(Artwork by Josh Koll)
By Matthew Wexler
If you haven’t already binge-watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, now is the time. Fans of the last season clamored over the five original songs penned by the musical theater writing team of Tom Mizer and Curtis Moore. Not all of their songs made the final cut, though. Fortunately, the pair reunited cast members Alysha Deslorieux, Brennyn Lark and Markita Prescott to create a social distant recording and video of one of the previously unreleased songs, “Madly in Love.”
“The process of writing songs for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was a wonderful, intense whirlwind,” says Mizer. “Theater takes years and years. On Maisel, we went from the first call about possibly, maybe writing original songs for the show to being on set filming “One Less Angel” with 800 extras in just over a month.”
“The original ask was for two songs for the USO concert in the season opener; one to be Shy Baldwin’s “hit song” and one for his back-up singers, a classic girl-group trio. Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, the creators/writers/directors of the show, at first just gave us some basic tonal ideas and some artists to listen to for inspiration,” reflects Mizer. “The script wasn’t written yet!”
“We did a ton of research as quickly as we could to try to find Shy’s voice. Amy had made it clear she wanted him to be his own person, not just singing covers or clearly modeled on one person, so the viewer might feel he actually existed. She would say that the songs should feel like they’ve always existed in the world. (Sure, Amy, no problem.) So, we wrote a bunch of half songs, sending them over, so Amy and Dan could feel out what they wanted. Once they picked a few, we finished the songs and continued to hone and polish the songs right up until recording and filming,” says Mizer. “A lot of effort goes into making something sound effortless. The great thing is, we ended up with lots of good songs from the collaboration, some that didn’t even end up on the show. (“Like Madly in Love”!)
“In terms of theme and story, it depended on the song. Because of our theater background, though, we always base our writing on character and story; we can’t help it. With “One Less Angel,” it was a more general connection. It had to believably be his big hit song but, we decided, it also should convey a sense of optimism and “first love”—this is the moment the audience and Midge really get to see Shy as a star. The song should be about falling in love—one big, danceable swoon, to support what’s happening on screen. Maybe it’s a subtle connection, but it adds to the feel of the moment,” says Mizer.
“On the other end of the spectrum, “No One Has to Know” in episode 306, is the crux of the story, the climax of Shy’s arc. Shy is finally revealing himself, his anguish and deepest heart, in song. We got to think of it like an 11 o’clock number from a musical… our hero is telling his truth. But it also still needed to feel like it could be a romantic single he’s singing in a concert. Threading that needle was a challenge but a deeply rewarding one,” says Mizer.
Winners of the Fred Ebb Award for “excellence in musical theatre songwriting” and a Jonathan Larson Grant from the American Theatre Wing, Thomas Mizer and Curtis Moore are an accomplished writing team whose work has appeared on stages and screens around the world. The five songs for the Emmy-winning hit, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, are the first original songs ever to be featured on the series.
Their theatrical credits include a commission from the Williamstown Theater Festival, as well as residencies with the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals and the American Music Theatre Project at their alma mater, Northwestern University. Named a Richard Rodgers Award Finalist, their romantic mystery Triangle premiered at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley to rave reviews. It went on to receive six Theatre Bay Area Awards as the “Outstanding World Premiere Musical” of the year.
On his own, Curtis Moore is a respected composer, songwriter, performer, conductor, and producer of film and theater music. His credits include Venice at The Public Theater, Nora Ephron’s Broadway play Lucky Guy starring Tom Hanks, Sam Mendes’ acclaimed world-tour of Richard III, and Todd Solondz’s film Palindromes. In addition to his work with Mr. Moore, Thomas Mizer is an award-winning copywriter for national media brands, including Comedy Central, PBS, and Food Network. In a “prior” life as an actor, Thomas appeared Off-Broadway, around the country, and on TV in numerous roles, including “Steve” in the original, record-breaking production of Blue’s Clues, Live!.
A production of Triangle is slated for St. Paul’s Park Square Theatre. And, thanks to quarantine, Mizer and Moore are diving deep into two commissions for new musicals—one an adaptation of a classic fast-talking, romantic comedy film for Universal’s stage division and the other for the producers of Fun Home, which is a Hitchcockian, noir thriller with seances and conmen and buried secrets. According to Mizer, they hope to write more for television, saying, “It’s such an exciting place to tell stories with music.”