‘Schmigadoon!’ Returns for an Encore

Apple's song-and-dance comedy is back, plunging Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key into a darker, sultrier era of classic Hollywood musicals

Apple’s song-and-dance comedy is back, plunging Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key into a darker, sultrier era of classic Hollywood musicals

Having found true love in the perpetually cheerful town of Schmigadoon, doctors Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) and Melissa (Cecily Strong) settle back into normal life in New York City. Nothing about their real life is wrong, really, except that once you’ve experienced a touch of magic realism, can you ever truly go back to the way things were? Longing for more Golden Age-style romance, the couple attempt to return to the Technicolor town… only to stumble instead into “Schmicago,” the dark and sexy world of ’60s and ’70s musicals.  

Now in the midst of its second season, Cinco Paul’s satirical comedy takes on another distinct era of musicals, this time in the style of Fosse/Verdon, Sondheim, and Schwartz. “Everybody has a lot of affection for the ’40s and ’50s musicals, but I think people feel particularly passionate about these musicals,” says Paul. “Musicals got darker. They don’t have happy endings. They’re more complicated. The sound of the Rodgers & Hammerstein era is pretty similar—all the songs sound the same. But there was so much variety in this era. The musicals just exploded.” 

Inspired by everything from A Chorus Line to HAIR, Paul found that his process was similar to the first time he tackled the exercise of evoking the familiar in wholly original music. “There are some songs that are very specific. That opening number, I’ll fess up, it’s ‘Magic to Do’ from Pippin,” he says. “But it usually evolves. As I get deeper in the season, I start to feel a little more original and instead of a show about people trapped in a musical, the show becomes a genuine musical.” 

Although Key’s character Josh remains the same from world to world, the era that brought with it Cabaret, Chicago, Pippin and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is dear to the actor. “A lot of us were born into that era,” he notes. “My favourite musical is Sweeney Todd, and the first musical I ever did in my life was Godspell—I played Jesus. Also, the characters in this season of the show are so layered and have more complication to them. It reflects the era in which they were written.” 

After playing a smaller role in the first season, Dove Cameron takes centre stage in season two as Jenny Banks, a parody of Sally Bowles from Cabaret. “I was watching Dove all first season. I thought we underused her and her amazing talents, so I really wanted to put her front and centre in this season,” the creator explains. For the actress, this opportunity feels like kismet. “I grew up obsessing over Cabaret,” she says. “This is what inspired me to get involved in musical theatre in the first place. It’s the kind of stuff that gets me up in the morning. The setting, the sets, the costumes, the songs—it was all incredibly magical for me.” 

Part of her dream coming true is the ability to delve into a more multifaceted character than Cameron is used to portraying onscreen. “Cinco did this really amazing thing for me. He created this character that was so manic and full of that madcap, chattery thing that was mostly used as a device to distract herself from her trauma. You see all the colours and the reasons why she is the way she is. She’s clearly a girl in a lot of pain.”  

Jenny’s arc also includes a particularly intricate musical number for Cameron, allowing her to stretch as a dancer as well. “Cinco gave me this incredible number that involved quite a lot of chair-ography and hat-trick-ography,” she quips. “It was really wonderful because I got to work with our incredible dancers who made me feel very safe. We got to do a lot of fun tricks.” 

Many cast members from the first season show up in Schmicago, among them Aaron Tveit as a mélange of the lead characters from HAIR, Pippin and Godspell; West Side Story Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose as the Master of Ceremonies from Cabaret; Alan Cumming (who received a Tony for playing the emcee in Cabaret on Broadway) as a parody of Sweeney Todd; and Kristin Chenoweth as a combination of Annie’s Miss Hannigan and Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd. While Chenoweth played a comedic villain in the first season, Schmicago gets a darker baddie in new cast member Patrick Page. “Patrick’s terrifying,” says Cameron of the actor and singer, known for his bottomless bass. “That’s why when [Paul] had him do the Jesus Christ Superstar throwback, I was kicking my legs. I was so ecstatic. It’s everything I ever wanted.” 

Just as in the first season, the key to exiting this magical musical realm is finding happiness. But this time, a happy ending feels more elusive. “How do you find happiness in a world that seems so destined to make you miserable? None of these shows have happy endings. Even when they have a happy ending, it’s kind of ambiguous,” says Paul. “This world seemed perfect to give Josh and Melissa the challenge of creating a happy ending.” 

New episodes of Schmigadoon! stream each Friday on Apple TV+