Armed with a series of color-coded iPods filled with thousands of songs, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino had a blast needle-dropping tunes for their acclaimed ’50s comedy about New York stand-up comic Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan). And for their creative brilliance, they’ve snagged an Emmy for the pilot’s music supervision (shared with Robin Urdang).
It’s not only about finding the right song for Midge, but also bringing that late ’50s vibe to life, bridging Upper Manhattan and The Village with show tunes, pop, jazz, and early rock. Even if they cheat a little bit by including songs from the early to mid-’60s, they’re still capturing the period ethos and the thematic notion of Midge as the female Lenny Bruce ahead of her time.
“We really look for something that feels right for the moment , a song the usual show would not use,” said Palladino. “”What we really wanted to do with this show is use songs with big orchestration,” added Sherman-Palladino. “It’s the big world that we’re trying to recreate and bring back. It brands us a little bit, and it helps if you sit and you think about a scene.
“Like, I always wanted to use something to ‘Come to the Supermarket (In Old Peking),’ the Barbra Streisand song [by Cole Porter]. So I was thinking about showing Midge’s transition from midtown to downtown. It has the manic energy and the feeling of going down a rabbit hole, which is what I thought Midge was feeling when she enters Greenwich Village.”
Naturally, it wasn’t easy getting Streisand’s permission to use the song. But Sherman-Palladino wouldn’t take no for an answer and refused to consider a back-up song. They even shot the scene with “Old Peking.” In fact, they’d often pipe in the song when shooting to let the actors live in the rhythm. “For Rachel, she loved it because it tells her what her bounce is,” Palladino said.
“It took a lot of letters and a lot of pleading,” said Sherman-Palladino. “I sent her the footage, I sent her the script, I sent her everything. Then it took a while for her to watch it and read it.” But eventually Streisand fell under the infectious spell of “Mrs. Maisel.”
“A Wonderful Day Like Today” (from “The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd”), underscored Midge’s celebratory mood on the way back to her apartment. “That moment, her life is perfect,” Sherman-Palladino said. “And it really helped establish who this woman was and how she viewed the world. It could be her theme song.”
“Teach Me Tonight” (sung by the McGuire Sisters) plays during Midge’s Wedding toast, when she flashes back to starring at Bryn Mawr. It’s a stand-up precursor and reveals the way she’s planned her life. “Going into that flashback, we wanted it to be of the era,” Palladino said. “It had an innocence to it that was right to showing Midge when she was 18.”
The morning after her husband Joel’s (Michael Zegen) first stand-up performance at the Gaslight, Midge picks up the kids at her parents. For that, they chose Peggy Lee singing “It’s a Good Day.” “It was warm and frothy and showing what her ritual was with the washing and drying of the Pyrex,” said Sherman-Palladino. “She’s moved into the same building as her parents and that’s the structure that she wanted.”
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Yet when Joel breaks up with Midge, the bittersweet “L’Etang” became an unexpected choice. “We were deep in our editing and we needed to find a piece of music for that moment, and we’ve always loved Blossom Dearie,” said Palladino. “Her voice is so sweet but her arrangements are so spare. That’s one where we just got the magic iPod out and we went through Blossom Dearie and this tune came on, and this one luckily fell into place.”
“That was a particularly tricky moment because we didn’t want it being melodramatic or too dreary, and that song has a dreaminess to it,” added Sherman-Palladino. “For Midge, it’s surreal: she simply cannot believe this is happening, and the song caught that like gangbusters.”
But for a contemplating-a-change montage, they selected the upbeat “Pass Me By” (also sung by Peggy Lee). “That’s one Amy picked early on,” Palladino said. “It was quite rhythmic and has a lot of percussion, and something we definitely played on the street when Midge marches up to the Gaslight.”
For the end credits, they went contemporary with “Girls Talk” (sung by Dave Edmunds). This became a recurring trend to flash forward in time. “We don’t go too contemporary, but we like to burst out of it for something thematic at the end,” said Sherman-Palladino. “And for that I needed a bam out of this pilot. The song’s been in my head for a long time and this was just perfect for it.”
The song also got the attention of the song’s composer. “Someone told Elvis Costello about the use of the song,” said Palladino. “And he sat down and watched it and then watched the series and contacted us to tell us that he was a fan. It’s one of the perks of our job when it comes to music.”