After 'Smash' crash, songwriters savor success
LOS ANGELES — Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have strong opinions about the demise of “Smash,” the highly anticipated but ultimately much-maligned musical TV series about the making of Broadway musicals.
But, to borrow from one of the duo’s lyrics, they’d rather just smile and look back.
Not that there’s been much time for reflection.
A month after the final “Smash” episode aired on NBC in late May, the Tony-winning Shaiman and Wittman (“Hairspray”) added a new hit to their list of credits. They supplied songs to the stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved 1964 children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The musical opened in London to such strong ticket demand that the show’s run was extended by six months, to the end of May 2014.
Then Shaiman and Wittman received more good news: a creative Emmy nomination for one of their “Smash” songs, the ballad “Hang the Moon.”
“(It’s great) that Scott and I get to represent ‘Smash’ with this nomination, because it is now no longer,” Shaiman said, adding, “(but) there were millions of people who really were enjoying the show, or, certainly, certain parts of the show.”
“Hang the Moon” imagines a musical meeting of Marilyn Monroe with her estranged mother, who expresses regret over leaving her daughter alone so often during childhood.
“We knew that Marilyn’s mom was a film cutter,” Shaiman recalled. “So, we had this great concept where she said, ‘If I could only re-edit our lives.’”
Sitting at a piano in his Hollywood Hills recording studio, Shaiman sang the opening verse:
“If our lives were a movie/I’d know what to do/I’d write every scene with my heart/An RKO picture that stars me and you/And this time I’d learn my part.”
Shaiman said he grew to learn that “Smash” suffered from having too many cooks in the kitchen.
“And too many chefs all loved it,” he continued, soon to be cut off by the ringing of a phone.
“That’s them, calling, saying, ‘Stop talking about us!’” Shaiman joked.
As for “Charlie,” Wittman confirmed the musical is bound for Broadway, but its arrival will be delayed until director Sam Mendes completes the next James Bond movie.
The biggest challenge for the songwriters was meeting the expectations of fans who worship previous takes on the novel, such as the 1971 and 2005 film adaptations.
Fortunately, Shaiman said, the original Dahl text is “so full of wild, great, extravagant and emotional ideas, that musicalizing the book was actually a walk in the park.”
Shaiman predicted he and Wittman won’t be walking away with an Emmy, given unusually stiff competition in the original-song category this year.
But little matter. If nothing else, “Hang the Moon” will always serve as the duo’s pitch-perfect love letter to a smash that just wasn’t meant to be.
Shaiman played and sang it out:
“As the final reel ends/We might both shed a tear/For the ending is coming up soon/But as the screen fades to black/We can smile and look back/And for you, darling, I’ll hang the moon.”
Online: http://ovationtv.com/smash/; http://charlieandthechocolatefactory.com; www.emmys.com