Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Inside Look at ABC's Irreverent New Musical Comedy Series GALAVANT

L-R: Mallory Jansen, Karen David, Joshua Sasse, Vinnie Jones, 
Timothy Omundson, and Luke Youngblood. Photo credit: ABC/Rick Rowell

ABC premiered the pilot episode of its new medieval musical comedy television show, GALAVANT, at a star-studded event at the Sayers Club last night in Hollywood. The series, from executive producer & screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars, and Crazy, Stupid, Love), features music by Disney heavy hitters Alan Menken (music) & Glenn Slater (lyrics) and will debut on January 4, 2015 at 8/7c.

Fogelman hosted the evening - along with Menken and Slater - which included a screening of the pilot and live musical performances by the cast. The idea for the "crazy, bonkers show" came while he was writing Tangled, said Fogelman, and that started the search for how a mainstream musical on television might sound.

Menken talked about how his inspiration for a musical begins. "Every show I've written has had a stylistic hook," he said. "For The Little Mermaid it was calypso, and for Little Shop of Horrors it was '60s rock and roll, but GALAVANT," he laughed, is "the kitchen sink. We've taken traditional musical theatre and adventure tropes and turned them on their heads."

That means a beautiful love song between a typical pair of lovers becomes a hilarious love duet between two warring couples who don't like each other (with some completely unexpected and cheeky lyrics) in this irreverent world. Another love song, reenvisioned as a "diva cabaret number," is sung by the disagreeable Princess Madalena to herself, harmonizing with multiples of her own image reflected in ten mirrors.

Even the guest stars sing, like Ricky Gervais (Xanax, the Wizard) whose song turns into a kind of mini-rock opera acid dream in the style of The Beatles and The Who, and Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville, who appears as a singing pirate, Peter the Pillager. Again, these are not your typical pirates. Instead of a sea chanty, Bonneville and his men sing a "land chanty" and dance a Broadway jig for these pirates never set foot on a ship but plunder on solid ground.

Weird Al Yankovic, who plays a monk on the show, made a surprise appearance at the premiere singing live with his five monk-sters lending back-up vocals. Their mashup of Gregorian chant and modern day funk was another twist on the expected and a terrific way to represent the show's desire to reach out to a contemporary audience.

Other guest stars throughout the season will include Broadway's Faith Prince, John Stamos (Full House) as a rival knight, Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner) as King Richard's older brother, Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy and the Vampire Slayer, Merlin), and Sophie McShera, who plays Daisy on Downton Abbey. Each will be featured as a unique character with his or her own musical style.

The writers wanted to create a big, epic sound for the opening number that would get everyone excited about the show and their inspiration came when Ben Presley from Falkirk, Scotland, walked in to audition for the role of the court jester. The charming, 6'5" actor's accent was so thick they couldn't understand a word he said but they loved him so much that they asked him to do it with a big posh English accent. He nailed it and that's how the opening number to GALAVANT was born.

The cast also stars handsome Joshua Sasse as the dashing hero Galavant; Mallory Jansen as his fickle love Madalena; Timothy Omundson as the wacky evil King Richard who steals her away; Karen David as Isabella, the Princess with a secret; Luke Youngblood as Galavant's squire, Sid; and my personal favorite, Vinnie Jones as Gareth, who Fogelman says is the "comic relief and carries the guts and soul of the show."

GALAVANT was directed by Chris Koch with musical direction by Michael Kosarin. The comedy extravaganza will premiere on ABC January 4, 2015 at 8/7c as the mid-season fill-in for ABC's Once Upon a Time.

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