re: Marc Shaiman responds to Michael John La Chiusa

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Let it be known the first shot was fired by MJLC. But, I think this round goes to Mr. Shaiman. OK, back to your corners.

-------------------- Brook Arts Center closed due to flooding from April 2007 Nor'easter. Watch for more info.
wildcat Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Well said, sir! Young whippersnapper...
Elphaba Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
hehehe, LOVE IT. You go Marc!
It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story... AGATHA CHRISTIE, Life magazine, May 14, 1956
Craig Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
As per an email from Marc: (please note that Marc's email is very similar to the original post on ATC, but has several additions/changes as well)

Dear Friends,

I was recently linked to an article legendary composer/lyricist Michael John LaChiusa wrote for the current issue of “OPERA NEWS”. Despite the title of the magazine, his article is all about the death of The Broadway Musical.

(to read the WHOLE thing, go to:

and then click on the link called "The Great Gray Way".)

Anyhoo, he seems to have quite a problem with most all the musicals currently (or recently) playing on Broadway. Even the good ones!! I do hope you'll read his entire tome, but I have, in this letter, only quoted him when it is for the most part regarding “HAIRSPRAY”.

So listen, here's the thing. I don't have his Email address, so I send my letter to him to you my friends in the theatrical community, in hopes that someone can pass this along to him.




I just finished reading your essay on the death of the American Musical in “OPERA NEWS”. I'd like to take a moment to address some of your remarks (which I've placed in quotes).

“The American Musical is dead.”

Michael John LaChiusa, The Coroner Of Broadway!

“I'm old-school about what makes a musical a musical.”

Me too, pal.

“Lyric, music, libretto, choreography - all work in equal parts to spin out the drama. And the best of craftsmanship is employed, craftsmanship that nods to the past and leans to the future: a great song is something we think we've heard before but haven't. A real musical makes perfect symmetry out of the muck of diverse and eclectic sources, and transcends those sources. A real musical is organic in all its parts. It's equal parts intelligence and heart. It can never be realistic theater, only realistic in its humanity.”

Wow, that is what we, who created “HAIRSPRAY”, strove to do. Please don't tell me at this late date that we failed. Oh dear!

“Faux-musicals are just that - faux. “The Producers” is an example; so is “Hairspray”. If that label sounds disparaging, it's not meant to be. The creators of these shows set out to make musicals based on formulae, and they delivered. Neither transcends its source material (both are based on wonderful cult films)”

How odd, Mel Brooks and John Waters seem to disagree with you there. I guess you have more understanding of those films than they.

“...but as facsimiles of the real thing, they do very nicely - and the box-office receipts prove that.”

Thank God, you should see my monthly nut!

“In no way do these two shows aspire to be the next West Side Story or Sunday in the Park with George.”

Ahhh…now I think we're on to something! Maybe if certain theatrical undertakers stopped trying to be Stephen Sondheim, we could all 'rest in peace'.

“There's not even an attempt to deliver an old-fashioned, knock-'em-dead, lodge-like-bullet-hook number à la Jerry Herman.”

Gee, every time I've run into him, Jerry Herman joyously disagrees, but what does HE know compared to “Mr. Razzmatazz” himself, Michael John LaChiusa? Personally, I can't get “You Can't Stop The beat” outa my head after I see “HAIRSPRAY”. Well, it came outa my head (and heart), so I guess I'm partial to it.

“All sense of invention and craft is abandoned in favor of delivering what the audience thinks a musical should deliver…There is no challenge, no confrontation, no art - and everyone sighs with relief.”

Good God John…er, Michael…er, John…er, Michael John, what happened to you as a child? I mean, to write “All sense of craft is abandoned”?! For that line alone I feel entitled to bitch slap you silly!

“The creators (and subsequently very rich producers)…”

Ok, ok, we get it. Next time we get together, dinner's on me!

“…of these pieces consider them to be “loving valentines” to the musical, by their very act of imitation. A philosopher might consider them simulacra: Plato's “copy of a copy,” a fake that seems more real than the real thing.”

Ooh, such big words!

“There are film adaptations of both “The Producers” and “Hairspray” in the works - that is, movie versions of the stage versions of the original movies.”

Yes? And? So? They made a movie from the musical “Mame”. The fact that “Auntie Mame” was a book and a play and a movie before it was a musical, does that make this evolutionary process ok for you? And more importantly, what exactly did they PUT on that lens for poor old Lucy's sake?

Mikey, what is the exact line one mustn't cross when adapting? You yourself wrote a “musical/opera” based on “Medea”. How could you! Don't you know it's been filmed??!! How dare you recycle that old story!

And, while we're on the subject of "Marie Christine", may ask a more burning question? How could you write an opera/musical of “Medea” and leave the most dramatic event off stage, leaving poor hard working Mary Testa to make that face towards the stage right wings? What a thrilling, frightening and yet darkly entertaining aria that would have been. (Oops, I used the “E” word.)

And yes, I know in Greek Tragedy, catastrophic events like these often take place off stage. But you are a man so against reproduction. Come on man, challenge us!!

“The faux-musical…creators pride themselves on producing “escapist” entertainment for a troubled time. But even that's a faux supposition, more P.R. than genuine sentiment. Escapist theater still should be theater.”

Oh MJLC, where were you when we were writing “HAIRSPRAY”? We were stuck with that damn Jack O'Brien, who knows so little of what makes good and nutritious theatre.

“Once [Nathan & Harvey's] replacements [took] over, the shows revealed themselves for what they are: machines. Instead of choreography, there is dancing. Instead of crafted songwriting, there is tune-positioning.”

Insulting me is easy, I'm short and weak, but damn, you are brave insulting Jerry Mitchell like that! He is one big, tall, STRONG mother hen…I advise you to stay miles away from Shubert Alley after dark, that queen 'll clock ya' clear 'cross town!!

…”mocking the unrealistic nature of musicals has its limits. "The Producers" and "Hairspray" celebrate that quality, no matter how mechanical or sloppy the execution may be to discerning eyes and ears.“

Them's fightin' words.

“”Hairspray” and “The Producers” seem to endorse the hateful operatic adage: no one listens to lyric.”

Listen bub, I take great pride in the lyrics Scott & I crafted for “HAIRSPRAY”. Striving to stay true to the vernacular of our characters time and place, we fretted over every damn syllable. Speaking of words, I have a few in mind right now for you, but I will leave them to your more “discerning” imagination.

“… I'm talking about the “green.”…Theater owners need the green to pay the rent. Producers need the green to pay the theater owners. Writers, directors, designers, actors, technicians and musicians need the green to pay for their living costs in order to create and perform in hits. Advertising a show to get the green requires the green. The Great White Way has always been about the green.”

Professor LaChiusa, you have finally brought up a subject you are clearly in touch with. Green. As in “with envy”.


Ya know, Mr. Michael John L'Accuser, I used the "find" feature on your article.

It is 2, 826 words (impressive!)

And yet, in an essay on what makes (to you, Mr. Michael John L'Excuses, that is) a great musical:

The word "HEART" appears only once

The word "SOUL" does not appear at all

The word "DREAM" does not appear

The words "JOY" or "JOYOUS" also do not appear at all.

Good gracious, dear, no wonder your idea of a musical is dead...what could, how could ANYTHING living survive without Heart, Soul, Dreams or Joy?

In parting, may I offer one last (bitchy) rebuttal? (Come on, you owe me). True story. In your musical/opera/thingy “MARIE CHRISTINE”, there was a moment where the Greek Chorus sat in the front rows at Lincoln Center, in full view. Unfortunately the night Scott & I saw it, a theatergoer with a bright white shirt (making him truly impossible to ignore) was seated right next to them, mouth open, head back, dead asleep. (And this is with Mary Bond Davis singing right next to him!!) Mr. LaChiusa, it is MY opinion that you made the CARDINAL sin of theatre. You BORED the audience.

But that is just my opinion, just as your vicious attack was yours, although stated as fact. I just have to remind myself what the say about opinions and assholes, everyone has one. But who asked to see yours?

-Marc Shaiman

p.s. Folks, I do hope through all of this "fun with words" that someone might notice I don't/didn't point at "HAIRSPRAY" as the definition of a great musical. But I do point to my collaborators as wonderful people of the theatre, who approach their work (and their lives) with great heart and spirit and yes, CRAFT. As well as the other folks who he attempted to demean or, at best, condescend to (I'll let you all find his article and take it all in), people who have been as blessed as he and I to have had the privilege and honor of writing a show that actually made it to The Great White Way.

I know I am a lucky guy to have had just one chance to have a musical on Broadway. So is he. Why he would choose to disrespect (in print) the HEARTFELT creations of his brothers and sisters in theatre will always boggle my mind.

Ah well, whether friend or "faux", I wish him the best. I really do.


"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men" - Willy Wonka
Updated On: 8/8/05 at 10:45 AM
M J R Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
"Maybe if certain theatrical undertakers stopped trying to be Stephen Sondheim, we could all ‘rest in peace’.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I literally applauded you for that one, Marc!!!

It's easy to dismiss the artform when you can't find success in it.

"High time we made a stand and shook up the views of the common man" - Tears for Fears
Updated On: 8/8/05 at 11:01 AM
broadway betty Profile Photo
broadway betty
Broadway Legend
Marc: You're one fiery queen, and I love you for it! Don't people know by now that they shouldn't mess with you?
"I'm the STAR!"--Daniel Reichard during Glory Daze sound check
Thenardier Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
ljay889 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Composer drama. I love it. This is better than backstage performer drama.
robbiej Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I love a good cat fight.

I wanna see these bitches got at it with vaselined-up faces!
"I'm so looking forward to a time when all the Reagan Democrats are dead."
JoeKv99 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
So who the hell does Micheal John LaChiusa think will produce/Direct/Design his next show? One of the Living dead he's insulted in this article? Or does he think he doesn't need collaborators or producers? Odd.

What a bitch. I think Marc has hit in right on the head. Jealousy. And perhaps a touch of "If the public likes it, it must suck" elitism. I don't think MJLC will have that problem- he hasn't managed to produce anything the public has liked.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
Borstalboy Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Oh, dear. Hate to resort to cliche, but can't we all just get along?
"It's now rather very common to hear people say 'I'm rather offended by that'. As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more than a whine. It has no meaning, no purpose. It has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that'. Well, so f**king what?"--Stephen Fry
BobbyBubby Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Why must Shaiman wage a campaign against EVERY attack on his work? Surely Hairspray isn't above any kind of criticism.
La Chiusa has A LOT of valid, solid points in his article.
Marc Shaiman Profile Photo
Marc Shaiman
Broadway Legend
I think you said it in a nutshell there, by using the word "attack"!!

'nuff said!

(me?? 'nuff said?? HA!!!)
Aigoo Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Hmm..interesting. Good way to start my morning. Bravo, Mr. Shaiman.
This is my signature.
ljay889 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
The thing that's getting me mad is - EVERYONE is taking sides on ATC.

Why can't we all realize that BOTH men are talented, and are worthy of our respect, and worthy of success?
BobbyBubby Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I don't know, Marc. I just think freaking out every time someone says something negative about Hairspray (La Chiusa, Mordden, Kander and Ebb) doesn't bode very well for you. These are respected sources who are entitled to their opinions, as you are yours. Portraying everyone who disagrees with you as an ASS may not be the fairest way to combat such criticisms.
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Marc Shaiman
Broadway Legend
it's only when they say it in "ass like fashion"! And what's so terribly wrong about defending one self? You guys online constantly defend your right to your opinions, can't I practice that same right?

And though I'll never be known as a classy guy, I just think it's tacky for fellow composers/lyricists to attack a brethren. To quote one fabulous, legendary lyricist: "Whatever Happened To Class?"

anyway, LOVE your icon! Let's be friends!

Chorus Member
Wow, Mr. Shaiman. You didn't have Michael John's email address? And none of your friends in the biz could have provided it to you? I find that very hard to believe. Even I (i.e. nobody) have his email, because Mr. LaChiusa has emailed me privately twice, in response to postings on ATC. (Once to thank me for extolling HELLO AGAIN, once to critique my critique of LITTLE FISH.)

It's well-known that Mr. LaChiusa reads the boards - his BWW username is apparently "businesssuit", and I've seen an occasional post from "MichaelJohn" on ATC. (If you weren't aware of that fact, Mr. Shaiman, you would have been after reading all the replies to your ATC thread.) So did you think Mr. L. *wouldn't* see the discussion there? He could have fired back, or contacted you privately (that is, if he could somehow locate an email address) but apparently didn't.

So IMO, taking your case to the Land of Email Forwarding crosses the line to "uncalled-for." I think you had every right to respond publicly on ATC, and I loved your rant, even if half of the "rebuttals" were cheap shots that didn't address a relevant issue. (Personally, the only sentence in the OPERA NEWS article that I think is way off-base and undefendable is: "All sense of invention and craft is abandoned [...]" - obviously it took incredible craft to write HAIRSPRAY. But is HAIRSPRAY not 100% pastiche? which is part of Mr. L.'s point.)

Mr. Shaiman, you knew you were going to win the "PR battle" as soon as you clicked "submit" on ATC. Why not be the bigger man and leave it at that? What good does it do to e-blast your friends/colleagues, except to make yourself look better and Mr. L. look worse?

A conductor/arranger who wishes he had one-eighth of Marc's talent
TheatreDiva90016 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend

I can't belive you brought up me sleeping in the front row at MARIE CHRISTINE!

I TRIED to stay awake, but it was just SO BORING!

Anyway, I thought no one would notice.

I didn't snore did I?
"TheatreDiva90016 - another good reason to frequent these boards less."<<>> “I hesitate to give this line of discussion the validation it so desperately craves by perpetuating it, but the light from logic is getting further and further away with your every successive post.” <<>> -whatever2
Winokur_fan Profile Photo
Broadway Star
Agreed, Marc. Not to mention that he also attacked some of the greatest people in the entertainment business in his little rant. Such as Jerry...noboby messes with Jerry. Wouldn't you defend your friends, BB?
~*~Fairytales do come true~*~ Keala Settle: Aloha, Sistah! It's all good...<3<3<3
Michael Bennett Profile Photo
Michael Bennett
Broadway Legend
I adore Marc's work and love a great deal of MJLC's material as well. I think both have valid points.

I did want to comment, though, that I do agree with Marc's comment about the poor choice in MARIE CHRISTINE of having the death scene take place "off stage." I get they were going for a greek tragedy approach, but it didn't work. And while we're at it, wouldn't it have been a more interesting choice if Mary Testa, rather then throw her magic trinket away in disgust during the big reveal, instead craddled it - held it close, having witnessed first hand the "truth" of Marie's powers?

I actually fault Graciella Danielle, though for that, and for a lot of the other flaws with MARIE CHRISTINE. I think she skirted around a lot of the unpleasant aspects of the character (maybe it's a female thing), and I recently shared that with Mr. LaChiusa, who despite how he might have come across in that article, does have a real love and respect for the art form.

Updated On: 8/8/05 at 12:16 PM
Thenardier Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
pianodan - I don't think you should have given out LaChiusa's username.

He PMs those he wants, rarely (if ever) posts...

Number 2, I don't think Marc is THAT dumb to post on a PUBLIC message board and not realize that someone such as LaChiusa, himself, may see what he (Marc) wrote. Give him a little credit.

Anyway, Marc, why not write a "real" (meaning get it published) article entitled, "The American Musical is Still Alive?" (title can be changed, it's too early to be creative).
Updated On: 8/8/05 at 12:23 PM
Craig Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
I think it's important to note that the thrust of marc's post isn't about defending hairspray, but about the issues raised in the article. It just so happens he is connected to hairspray, so he obviously has more knowledge about that "subject". Why wouldn't he defend his child? Furthermore - why does one have to be put down to make the other "greater". Marc didn't start the "war" - (nor did he start the Fred Ebb thing)- he was merely responding to comments made about him. If he had written how hairspray was the mother of all musicals and MJL couldn't write a worthy musical, I'm sure he'd be flamed from now until the end of time. Especially since it would come off gloating in his successess.

As for Marc eblasting his friends. He's in perfect right to. Just as MJL (who I should add I have NOTHING against and FULL ON RESPECT FOR) has the right to put pen to paper and have his thoughts published for the world to read, why would Marc not have the same right? Call it petty, call it ishmael, it doesn't matter. Michael raised an issue of importance, and having brought several composers in on the discussion, they, along with anyone else, has the right and priviledge to respond.

my .02 anyway.
"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men" - Willy Wonka
Updated On: 8/8/05 at 12:25 PM
JoeKv99 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Hey, Marc's got every right to answer "every" attack on his show. It must be hell to read someone rip into one of your "Children" like that. And Marc also has every right to respond just as publicly as he wants.

And to me the offensive thing isn't that JMLC ripped into Hairspray (To each his own, right?) but that he ripped into everything-- EVERYHTHING playing now and just about everything that played the last 10 years. Really, if there is NOTHING on Broadway right now that you can enjoy, maybe you just don't like Broadway-- head to a NASCAR rally or a Duck Hunt.
No good can possibly come from using this vast wasteland of error and deliberate deceit. You should get off of it and warn others away. You should make sure your children and grandchildren know what a corrupt and morally bankrupt institution it truly is.
DAME Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
You make no sense at all. None. Why the hell should he take it to private e mail? What would be the fun in that?

I loved your post Marc. And I also want to add that I will be seeing hairspray again ( My 5 th time) on a tour stop very soon. I saw Marie Christine once. It was not only a waste of money and time for me.. but a excercise in patience of "theater for the snobs."
Updated On: 8/8/05 at 12:28 PM
ljay889 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
What is this whole Fred Ebb thing I am hearing about?


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