It’s no secret that Disney uses lots of music in its projects, and its TV series are no exception. But new Disney Junior animated show “Vampirina” is more steeped in musical theater than most, thanks to the work of composers Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond.
Kooman and Dimond are behind several successful stage musicals, including their latest production, “Romantics Anonymous,” which just completed its run at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. “Vampirina” is their first TV project.
The animated series, from “Doc McStuffins” creator Chris Nee, is based on the “Vampirina Ballerina” books by Anne Marie Pace and tells the story of a vampire girl who relocates with her family from Transylvania to Pennsylvania.
The half hours contain two 15-minute segments, with each one featuring a song. In the course of the first season, Kooman and Dimond have written 50 songs — quite a change of pace for writers used to spending years honing a stage musical.
“It’s a challenge that has really pushed us as songwriters and gotten us to be better writers, more thoughtful and conscious of what we’re doing,” explains Dimond, the team’s lyricist. “When you’re writing a song for theater, at a certain point you have to start to think how this is going to be physically staged in front of a live audience, and that involves a number of limitations. In animation, you can do almost anything.”
The long (25-episode) TV season has given the composers a chance to work with the voice actors over an extended period. The series features Isabella Crovetti as young Vampirina, with Lauren Graham and James Van Der Beek as her parents. It also stars a couple of actors who are no strangers to Broadway: Tony winners Patti LuPone and Brian Stokes Mitchell as Vampirina’s grandparents.
“Getting to know their voices allows us to know their quirks — what their range is,” explains Kooman, who adds that he can pick an actor’s best note. “If I have a high note for Lauren Graham. I know it’s going to be an A.”
In addition to LuPone and Mitchell, others with Broadway backgrounds have guested on the show, including Andrew Rannells, who played an Egyptian mummy, and Christian Borle, who will be guesting in a segment set to air on March 16 on Disney Channel.
Collaborating with Kooman and Dimond has been a treat for exec producer Nee. “To work with a team as talented as these guys are is one of the things I love about this process,” she says. “We basically write the scripts around the songs.”
In fact, the first two demo tunes for “Vampirina” were used in the opening segments. “The second we heard what these guys did in the demo, it was like, ‘That’s it!’” says Nee. “It was one of the shortest audition processes ever.”