From Ariel to Belle, from Giselle to Rapunzel, it is the rare Disney princess — animated or on stage — to whom Alan Menken has not given a song. Over portions of four decades, with the help of with lyricists Howard Ashman, Stephen Schwartz and Glenn Slater, Menken has helped a collection of characters pour their yearning hearts out in jazz riffs, dance hall kicks, calypso beats and doo-wop licks (OK, so Little Shop of Horrors' Audrey was no princess).
The latest group of vocalists ready to take their place in the Menken-scored pantheon are the flesh and blood knights, squires, monks, rulers and — oh yes — princesses of "Galavant," a 30-minute musical comedy set to premiere on ABC Jan. 4, 2015. For this bonkers, topsy-turvy endeavor which plays fast and loose with medieval conventions, producers claim they are setting network comedy on its ear, with Menken and Slater working from a grab bag of musical styles to match.
"This one is the kitchen sink," Menken said at a series preview event showcasing "Galavant"'s cast and songs. "With each episode, each song, we do all these different styles. It's so eclectic."
That eclecticism filters down into Slater's lyrics. Slater's previous collaborations with Menken both for Disney animation ("Home on the Range," "Tangled") and theatrical (Leap of Faith, Sister Act) were warm-up acts for the ribaldry on display in "Galavant."
Consider the theme song:
"Way back in days of olde
There was a legend told
About a hero known as Galvant.
Square-jawed with golden hair
Cajones out to there,
There was no hero quite like Galavant.
"Tough! Plus every other manly value
Mess with him, he'll disembowel you
He ruled in every way!
A fairy tale cliché!
And people called him Galavant"
Exhibit B: a tender love duet that has an ill-matched couple peering into each other's eyes and uttering the following lines:
Him: "You're frigid and demanding, I shudder at your call."
Her: "Whenever you come near me, my flesh begins to crawl."
Both: "But sometimes there are moments I'm not repelled at all.
Maybe you're not the worst thing ever."
"Galavant" is the brainchild of writer/producer Dan Fogelman who worked with Menken and Slater on the 2010 animated film "Tangled" and brought the duo back to score a musical episode of "The Neighbors," the ABC series Fogelman created and executive produced from 2012-14. That "Neighbors" episode earned Menken and Slater an Emmy nomination for the song "More or Less the Kind of Thing You May or May Not Possibly See on Broadway," and Fogelman returned to his idea file to develop a musical project.
The resulting "Galavant" is a swords and armor yarn about the titular Knight Prince "Galavant" (played by Joshua Sasse) who loses his Lady Madalena (Mallory Jansen) to the lusty King Richard (Timothy Omundson). Spurred out of his misery by Princess Isabella (Karen David), "Galavant" undertakes a revenge quest to win back Madalena and restore order to the kingdom.
The thematic pomp may be real, but the tone most certainly is not. "Galavant" encounters pirates who are marooned on land and a chorus of dancing monks. Matters are no less nutso back at the castle with Richard and Madalena. Menken and Slater — both of whom serve as executive producers — wrote more than 30 original songs for the series' first eight episodes including an acid trip reverie sung by guest star Ricky Gervais and a narcissistic solo that has Jansen's Madalena harmonizing with eight mirrored reflections of herself. "We've gotten the support to do something bold and different on network television," Fogelman said. "We feel we not only did something bold and different, but it actually turned out pretty good as well."
The series preview event in Hollywood featured a cabaret of the actors performing a handful of musical numbers from "Galavant" with Menken at the piano. Many of the cast members (most of whom are not from America) took the opportunity to lob adulation and good-natured digs at the composer, the unofficial the prince of Disney music. Despite being raised in England and Australia respectively, David and Jansen both nurtured Disney Princess dreams which were fueled by characters who Menken had scored.
"My six year-old-self is very happy with the way things have turned out," said Jansen, adding that she was bucking for at least two more solos if "Galavant" gets picked up for additional episodes.
For Omundson, the only American in the principal cast, the filming of the pilot overlapped with the actor's 10-year-old daughter who was rehearsing a school production of Beauty and the Beast. Thus father and daughter were worked on separate Menken-written songs simultaneously.
"That was such a lovely moment to have with my daughter," Omundson recalled. "So thanks, Alan."
The preview ended with Menken at the piano singing a medley of more than a dozen songs from his film and musical canon: Aladdin and Beauty, The Little Mermaid and "Enchanted," "Hercules" and Newsies, Little Shop, "Pocahontas," "Tangled" and — ultimately — "Galavant."