Shortly after visiting the set of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life in Burbank, CA, Playbill spoke to Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori. Executive producers and creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino nabbed Tesori to develop four original songs for a Stars Hollow musical that will appear in the “Summer” episode of the four-part Netflix reboot. The numbers star Tony winners Sutton Foster and Christian Borle. Palladino donned a Fun Home T-shirt on set, apropos for the creator of this women-driven TV series..
Tesori, the Tony-winning composer of Fun Home, phoned from Cleveland, OH, where the tour of the musical kicked off last month.
How exciting that there’s a musical in the Gilmore Girls revival and that you’re a part of it. Had you been a fan of Gilmore Girls prior to the Netflix revival?
Jeanine Tesori: I became a fan of the show strangely enough after I met Amy and Dan through Sutton, who met them through Bunheads. Sutton and Christian were crazy fans of the show, and Amy was one of the producers of Violet when we brought it to Broadway from City Center, and that’s when I became a huge fan [of Gilmore Girls]. Someone had told me a while ago that there’s a reference to Caroline or Change at one point –
Yes, there is! In Season 5, Rory gushes about Tony Kushner’s brilliance.
JT: I remember hearing about that thinking: Who the hell knows about Caroline or Change in L.A. and on that show? So it came full circle [with this project], which was really, really fun.
How did you become involved?
JT: Amy and Dan called me right before they were starting. She called and said: Do you want to be involved with this? And I love them, and I said sure. She said: OK, the first song plays in about a week.
We’ve never written together, so for the first song, I chose the one that I knew would be easiest. I knew the timing that it had to be. I knew the basic idea of the musical. We actually found a way of working very, very quickly. They were in L.A. the entire time, so we did everything by email.
Sutton, Christian, and I all happened to be in New York at the same time, so we did get to rehearse together, which was so fun. I’ve known Christian forever, and I’ve known Sutton since she was in her early 20s.
We’re told there are four songs for the musical. Will they be presented in their entirety?
JT: Oh yeah. They’re short. Most of them are about two-and-a-half minutes.
In the episode, Town Selectman Taylor Doose writes, directs and produces this musical. How did knowing that impact the way you composed these songs? What did you imagine his character would produce?
JT: I had to really understand the character who wrote it. That character is talented. No one aims to write something that’s bad. When I first started songwriting, and some of the things I did even when I was 18 or 19, I look back now and I think: Good Lord! But back then I thought: Oh my God, everybody is going to come calling. Give me my awards now.
We talked about all of the characters, especially Sutton. She sings a solo, and she knows these characters in such a crazy, deep way that some of the lines, we tweaked. So it was really thoughtfully done.
You’ve characterized the process of composing using the word “rigor.” You say you compose more and use less. How did having these tight, hard deadlines impact your usual process?
JT: I found that with a TV deadline, the deadline is the biggest friend. I usually go with my first impulses. You’re not writing a show that’s two-and-a-half hours long. The fun of it is how quick it is. I call it the SAT approach. You go with your first impulse and then you shoot the darn thing and then you’re done. It has its own process, it’s just a process that’s super fast.
Speaking of writing, were you able to interact at all with Carole King on set?
JT: No, but Dan sent me a video of her singing one of the songs, “Love Revolution.” Literally, they’re going to just bury me with it. It made me so happy!