Like so many others on the “Smash” team, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman began working on the NBC series about the making of a Broadway musical at the same time they were knee-deep in production of Broadway tuner “Catch Me if You Can.”
The coincidental connective tissue between the two projects was Steven Spielberg, who had the initial inspiration for the concept that became “Smash,” and who also directed the 2002 feature film “Catch Me if You Can.” The intense demands of working on original music for both projects kept the composer and lyricist duo on their feet, literally.
“When we were rehearsing ‘Catch Me,’ we’d say ‘We’re gonna just go get a soda around the corner,’ ” recalls Shaiman. “And of course we ran over to the table read for ‘Smash.’ ”
“It was gay ‘Inception,’ ” laughs Wittman.
The pair’s tunesmithing process has been sped up by the demands of TV, as they are tasked with delivering at least 15 original songs for the “Marilyn” musical that is the show-within-a-show in “Smash.”
The songs “need to be recorded and staged, because often they’re production numbers; we’ve done one or two of them more quickly than we were used to,” Wittman says. “But it’s really like doing a musical. You’re in a table read and you’re like, ‘We could write a better song for this moment.’ ”
A key part of the “Smash” plot turns on the oft-told story of a young singer, played by Katharine McPhee, who moves to New York to seek fame and fortune onstage. It may be a trope as old as “42nd Street,” but it nonetheless rings true.
The show’s storylines are by design “very authentic to the process,” Wittman says. “Often on the set I’ll say, ‘I’ve been in this room.’ “