Eight Questions With Smash Songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

The Tony Award-winning duo discusses the newly released “cast recording” for Smash‘s (fictional) Broadway show, Bombshell, and their latest (real) stage musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Tony Award-winning Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can scribes Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are a busy pair of songwriters. Not only are they in the midst of filming the sophomore season of NBC’s Broadway-themed drama Smash (for which also they serve as executive producers), but they’re about to begin rehearsals for their next stage project, the new West End musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

On February 13, the duo took a break from both gigs for an album signing to celebrate the release of Bombshell, the 22-track “cast recording” for the fictional Marilyn Monroe-based musical within the Golden Globe-nominated television series. The CD contains the TV musical’s complete, two-season-spanning score, a full plot synopsis (written by Shaiman and Wittman), and performances by Smash stars Megan Hilty and Katherine McPhee, as well as two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters.

TheaterMania caught up with Shaiman and Wittman (who quite often finish one another’s sentences) for a quick chat about cast recordings, writing fake versus real musicals, and Oompa-Loompas.

Marc Shaiman, Megan Hilty, and Scott Wittman at the <i>Bombshell</i> album signing
Marc Shaiman, Megan Hilty, and Scott Wittman at the Bombshell album signing
(© David Gordon)

What was the first cast recording you owned?
Scott Wittman: My Fair Lady.
Marc Shaiman: I’m Jewish from New Jersey, so Fiddler on the Roof. It’s the law.

What are the differences between writing songs for a musical within a television show, as opposed to just writing a stage musical?
Shaiman: When we sit down to write a song, the process is the same. But this one had the very challenging circumstance of always trying to write songs that could be sung not only by the character in the Marilyn musical, but by one of the characters on Smash
Wittman: That could reflect what was happening in the story. It had a dichotomy —
Shaiman: So choosing lyrics that could always apply to both of those characters, and yet not wanting to sacrifice the lyric in any way. That was a challenge.
Wittman: It’s the same as writing for the theater, but the major difference is that it has another layer on it.

When you were starting this process, did you imagine there would be a “cast recording”?
Wittman: I never thought that. When Steven Spielberg called and said “Would you like to write a musical on television,” —
Shaiman: We said, “How did you get this number!?”
Wittman: We said, “Of course.” The idea was that we would write a new musical every year, which was the original pitch. It’s been fun. We got to write another musical this year —
Shaiman: Two songs for another musical, and for Jennifer Hudson’s [character’s] musical [titled Beautiful], so we were able to write in a lot of different voices.

You also got to write for the one and only Liza Minnelli, who makes a guest appearance this season.
Shaiman: We wrote, dare I say, a Garland-esque ballad for her.
Wittman: We talked about the skill of the lip sync —
Shaiman: Because Les Miz had just come out —

Wittman: So everyone was talking about lip-syncing. We both agreed that Judy Garland is probably the best lip-syncer in the world.

Are all of the songs on the Bombshell CD featured on the show at some point?
Wittman: Bombshell doesn’t open for quite a few episodes in the second season, so this has everything.

Shaiman: The record company is the one who said they wanted to release this at the beginning of season two, so there are spoilers, in a way, but when I was a kid, I would have always have owned the cast album of a show before I saw it, so I knew the songs going in.
Wittman: The fun part was writing the synopsis for the Marilyn musical.

There’s always so much talk about whether or not Bombshell will come to Broadway. Was it created with Broadway in mind as the goal?
Wittman: Steven Spielberg’s idea, the very first phone call, was that at the end of the season, we’d do the show. But the show ran away from everybody. It would be hard for one person to sing. It would be harder to sing than, say, Evita. But it would make a fabulous concert.

Next up for you is the stage musical of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Sam Mendes, in London. What can you tell me about it?
Shaiman: It’s fabulous!
Wittman: Wait ‘til you see the Oompa-Loompas.
Shaiman: It’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a fabulously new original score [laughs]
Wittman: And [Tony Award winner] Douglas Hodge.

When do you go to London?
Wittman: Sunday. We start rehearsals Monday.
Shaiman: We’re supposed to be writing right now, as a matter of fact–
Wittman: They’re saying “Where are those lyrics!?”