A dashing knight takes off on horseback, determined to win back the love of his life, as the opening strains of his anthem set the scene: “Way back in days of old, there was a legend told, about a hero known as Galavant.”
Named for the titular hero, the theme song is just the first in a long line of tunes Alan Menken and Glenn Slater composed for ABC’s musical comedy “Galavant.” And just as the title tune marks the beginning of Galavant’s journey, the song set the series in motion after Menken and Slater met with creator Dan Fogelman and said, “wouldn’t it be a great idea to do a musical series together?”
Even for a team experienced in the world of Broadway and movies, writing music for a half-hour television comedy brought a new set of challenges. They instantly had to fundamentally change the way they wrote, adapting to a compressed timetable, a need for shorter songs and as a result, a new way for songs to work within the story.
“It was a big learning curve,” says Slater. Added all together, the six-episode series is just slightly longer than your standard Broadway show, but rather than watching it all at once, audiences saw the story in 23-minute pieces. “And that changes the way you hear the songs and the way the songs function,” he says.
When it came to writing the “Galavant” theme in spring 2013, it was clear that the song had a particularly unique job to do. “Galavant” had to introduce the audience to the show’s universe, establish backstory and the series’ smart-alecky tone, and as Menken says, had to do it all right off the bat in the show’s opening seconds.
“I remember picturing (Galavant) on horseback,” Menken says, recalling how he “let the music spill” and the initial creative impulse that produced the musical arrangement of the song. “It’s obviously irreverent and it’s obviously swashbuckling in its basic tone but at the same time a rock arrangement underneath it. And the lyric content, very sophisticated and theatrical because we’re telling all these stories and hopefully weaving them as economically as possible into this song.”
To pen the lyrics, which had to cover a page of backstory supplied by Fogelman, Slater wanted something fresh that didn’t conform to traditional expectations when auds hear “Galavant” is a musical from Disney.
“It was just (about) trying to establish tone quickly,” Slater says. “Letting the audience know that this is not a show for kids, that this was not going to be polite, and that this was not old-fashioned.” His lines for the song include “tough, plus every other manly value, mess with him he’ll disembowel you,” and “epic, wild, a real butt-clencher.”
“I think it’s important to tell the audience that this is not the kind of musical that you don’t like. This is the kind of musical that you love.”
Over the course of nearly a dozen drafts the two landed on the perfect theme for the show’s hero. “‘Galavant’ was the first song we wrote, and getting the reaction from Dan was like a handshake,” says Menken. Though the most exciting moment, he says, was seeing the song filmed. “It’s such an amazing experience of something coming full circle.”
“We had imagined all of these villagers singing, and lots of different sets, which is very easy to imagine and hard to pull off,” adds Slater. “When we saw the first dailies coming off of that set, and saw how they were actually captured, it was like ‘Oh my god, we actually did what we set out to do.’”