Alan Menken and Glenn Slater Talk ‘Galavant’ and Bawdy Lyrics

Alan Menken and Glenn Slater Interview on Galavant
Alan Menken, Glenn Slater, Timothy Omundson, Mallory Jansen, Joshua Sasse, Paul Lee, Vinnie Jones, Karen David, Chris Koch, Luke Youngblood, Kat Likkel, John Hoberg, and Dan Fogelman (ABC / Image Group LA)

Do you find yourself either humming or actually singing out loud songs from ABC’s Galavant? If so, you can blame Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, the team behind the music in the limited series starring Joshua Sasse and Timothy Omundson. Composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast) and lyricist Glenn Slater (Tangled) seem to be having a good time lending their musical talents to the TV series, and in our interview during the TCA winter press event both said they’d be open to working on a second season of Galavant.

Interview with Alan Menken and Glenn Slater:

Can you plug any lyrics into the Galavant theme? Is it flexible for future episodes of the series?

Glenn Slater: “Oh, we will make you so sick of that song by the time this series has its eventual six seasons and a movie, yes.”

Was that the design of the song, because it became the “previously on Galavant” recap?

Glenn Slater: “Yeah, it’s designed to be able to do that.”

Do you write the songs to the scripts, or did you have to know all eight scripts before you could write the songs?

Glenn Slater: “A little bit of both. Some of the songs we came up with before.”

How fast did you have to work for Galavant?

Glenn Slater: “Incredibly fast. We did over 30 songs in 10 weeks. It ended up being about a song every two and a half days and that doesn’t include rewrites or fixes or incorporating studio notes or network notes.”

Alan Menken: “Songs we tossed.”

Glenn Slater: “We threw out for or five songs.”

Alan Menken: “I mean, the very first song we wrote, we had to toss. Our lisping song.”

Do you not want to do a second season because it’s so much work, or do you say bring it on?

Alan Menken: “Here’s what I say: if people love it, then I want to keep doing it because I love doing it. But, I don’t think either of us know actually how we’re going to do it. You know something, I gotta say for a songwriter, it’s the most fun process I’ve ever had because it’s incredibly collaborative with Dan Fogelman and the writers who worked on this. It’s a great writer’s room, something you don’t really experience. In theater, you have other kinds of creative rooms, but this writer’s room is just delightful.”

The lyrics are pretty bawdy. How do you get away with that?

Alan Menken: “These are the cleaned up ones.”

Glenn Slater: “We were encouraged by ABC to push in that direction. They wanted a show that could attract adults, college kids, men, ordinary 10-year-olds. They wanted to hit every demographic they could and they said, ‘Don’t be afraid to do jokes that are going to aim over the heads of what people usually think this audience would be.'”

But you couldn’t do that in a Disney movie.

Alan Menken: “Well, but another project we’re doing right now…”

Glenn Slater: “We’re doing an animated film with Seth Rogen called Sausage Party. We don’t just go up to the line. We run up to the line and we hurdle into space.”

Alan Menken: “We obliterate the line completely.”

How many words can you rhyme with f***?

Glenn Slater: “You’re going to find out.”

Did you have to adapt the song to Weird Al or was he very adaptable to your style?

Alan Menken: “We wrote the song and Weird Al came in and did it and learned it just the way any other actor would, but he’s so fantastic. Really nice guy, very musical, really bright and it was perfect. It was great. I don’t think we did any songs that we wrote specifically for one actor. I try never to do that in my life. I write for the character only.”

When you write a song, does it start with the style?

Alan Menken: “Especially on this project, a lot of what we do, we start with a musical vocabulary. For a score generally, but in the case of this one, each one has its own musical vocabulary. You find what’s going to be the fun conceit where everyone’s going to get it right with the first notes, get the joke and get where we’re coming from. Sometimes I’ll play a song like ‘Maybe You’re Not The Worst Thing Ever,” the music plays dead straight and the lyrics [are funny].”

Glenn Slater: “One of the things we’re always trying to do with this show is throw things at the audience that they don’t expect, that they don’t see coming. So every musical style is open to us. We do a rock opera, we do doo wop, we did a Michael Jackson song which got cut unfortunately. Every style is a possibility.”

Are the songs limiting at all, or is it open to everything?

Alan Menken: “The limitations, like in any form, are in the practical production realities. You’re probably not going to have a 10 minute song on a sitcom. Pretty much it’s limiting in terms of keep the songs very short. As I said, the first song we wrote, I said, ‘Well, how about when they go to Valencia, they make them Castilian and it’s all lisping?’ That didn’t last long.”

Glenn Slater: “We did a whole song where everything was lisped but we realized very quickly that nobody would be able to understand it.”

Alan Menken: “And, also we were going to offend lispers. We didn’t want to do that, but every medium has its limitations.”

The opening number is long though.

Alan Menken: “Well, I think because it’s the opening number, that’s setting the DNA for the whole series. That was like two and a half minutes.”

Glenn Slater: “Because there’s so much information in it, the information just comes so fast and furious.”

Alan Menken: “You won’t hear ‘Galavant’ in every episode at all, but we’re still writing the rules as we go along to figure out what this is. Is this a marathon? Is this a sprint? What is it? I don’t know. All I know is we’re having a lot of fun and the audience is having a lot of fun because of A, the fun we’re having and because there’s a familiar musical and dramatic medium that people recognize and are having fun with it. There’s a market for that and there’s a place for that. I knew this when we started doing the animated films. There is a hunger for that, but it has to be done right. It has to be done in the right spirit. It’s not about us. It’s about the form and just celebrating the form.”

How do you choose a style then?

Alan Menken: “We have a show bible that we discuss at the beginning of writing all of these. We knew what the episodes were going to be and pretty much where we wanted to go. Now, that changed a lot, but we plotted out as much in advance as possible where the songs could go, how the songs would function and if we get to continue this, we’ve got to do a lot more of that. A lot of this came together with serendipity because they were in Wales, we were in New York, the writers were in Los Angeles. Everyone was all over the place and somehow because the people are smart, they were able to dovetail.”

Glenn Slater: “There was a dual learning curve. The sitcom writers had to learn how to accommodate music, how to set up a song and how to come out of a song, and we had to learn how to function within the rhythms of a sitcom which are very different from the rhythms of a stage show. You can’t sit for four minutes singing a song the way you can on Broadway where everybody’s there to hear the beautiful singing.”

Did eight episodes arc out similarly to this is a point for a ballad, this is a point for this kind of song?

Glenn Slater: “No, not really.”

Alan Menken: “Here are some of the things. Once we knew we were doing them in pairs, we certainly knew that episode one, episode three, episode five that we certainly need to do some kind of recap coming in that would introduce you back into the story. We knew that each episode had to have its own story and be able to function as a 22 minute little musical. Yeah, each two episodes had their own arc and then the eight episodes had their arc. I think we succeeded to varying degrees in doing that. You also want to make sure you’re not continually repeating the same kinds of jokes or same kind of moments, and yet you have the same characters so it’s a constant challenge to keep it fresh.”

Were you gratified when they restored the Little Shop of Horrors director’s cut on Blu-ray?

Alan Menken: “Well, I loved it when I saw that original ending but clearly it got a rating of about 12 in that screening. That’s the one where Audrey II actually eats the world. It worked great on stage but it did not work in the movies, so I think the right decision was made, actually, for the film.”

But 30 years later, it kind of works now.

Alan Menken: “It does, it does. But, it’s not like it’s that the ending we should have gone with. I think for the movie’s sensibility they went for the right ending originally.”

And your song was still on the soundtrack, so that was never deleted.

Alan Menken: “Yes, that’s correct. So much of that original ending I loved and it reflected so much of the sensibility of the show, but they’re different mediums. It’s like television with Galavant, we’re learning it’s a totally different medium that stage or film. Every one of these songs maybe tops out at a minute and a half, maybe two minutes at most. That’s really the form.”

– Also of interest: Joshua Sasse on Galavant, jousting, and musicals / Vinnie Jones reveals he’s a sensitive guy

– By Fred Topel

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