BY SCOTT C. MORGAN
Most Tony Award-winning composers prefer to stay behind the scenes, reveling in the applause while raking in the royalty checks. But Marc Shaiman, the out composer of the 2002 Broadway smash Hairspray, is different.
Shaiman is not only composing the music for the Broadway-bound Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, he also appears in it. Fame Becomes Me is now playing Chicago's LaSalle Bank Theatre ( formerly the Shubert ) as its final pre-Broadway stop.
In a way, performing in Fame Becomes Me is another dream come true for the oft Academy Award-nominated composer to films like Sister Act and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. After Hairspray opened on Broadway, Shaiman cajoled director Jack O'Brien to let him play Edna Turnblad, the blossoming Baltimore housewife memorably played by Harvey Fierstein. As the gossip wags reported it, O'Brien said no because the theater needed more writers and composers instead of actors.
So when the opportunity to work and perform with Martin Short arose, Shaiman jumped at the chance. Along with Short, Shaiman is re-teaming with Hairspray lyricist Scott Wittman and playwright Daniel Goldfarb ( the comedy Modern Orthodox ) on what he calls a fast-paced 'modern burlesque.'
'We're all having a great time because the show is a real romp,' Shaiman said during the show's run in Toronto. 'Onstage and offstage, there is such joy in the company.'
Shaiman says Fame Becomes Me is a throwback to the musical revues ( like New Faces of 1952 ) highlighting great performers that typically lit up Broadway. He also admits that it's similar to the hit TV revue The Carol Burnett Show.
So while Short gets to play his TV personas of overweight Hollywood critic Jiminy Glick and the slick-haired Ed Grimley, other performers also get the chance to shine. Shaiman gets to play roles like 'that classic man behind the piano' and a little girl in pigtails plus a patient who, at one point, flashes his rear to the audience through his hospital robe.
'I don't know of too many of my contemporaries who would do that,' Shaiman said.
As much fun as Shaiman is having in Fame Becomes Me, he's also dealing with some minor frustrations. The show opened to extremely positive reviews in San Francisco, but Toronto critics were largely negative.
'I don't know why they were more politically correct and just shocked by the bawdy nature of the show,' Shaiman said. 'I mean, I co-wrote the music to the South Park movie, and this show is tame to my way of thinking.'
Shaiman also admits the rigors of fine-tuning a show while performing in it eight times a week is tough. 'The technical aspect of making changes is complicated,' Shaiman said. 'We're sitting on a lot of new ideas that we'll put in once we get back to rehearsal.'
Being tied up in a show has also prevented Shaiman from visiting the closing performances of Hairspray's national Equity tour, plus he'll have to do some juggling when it comes time for Hairspray to be filmed in Toronto this year.
But for now, Shaiman's attentions are fully on making Fame Becomes Me into a campy musical comedy hit. This is why Shaiman made such a point for readers of a gay and lesbian publication like the Windy City Times to go out and patronize Fame Becomes Me.
'Martin Short, who's as heterosexual as they come, has the most gay sensibility of any human being on earth,' Shaiman said. 'Every aspect of the gay sensibility, he gets and enjoys. You'd have to be a really boring person to not love our show.'
Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me is at the LaSalle Bank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, through July 16. Tickets are $32-82.50. Call ( 312 ) 902-1400.