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‘Hairspray’ Composer Marc Shaiman Grilled

He loves Broadway, but his 3-minute web video, ”Prop 8: The Musical“ was ”one of the most thrilling things I’ve done.“


Marc Shaiman, an Oscar-nominated and Emmy and Tony Award-winning composer, is being honored on Monday evening by the Screen Actors Guild Hollywood Singers Committee. His achievements range from “Hairspray,” to “South Park’s” enduring “Blame Canada” to the score to the “First Wives Club.” Shaiman was grilled by TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman about dressing in drag, Tom Hanks’ singing chops and his FunnyOrDie smash hit, “Prop 8: The Musical.”

Aren’t you the guy who dressed up in drag with Trey Parker at the Oscars?
I wish. Trey and Matt (Stone) didn’t let me know what they were doing until the day before. I was like – ‘F—, I wanna dress up in drag too!’ And they were doing iconic Oscar outfits. I’d have easily put together Cher’s outfit. But the guys left me no time.

So I was the pimp between the two ladies. And they also held out on me that they took acid. I didn’t believe or know until afterwards. That would’ve been the greatest speech ever. They screwed up by giving the Oscar to Phil Collins. If only I’d dressed up.

That was 10 years ago. Have you changed a lot in those 10 years?
It’s a very different ball of wax. I’m lucky I got to do what I should be doing once I hit 40, which is compose for Broadway, rather than one score after another. I got in such a rut. I was offered the same kind of movies, I found myself writing the same chords, the same transitions, same tricks of the trade. In "Out of Towners," "Speechless," they were middle of the road movies. Movie scoring fell in my lap. I wanted to be writing Broadway.

So what’s the reason you’re being honored by SAG?
It’s the singing compartment of SAG. I do end up hiring SAG singers. They know I’m a ham. And they probably figured by honoring me they’d get special celebrities to show up. But when they called me I forbade them to call anyone to get them to show up. I feel bad that my friends get called constantly – I don’t want to put them on the spot. But I hear they have a great line-up prepared.

So, no Tom Cruise?
Maybe Suri. I heard she watches “Hairspray” every morning.

Where do composers rank in the pecking order of Hollywood?
(Deep sigh.) I think music ranks high. Composers themselves are, I think, more and more treated as generic. There’s a little less respect for the individual things that a specific composer can bring. And more and more it’s, ‘Hire two guys, we’ll get it done faster.’ It’s not like the old days when composers had a trademark sound, like Max Steiner and Franz Waxman. There’s a specific sound to a Bette Davis movie, or Alfred Hitchcock. So when you go see a movie, you’re rarely surprised by what the music might be.

So how did you get back to Broadway?
‘South Park,’ thank God, came out at the same time as this woman  Margo Lion bought the rights to ‘Hairspray.’ Everyone kept telling her to call Marc Shaiman. She called me, and that changed my life. It gave me a satisfaction and contentment that I had not really felt. And then to be a control freak on the movie of my own musical – it’s like a dream you’re having in the dream come true.

You wrote something called ‘Prop 8: The Musical.’ What was that?
May I say ‘F— you’ for not having seen it? It’s only three minutes. Go watch it. We have 4 million hits. I was flying off the handle with anger and frustration after Prop 8 passed. Finally Adam McKay wrote me an email and said, ‘Why don’t you shut up and write a song and we’ll put it on the (Funnyordie.com) website?’ I slapped my head like in a V8 commercial.

We tell the story of Prop 8 and Jesus and the Bible. I wrote it on a Tuesday. Recorded the demo on a Wednesday. We sent it to anyone famous we knew to be in it. Friday I recorded anyone who said Yes, and then we filmed it at a magic shop in Santa Monica. It was Jack Black, Neil Patrick Harris, Alison Janney – mine and Adam Shankman’s phone books. We mixed it on Saturday and it was on the website a week later. It was one of the most thrilling, exhiliarating things I’ve done.

The reason for writing it was soul-killing. But the exhiliaration of writing something for a reason, for fun, for no money, left us all feeling like the purest version of our 15 year old selves.

Isn’t the Internet cool for that?
I’m an Internet junkie. That drove home how fantastic it is to create something. And except for you, everyone saw it. And suddenly I’m on Keith Olbermann. And we’re up for a Webbie award. I’ve lost five Oscars. But I want that Webbie.

It was great. This was like lightning. I wouldn’t try to repeat it. And someday they’ll figure out how to get people paid.

This is a problem.
The music for Hairspray – the heavy duty music, what allows you to put on a production, — that’s being traded on the Internet. Like with Napster. We’re trying to shut these websites down, but once it’s out there, it’s out there.

Now I sound like Grandpa. But this generation doesn’t care. They don’t get that it’s stealing. Now I’m writing a “classic musical” that all high schools are going to want to do. And I’m thinking – ‘This is my retirement fund.’ And maybe it isn’t. Because of what’s been going on.

Tell us something people don’t know about you.
Sexually? I’m not gonna go there. I don’t think people care.

You have two projects in development, ‘Bob the Musical,’ and ‘Move.’ What can you tell us about those?
‘Move’ is something that I’ve never heard of that is listed under my name on IMDB. ‘Bob the Musical,’ though, is real, and is really funny. It’s a musical about a guy who hates musicals. But it’s like Mel Gibson in “What Women Want” — he wakes up and his life is a musical. And he’s horrified. By end of movie, he learns what’s fantastic about musicals. And he finally belts it out at the end.

I’m just finishing writing the sixth song. We’re presenting it to the head guy at Disney. He ought to make it. We can so see it.

Are you getting paid to do this?
Yes. And handsomely.

Who’s your dream Bob?
I don’t want to say anything, it’s about to go out to those people.

What people? Not that many people can sing.
If you’re famous, you can perform a song well. I often end up working with people who many folks didn’t know could sing – Jack Black, Will Ferrell – even Tom Hanks. At Marty Short’s Christmas party we all get up and sing, just like old school. And Tom Hanks says, “I can’t sing.’ Then he gets up, and it’s not a glorious Robert Goulet voice, but he can sing.

I just went slumming with Kathy Griffin, for the A list awards. She’s screamingly funny. And her songs are filthy. When’s the last time someone said to you, ‘The Octo-Mom’s lips look like a pussy on her face. Can you try to work that in there?’ And I did.