The Magicians star and EPs preview the WTF Les Mis musical number
The Magicians is known for its WTF moments. It’s a show that’s never afraid of following its whims, no matter where they may lead. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 100-person musical number gets thrown right into the middle of Wednesday’s episode.
“This is the king daddy ‘what the f—‘ moment,” Hale Appleman tells EW about the music sequence in Wednesday’s “Lesser Evils,” which finds Eliot (Appleman), Margo (Summer Bishil), and the rest of the court singing “One Day More” from Les Misérables in preparation for Eliot’s duel against King Idri (Leonard Roberts). “I think it’s fun and whimsical and ridiculous and out of nowhere on some level.”
The reason “Lesser Evils” contains a musical number is actually fairly simple: co-creator and executive producer John McNamara, who co-wrote the episode with Elle Lipson, really likes musicals.
“While I was co-writing this script with Elle Lipson — I was doing the part of the script that was preparing for the duel — I just felt like the section right before the duel needed a big lift,” says McNamara, who added the number while writing the first draft and without warning anyone. “I sort of feel like nothing is better than music to create a mood that takes you up…I think there’s something inherently magical about music.”
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He toyed with many options for the moment, including songs from Hamilton and Funny Girl, “Tonight” from West Side Story, and “This Is The Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde, a song he plays to celebrate every victory on the show and to torture fellow creator and EP Sera Gamble, who doesn’t like musicals; however, he decided against it because “it’s not a good song.” (Editor’s note: McNamara ended the interview by playing the David Hasselhoff version of “This Is The Moment.”) He eventually settled on “One Day More” after remembering when the cast of the Les Mis movie sang it live at the 2013 Academy Awards.
“It had a bigger effect dramatically and cinematically than I think it did in the actual movies. That’s what sort of tipped me over,” he says, adding it was also relevant to what was going on in the episode. “At the same time, there’s a slightly generic quality — this is not a diss, it’s a very good song — of just it’s simply about, ‘We’re going to fight the power.’ That’s absolutely what that scene is about.”
Appleman, who was in a production of Les Mis when he was younger, was surprised by the song choice. “I thought maybe Eliot would strut down the stairs of Castle Whitespire singing a jazz standard or something like that. That’s something that felt sort of in line with his character up until that moment,” says Appleman, who sings Jean Valjean’s part of the song. “It came as a little bit of a shock and I just ran with it, because what else could I possibly do.”
Given Gamble’s dislike of musicals and the fact it pushed the episode over budget, it’s surprising the number ended up in there — but Gamble was game because it made the episode more personal.
“The fact that John so passionately loves musical theater makes it interesting to me, makes it interesting to the show, because really, almost more than anything else, the litmus test for whether or not something belongs in The Magicians is, ‘Is it personal to us?’ And this, to me, it feels very personal,” says Gamble. “I don’t think alone I would’ve been able to produce this episode because there’s just so many specific things related to pulling off a musical number like that, which is much in John’s wheelhouse. It was fun for me because it was an education for me.”
To be fair, this isn’t the first musical moment on the show. In season 1, Quentin (Jason Ralph) sang Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” and The Beast (Charles Mesure) sang old Cole Porter tunes throughout an episode earlier in season 2. This is the first sequence on this scale, though. Every moment was scripted and storyboarded, because “you don’t have time to improvise on the day,” says McNamara.
He knows this could end up being “the most hated episode of the season,” but in case it isn’t, he’s already started thinking about how the show can step it up a notch in season 3. “I have, in the back of my mind, something that will literally bring Syfy and Universal to its knees begging me not to do it,” he jokes.
The Magicians airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Syfy.
Based on Lev Grossman’s book trilogy, this fantasy Syfy series follows the adventures of students at Brakebills University, a graduate school specializing in magic.