Putting out a soundtrack for a musical that's never been produced on an actual theater stage may seem like an odd event, but Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the songwriting duo for the musical-within-the-TV show Smash, take the release of the full cast recording of Bombshell (out February 12) about Marilyn Monroe, in stride.
"It's not so weird for us, since we put in the work," says Shaiman. "Once Scott and I had the finished thing in our hand, we had a car ride to a place in Upstate New York, so we said, 'Let's listen to it one time from beginning to end.' We were blown away as we remembered all the work that went into writing all those lyrics and music. We also grew up in the era of Jesus Chris Superstar and Evita, shows that were albums first."
But as Wittman interjects to explain: "That was the job description when Spielberg called us: 'Do you want to write a musical in front of the public on television.' And we said, 'Yes.' So the process wasn't any different for us than writing for the stage. If you add all the parts together, that spells out Marilyn, so it was fun to hear it as a whole piece."
That doesn't mean it hasn't already achieved a life of its own. As a recent story on the NYTimes's CityRoom blog explained, men and women have been going to “Musical Mondays” at Splash, a gay bar in New York City, as well as popular piano bar Marie's Crisis (where Shaiman and Wittman met decades ago). Although they haven't experienced that sort of thing firsthand, they say it's the biggest compliment that people are performing the work, and admit to enjoying the many YouTube videos that fans have posted of themselves singing "Let Me Be Your Star" and "Don't Forget Me."
"YouTube is like It's Marie's Crisis in your living room," quips Wittman.
All of this support doesn't mean the couple are immune to the criticism. Many people tore into Season 1 of Smash for some of its plot holes and even a number involving a fantasy Bollywood number, titled "A Thousand and One Nights."
"We have to address that since so many articles have been bringing it up in the last two weeks," says Shaiman. "There were a lot of things Scott and I weren't happy about with the first season, but the truth is, to be totally honest, the Bollywood number that people point to, we wish that there was more fantastical moments and stuff like that. I think the problem was, like anything in showbiz—maybe even in real life—if it's not set up correctly, it can lay an egg. The truth is, the characters should have all been out together, and been doing less talking about their relationship, in maybe in an Indian restaurant. If the scene preceding that song had been different, it could have worked."
Although the album for Bombshell is being released next week, the season premiere of Smash's second season, a two-hour special, is tonight, February 5. The duo are joined by more songwriters, including their friend Joe Iconis, who has written a big number for the first episode. "It's like the 'Let Me Be a Star' of the other show [that Jeremy Jordan and Andy Mientus are writing]," explains Wittman.
Although Smash's new showrunner Josh Safran has brought in a few more people to write songs with a more "theatrical pop" and Kat McPhee had someone who had written songs for her album, Shaiman and Wittman have written two songs for the character Jeremy Jordan plays—plus having a special moment with Liza Minelli.
"It was everything you'd think it would be and more," says Wittman. "Our week with Liza, it was the most perfect Liza Minelli experience," Shaiman agrees. "We recorded with her on a Sunday, edited on Monday, shot on Tuesday. It was a crazy, fast-paced experience, to just get that big tidal wave of Liza. A few days later, we were like, Where'd she go, did that just happen? We told her what a fabulous lip-syncher her mother was. And we got to put the word 'terrific!' in the song. She's a good sport."
After the career highpoint, Shaiman and Wittman are about to wrap up their work for Season 2 of Smash and move to the U.K. for the rehearsals of their next big musical adventure: Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, which is set to open in London's West End this summer with stage star Douglas Hodge and director Sam Mendes.
People who want a special treat will want to buy the Bombshell soundtrack at Target, which includes tracks "SMASH!" sung by Jane Krakowski and "Second Hand White Baby Grand" sung by Christine Ebersole. It turns out these were early demos the creative team produced for the rest of the producers and people involved in the show.
"Before people started totally trusting us that the things were OK, week by week we made a demo and sent it out to our partners, all 16,000 of them, from Steven Spielberg on down," explains Shaiman. "Although I put over a song on my emotion, whatever it is, it doesn't sound too pretty. Especially on the Marilyn songs, so we said, 'We have to get someone in here who can put those songs over.' Jane was perfect because she was already on a TV show; she wasn't going to say, 'Oh can I get an audition for the show?' She was just a friend who fit the song great.
"And she owed us one!" Wittman is quick to remind, since they have written many numbers for Krakowski over the years.
But what happens to it now? Could they ever imagine Bombshell being produced as a musical on Broadway? "It would be a lot of hard singing," says Wittman, and then Shaiman adds: "We were striving to write a big show stopper for whichever girl was singing that week—Megan [Hilty] or Kat [McPhee]—so we explained in the CD notes that if someone were trying to sing it all in one night, one poor girl, she'd be like Marilyn, she'd die at the end." But both agree that it would be great as a staged concert or some sort of theatrical experience. "I think if enough people buy this CD, then they will see the bottom line that there is an audience for the music, and someone will find a theatrical way to put this on," says Shaiman.
"I'd love to do it on the Hollywood Bowl," admits Wittman.