Marc Shaiman didn't need any props or gimmicks to win over a rapt audience who hung on every note, hilarious joke, and side-splitting anecdote that he offered up at what was touted as an intimate evening of film & fun set to music at a special gala event at the Newport Beach Festival last night.
"I'm the gay Marvin Hamlisch," he quipped, as he stepped into the floodlights with a flourish.
The celebrated composer (who has written scores for Hairspray, When Harry met Sally, A Few Good Men & Sister Act) was right at home on the cozy stage in front of a baby grand piano as his agent fielded questions about his humble start, career highlights, and a bevy of high-profile megastars he's worked with over the years.
"When I was 17, I was into the Cabaret-style of music which was popular then."
"I call it the Jewish cry for help," he giggled, as his fans roared in response.
When it comes to composing, it is quite another matter, indeed!
The diminutive performer - a flashy dresser prone to wrap himself in well-tailored suits stylishly matched-up with dress shirts in peacock hues and brightly-colored ties - has been nominated at least 5 times for the Academy Award for his musical musings, in addition to nabbing a handful of Tony Awards and Grammys over the course of his illustrious career.
The dazzling niche he managed to carve out for himself in show business is obviously due to the fact he is intensely focused (in both waking and dream states) on his hopes, dreams, and wishes.
For example, Shaiman idolized Bette Midler in his salad & lettuce days in Manhattan, and vowed to be working the boards with her one day.
"I had this fantasy that I would run down the aisle at her concert one evening, jump up on stage, and plead with her to let me play backup piano."
"I know every note, every word, every nuance," he imagined himself saying to the startled stage performer in front of a bemused audience.
Well, as fate would have it, Mr. Shaiman rented an apartment which happened to be located right across from one the Harlettes (Midler's back up singers) were holed up in.
Naturally, being the outgoing personable individual he was, Marc soon hooked up with the talented gals, and subsequently, ended up wiling away a fun-filled hour or two with the performers in their little nest.
One day, Miss Midler walked through the door and informed the trio that she was putting together a new act, and summarily asked them to jump on the bandwagon.
When they excitedly agreed, she barked out a command.
"Boys, let's try one on my third album."
"Bette talked like that," the likable showman noted in an aside before continuing.
The Harlettes looked at each other this way 'n that and were forced to admit they weren't familiar with the tune.
Marc, on the other hand, uttered in an almost inaudible voice from the back of the room that he knew the piece.
"You back there," Bette cried out in his direction.
"You say, you know it?"
As he stepped forward, he suddenly found himself saying to Divine Miss "M":
"Ms. Midler, I know every note, every word."
The audience went wild.
Yup, his fantasy came true.
Before he knew it, he was ensconced in Bette's guest room; after all, she wasn't inclined to splurge for a costly Hotel room.
"She was cheap," he half-whispered to his amused fans.
"So, there I was, sharing her home. Each morning we'd sit opposite each other at the breakfast table. Bette was usually dressed in an open housecoat with no bra. It was just the four of us, really."
What a laugh riot this man was!
The entertaining repartee continued throughout the mirth-filled night.
That was not surprising, since Shaiman is a natural with a ballsy sense of humor, quick wit, and a devil-may-care attitude that is infectious.
His agent - a great handler by the name of Richard Kraft - was no slouch in the humor department either.
"One day Marc showed up at my door years ago when my wife was expecting our first child. I quipped that he looked like my unborn fetus. The off-handed remark didn't offend him at all - in fact - a bond was forged at that precise moment," he recalled in so many words.
"I signed him on personality and on the promise that he would compose music."
Boy, did he!
How did he end up writing the score for Hairspray?
Apparently, Scott Rudin bought the rights for the movie - then an another associate by the name of Paul Rudick - lost interest.
So, the project was abandoned.
Then, the fledgling project was snapped up by Margot Lynn who called immediately to cajole him into penning the score.
His arm didn't need twisting, though.
"She didn't know I wrote lyrics. When I made a pitch for that assignment she was reticent since she was doubtful I could pull it off."
Marc was forced to audition!
Needless to say, he nabbed it.
"I wrote the first four songs right off-the-bat - which were the tent poles of the score - if anything."
"Good morning Baltimore" and "Welcome to the Sixties" were two exciting ditties that got the ball rolling in the right direction.
A big break came along one day when Rob Reiner rang up his agent and asked if Marc would be available to pen music for "City Slickers" to star Billy Crystal.
But, Marc hadn't recorded any music yet, so the dynamic duo was unable to comply with the actor/writer/producer's request.
Rob shrugged and stated matter-of-fact, "Talent is Talent".
That became an ongoing gag in the early stages of Marc's career.
At one juncture, Marc pulled off some hilarious schtick about the "print master".
Apparently, whenever he was in the studio laying down tracks and there was a glitch or problem, the woman in charge at the recording end would quip:
"Oh, I'll take care of that in the print master."
The composer was beside himself.
What the heck was the print master?
After he explained the role it played in the soundtrack. he proceeded to share some keen insights.
"Over time - as special effects became more developed and enhanced in filmmaking - the score became more of an undercurrent."
On occasion, though, his skillful compositions were tough to meddle with.
For example, when Marc composed the opening music for the feature - American President - it was written for a photo montage of Washington, D.C.
When Marc's fingers touched the keys of the piano and the score spilled out, everyone in the packed house, fell silent.
The classical piece was moving, eloquent, uplifting, reverent, reflective, poignan, you name it.
Mr. Shaiman recalled on one occasion when he was asked to write a score for "Bob", an intriguing tale about a character in a movie who hears the "music" in the heads of people he encounters on the street, in a restaurant, wherever.
"Four screenplays had been written, but no one thought to write a score."
This was strange to Marc who has very definite ideas about characters on screen, musicals, and the magic behind the musings.
"When a character sings, it represents the voice - or thoughts - inside his or her head."
Because of the level of success he has achieved in recent days in his enviable career, he has been basically offered the moon in respect to work assignments.
"I was told I could turn any movie I wanted into a stage musical."
So, he chose "Catch me if you can", the Leonardo DiCaprio tale about the check forger which played in theatres just a short while ago.
Securing the rights, believe it or not, was a snap for the entertainer.
Apparently, he goes to Martin Short's Christmas party each year.
"His parties are famous. Big stars breeze in for the holiday season, jump up enthusiastically and sing in the living-room, that sort-of-thing."
He giggled, then revealed a juicy tidbit of inside gossip about Tom Hanks.
"He has the filthiest sense of humor!"
The audience guffawed wildly.
Can you imagine it, old goody-two-shoes with the mind of a letch???
Anyhoo, Marc met Steven Speilberg at the soiree one year. When the dilemma about the rights to the movie reared its ugly head, the musical whiz kid simply called up the director with his request.
Off-the-cuff, he performed a couple of the off-the-wall numbers, as works in progress.
But, in view of the fact Mr. Shaiman appears to have horse shoes up his a**, I'm sure the mucho-talented impresario will pull the challening task off in spades.
If you ever get the chance to catch Mr. Shaiman in concert, snap up a ticket.
It may be one of the most memorable moments in the musical theatre that you will ever have the good fortune to experience.