Classic musical meets modern snark with a witty new offering, starring familiar faces
Apple TV+While many of us have watched the musicals of yesteryear wishing our own lives could be so rose-coloured and lyrical, the idea of people spontaneously breaking into song is an exercise better experienced in theory than in practice. When struggling couple Melissa (SNL’s Cecily Strong) and Josh (Key & Peele’s Keegan-Michael Key) become trapped inside Schmigadoon, an idyllic town straight out of a 1940s musical, from which the only exit is the discovery of true love, they’re forced to face the possibility that, for them, there may be no escape from this land of unbridled, yet unnerving, optimism.
This examination of the Golden Age Hollywood musical through the skeptical eyes of a 21st century audience is produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels and created by Despicable Me and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.
Apple TV+“I had the idea for this over 20 years ago, but I had no idea what it should be. When the TV landscape changed, and Ken and I were ready to move out of animation, it suddenly made sense,” says Paul. “It had always been two guys stumbling upon a musical, but when I said, ‘Let’s make it a couple, and they’re stuck there until they can find true love,’ that’s when it really clicked for me.”
The show does not in fact require any prior knowledge of musical theatre, but for fans there are plenty of nods to their favourites. “I think it’ll work really well for people who are familiar with Oklahoma!, Carousel, Sound of Music, Music Man, Brigadoon and all these classic musicals, but I think it’ll work just as well, actually, for people who don’t know those musicals, because it’s an introduction,” says Paul. “Everybody understands, basically, what a musical is, and it has fun with all those tropes. Keegan’s character Josh hates musicals and wants nothing to do with them and doesn’t know anything about them, so he’s the way in for all those people that maybe haven’t watched Oklahoma! recently.”
Apple TV+Because of the demanding nature of a musical production like this, the town has been populated with some real Broadway heavy-hitters. “We wanted people to sing live on the set and dance, so we really wanted to get a wide variety of real musical theatre talent,” says Paul. “That’s why, in addition to these Tony winners like Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming and Jane Krakowski, we have Aaron Tveit and Ariana DeBose. It was very important that these people have legit chops, so that they could pull that off.”
The six-part season is directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, A Series of Unfortunate Events), who enjoyed the tonal mix of theatricality and realism. “We were very lucky that everyone was able to pull that off,” says the director, who was especially taken by the local talent. “We shot the entire show for Apple TV+ in Vancouver, and we were able to get all these great singing, dancing, tap-dancing kids in Vancouver. That was very impressive.”
Apple TV+The one thing musicals of a bygone era were not, is racially diverse. To Paul, it was vital that the ensemble in Schmigadoon! did not reflect that particular trope. “It was always very important to us that our ensemble looked like America today,” he says. “In many ways, I think Schmigadoon is an aspirational place. It’s a place that we wish we were living in. We’re celebrating the musicals, but we’re using this as an opportunity to deconstruct them and comment on things that were maybe problematic and make them better. A lot of what we were doing with this show is trying to focus on the positive and lift everything up.”
The show is also a love letter to Broadway at a time when the Great White Way, and those who rely on it for income, is going through extreme strife. “It was really important that we have legit Broadway stars in this, because walking around New York right now, all of the theatres are shuttered,” says Strong. “When we filmed it, the theatres were shuttered, and we got to make musical theatre during this time. It was really wonderful.”
Apple TV+For the cast and crew, it was an unforgettable time, and not only because of the unique global circumstances. “It was just a joy coming on set and having all these singers and dancers make magic,” says Paul. “We were able to get the best of the best, unfortunately, because there wasn’t much else for them to do, with Broadway shuttered. But for me, as someone who loves musicals, it was a dream come true. I was like a kid in a candy shop every day.”
Schmigadoon! streams Fridays on Apple TV+