PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marc Shaiman

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marc Shaiman Hairspray composer Marc Shaiman has a talent to stir up controversy, be it a live kiss with his partner on the Tony Awards broadcast or a public spat about the state of the musical with fellow composer Michael John LaChiusa. But nothing tops his involvement in the fight over California's Proposition 8.
Marc Shaiman
Marc Shaiman Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Proposition 8, which was passed on Nov. 4 with 52 percent of the vote, amends California's state constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to a union solely between a man and a woman. When Shaiman, who is openly gay, discovered that California Musical Theatre and Sacramento Music Circus artistic director Scott Eckern had made a financial contribution in support of Proposition 8, he sent out an e-mail alerting the theatre community. An uproar ensued. Eckern first apologized, then offered his resignation, which was accepted. Shaiman's efforts against the proposition didn't end there, however. On Dec. 3, at the request of the "Funny or Die" comedy website, he wrote a short musical video called Prop 8—The Musical. Directed by Adam Shankman of the "Hairspray" movie, it featured John C. Reilly, Allison Janney and Neil Patrick Harris with Jack Black as Jesus. It received 1.2 million hits in its first day. Shaiman talked to Playbill.com about his eventful autumn.

Playbill.com: So, how many hits has Prop 8: The Musical gotten so far?
Marc Shaiman: It is currently 2,700,000 and change.

Playbill.com: As I understand it, you wrote the whole thing, music and lyrics, in one day.
MS: In an hour. When you have something on your mind, it kind of comes out. It's the formulating of the idea that percolates in your head for a few days that takes time. We had a whole bunch of ideas. I met with the guys from "Funny or Die," and we were brainstorming what it could be. We thought of other ideas — maybe a comically exaggerated nightmare version of what the Prop 8 people were implying would be taught in schools, a number in which the gays are in a classroom singing to the kids. Or maybe a sketch about the writing of The Bible, with a bunch of old Jews sitting around a room, Sid Caesar show writers types, coming up with, "Here's a good one...shellfish!"

Playbill.com: You shot the video in one day. If you had shot it on a different day, is there a chance you would have gotten a completely different cast, depending on who was available?
MS: Yeah, and if I had been in New York, it would have been a very different cast. But thank God it worked out the way it did, because everyone was so perfect. Will Ferrell wanted to be in it, but he was leaving for Thanksgiving.

Playbill.com: Given the response, are you going to continue to fight Proposition 8 with more videos?
MS: I don't know if I can top what's happened with this one. But the fight continues. I don't know if it's more videos or what. Playbill.com: What is the next step in your fight?
MS: That's a good question. That's what I'm asking myself now.

Playbill.com: You've expressed regret that California Musical Theatre and Sacramento Music Circus artistic director Scott Eckern lost his job as a result of the protest, in part spearheaded by you, of his $1,000 contribution to the Prop 8 measure.
MS: My regret is that anyone lost their job and that I was part of the complaining that made someone lose his job. But the truth is people lose jobs all the time if they've done something wrong in their work. And in this case, pissing off anyone who might work or go to the theatre is a pretty good grounds for not being well-suited to your job. Now, he didn't have to resign. I didn't ask for him to resign. And they didn't have to accept his resignation. It's my belief — whether of not it's me trying to assuage my guilt or not — that there were clearly other issues at hand here and this was perhaps the straw that broke the camel's back. It happened far too fast. They could have defended him, fought for him. I called [the theatre] and left a very detailed message. It was the Tuesday morning after it all hit the fan starting Friday. I said, "Guys, give me a call. Maybe you don't want to call me, and I understand. Call me and let's figure out a creative resolution." But they never called.

Marc Shaiman at the keys in "Prop 8 - The Musical"

Playbill.com: What creative solution do you think might have resulted?
MS: Well, I suggested maybe a concert at their theatre, some kind of benefit. Some people were suggesting a debate. But some kind of "making lemonade out of the lemon." And I'm sure I probably would have written "Prop 8: The Musical" to be performed live [at the theatre]. But they never called back, and then "Funny or Die" called and I thought, "That's a great way to stretch myself." Playbill.com: So, are you saying there might have been a satisfactory conclusion to the dispute beyond Eckern leaving his post?
MS: The truth is, what could possibly be satisfactory? It's not a perfect world. It's not just him. He just became emblematic. There's the crazy bigotry of people like Fred Phelps or Bill O'Reilly, people who express themselves openly, and you know how they feel and you can steer away from them or analyze what they say. But it's people who you're working with, who you love, who are your friends, who are striving for the same things as you, and yet would help promote this hideous proposition that wrote discrimination into the [California State] constitution — that silent bigotry needs to be exposed. That's what I was trying to do in my own little way. I never really dreamed it would become what it became.

Playbill.com: While I have you, what is happening with your new musical, Catch Me If You Can?
MS: We're doing it at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle. The Fifth Avenue is actually co-producing it. I believe it's their first venture into becoming a regional theatre, not just a landlord to touring productions. We had such a lovely experience there with Hairspray, it sure sounded good to us.

Playbill.com: When are they going to do it?
MS: I think it's June, July and August, between rehearsals and performances.

Playbill.com: Is the cast set?
MS: I can't say yet, but I hope many of the people who have been in it over the years will be in it. Jack O'Brien will direct.

Playbill.com: What are your feelings now that Hairspray's run on Broadway is drawing to a close?
MS: Well, it's bittersweet. You can't complain when you're in the top 20 of long-running musicals on Broadway. Six-and-a-half years is a nice run. You'll have to literally mop me up closing night. I warned my mother, who's coming for the final night. I said, "Mom, when that show finishes that night, I will be in a corner sucking my thumb far away from everyone." It's like putting a pet to sleep.

The cast of Marc Shaiman's "Prop 8 - The Musical."
The cast of Marc Shaiman's "Prop 8 - The Musical."