Marc Shaiman (b. Scotch Plains, NJ, October 22, 1959) is a pianist, composer, lyricist, arranger, orchestrator, musical director, conductor, writer, producer, actor, and general all-round musician working in films, television, and musical theatre. He has contributed in some capacity or another to fifty-two films and television shows (Broadcast News, When Harry Met Sally, The Addams Family, Addams Family Values, Sister Act, Sleepless in Seattle, A Few Good Men, The American President, The First Wives Club, In & Out, Patch Adams, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Bowling for Columbine, The Cat in the Hat), composed two full Broadway musicals (Hairspray and Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me), and won countless honors including two Tony Awards®, two Drama Desk Awards (all for Hairspray), seven ASCAP Awards, an Emmy®, and five Oscar® nominations.
Shaiman began his career as pianist and musical director of cabaret. Working with Bette Midler as her arranger, he eventually became her regular musical director, co-produced many of her recordings (The Wind Beneath My Wings, From a Distance), and helped to create material for her Emmy Award®-winning performance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The close artistic relationship with Midler, and similar relationships with Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Rob Reiner, and Trey Parker, are ongoing.
His association with Crystal and Short dates back to Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, while Shaiman was a regular as the pianist Skip St. Thomas accompanying the “Sweeney Sisters.” Shaiman later shared an Emmy Award® and several nominations as co-writer for Crystal’s performances at the Academy Award® ceremonies.
Shaiman first worked on Broadway as arranger and musical director in the Peter Allen revue Up in One (1979) and for Midler’s Bette! Divine Madness. Some of his own songs were featured in André DeShield’s Harlem Nocturne in 1984, as was his own starring performance as actor and musical director. He did arrangements for Leader of the Pack (1985) and for Patti LuPone on Broadway (1995), and in 1990 conducted a special concert with Harry Connick Jr. and His Orchestra.
But Shaiman arrived in full force in 2002 with his smash-hit musical Hairspray, adapted from John Waters’s 1988 film. It won eight Tony Awards® out of thirteen nominations and played for 2,642 performances. before closing at the beginning of 2009. Hairspray went on national tour, was produced in many foreign countries, and was made into a movie in 2007. The London West End production won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical and was nominated in ten other categories.
Shaiman’s next two Broadway projects were moderately successful. He wrote some incidental music for the 2005 revival of The Odd Couple, and wrote, arranged, and played the songs for Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me (2006), receiving a Drama Desk Award nomination for the lyrics. Two hefty enterprises are planned for the future: a new stage musical called Catch Me If You Can and another film, Hairspray 2.
In November 2008, to raise a ruckus over the passage of California Proposition 8, Shaiman wrote a musical spoof, Prop 8 – The Musical (“Yes, Gay Marriages Will Save the Economy”), and put it on the website FunnyOrDie.com. Developed from conception to production in just a few days, the three-minute video starred Jack Black as Jesus, Shaiman at the piano, and many celebrities in the cast. It received 1.2 million internet hits in a single day and elicited the expected outrage – and publicity – from the political and religious right.
Shaiman has homes in Los Angeles and New York City. Scott Wittman, who wrote some of the lyrics for Hairspray, has been his life partner since 1979. They often collaborate on projects; both played Talent Agents in the 2007 movie of Hairspray.
Photo courtesy of The Everett Collection