All my work was in the pre-production, preparing for the film so they had the recordings to film to. And then there was the monster work came afterwards. The last half a year I have been gloriously slaving away, creating all the orchestrations, all the musical underscoring. They filmed to just the rhythm sections. It was a dream come true to just start at the beginning and make every single part of it how I dreamed it could be.

Playbill.com: Meaning you could make the orchestrations as big as you wanted them to be?
MS: Or as little, but often big. Just whatever they should be. The only limitation is your imagination. To have the finances of a movie and not to have to worry about the poor musicians dropping dead in the pit — it was just fantastic.

Playbill.com: Will the score in the film seem vastly different to people who are familiar with the stage show?
MS: The songs are pretty much the same. We fluffed a little here and there, and came up with an extra something at the end of "Welcome to the '60s" to allow Travolta and Nikki Blonsky [who plays Tracy Turnblad] to have more of a joy explosion. We did a lot of work with the director, Adam Shankman, in making "Miss Baltimore Crabs" have the plot of that whole scene inextricably within the song. That made that number more successful than it had ever been.

Playbill.com: Were some songs cut?
MS: Oh, yeah. We knew we had to cut an hour out of it. There were some no-brainers. The song called "The Big Dollhouse" in the show opens the second act, and it's there very much as the kind of song you must have to get the audience back in the energy. We didn't need that in the movie. There was the heartbreaking cutting of "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now." We already know before that song begins how those characters are. There's nothing new character-wise said in that song. And there was a fear that the cross-cutting between the characters would be too like Bye Bye Birdie's "Telephone Hour." Also, we did not want to make Velma and Amber, five minutes into the movie, be [equated to] Edna and Tracy. It softens them in a way that that would not be good storytelling for a movie. Playbill.com: Does everyone in the movie sing their roles?
MS: Oh, God, yes. Lord knows there have been classic movie musicals where people dubbed the leads. That was a different time. Nowadays, a modern audience wouldn't go for a dubbed voice. Our entire movie cast could go on Broadway tomorrow night.

Playbill.com: Did you get to spend some time with all the stars?
MS: Of course. I had to set all the keys and make sure everyone was happy. The rehearsals were very much like a Broadway rehearsal period.

Playbill.com: There's no rest for you, because you have a workshop now for your new show Catch Me If You Can.
MS: That's what I'm working on right now.

Playbill.com: It's for two weeks right here in New York City.
MS: It will be the first workshop — hopefully, the final one, too. We've had readings, but we've never had this. This has been a long-gestating project, mainly because everyone has been so busy with other things that we haven't had the chance to all be in the same room. Usually, I'm the one that everyone's yelling at. But, my God: Terrence McNally [who wrote the book to Catch Me If You Can] has written 3,000 plays in the last two years; Jack O'Brien and Jerry Mitchell have directed Stoppard trilogies and huge new Broadway musicals. It's been incredible.

Playbill.com: And your stars, Nathan Lane and Christian Borle, have been busy, too. Whose idea was Borle?
MS: We had the auditions. He came in. Jerry was very high on him. Others came in, but Christian was so adorable and sings his ass off. His essence is just so — you can imagine him conning people by way of his good nature and sweetness. We were just completely charmed and blown away.

Playbill.com: And Tom Wopat is the father.
MS: Yes, because it's a law now. If you do a musical, you have to cast Tom Wopat. He's done the past two readings and he's just fantastic. And Louise Pitre is the mother. Perfect, because the mother is French.

Playbill.com: Do the mother and father get songs?
MS: Oh God, yeah. Because our show is much less about a cat-and-mouse caper, which on stage is a little less thrilling than in a movie, and more about the familial stuff, the father figures, the second chances. We go further with the Tom Hanks character and go into his own screwed-up family past. It's all about mothers and fathers, and fathers and sons, and making your new family when you become an adult.

Playbill.com: How many songs have you written?
MS: About 20. My musical palate is "The Ed Sullivan Show." In the '60s, when I was growing up, every Sunday night you'd see The Rolling Stones and Judy Garland within a 20-minute span on the Sullivan show, and then you'd see three numbers from I Had a Ball with Buddy Hackett. I got all my styles of musical entertainment all on the same program.

Playbill.com: You don't have any other projects going, do you?
MS: No. I perform at a lot of functions, and I'm out in the middle of the stage singing my guts out, acting the fool, dancing on people's chairs, just going nuts. People seem to enjoy it and I enjoy it more than anything I get to do. I actually would like to do a revue of things I've worked on for the last 3,000 years. I can assure anyone an entertaining evening. That's something I might want to try this year.

Playbill: Well, call Feinstein's.
MS: Oh, I need a much larger stage. Full orchestra. We're talking Broadway, baby!