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Apple TV+’s new musical comedy Schmigadoon! is a treasure trove of musical goodies. Part parody, part homage, it sends up the tropes of Golden Age musicals while paying tribute to them through exuberant song and dance numbers.
Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key play Melissa and Josh, two doctors whose relationship has hit a rough patch. On a hike meant to bring them closer together, they stumble on the magical town of Schmigadoon. It’s Brigadoon, with a twist: In Schmigadoon, life is a musical, and you can only leave once you’ve found true love.
So begins a heap of musical references, as Schmigadoon! takes on everything from Oklahoma! to The Music Man to Carousel. While the entire series is a love letter to musicals, this love stands out the most in the musical numbers.
“Everything I love about musicals, I wanted to put into this show,” Schmigadoon! co-creator Cinco Paul says in a phone interview. Paul wrote all of Schmigadoon!‘s original songs, every one of which overflows with nods to other musicals and their most well-known tropes.
Like with any musical, these songs are the driving force behind Schmigadoon!. They bring a scene’s emotion and its characters to new heights. Plus, they’re great showcases for the show’s mega-talented cast, including Broadway mainstays like Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, and Alan Cumming.
Schmigadoon! may be a parody of musicals, but its songs aren’t especially parodic. Instead, they lean hard into sincerity and authenticity, a deliberate choice on Paul’s part.
“Early on, I discovered that the more real and authentic the song sounded, the better the comedy would play,” Paul says. “My initial attempts at writing some of these songs were kind of lazy parodies of musical theater songs, and I realized I needed to be harder on myself. I needed to dig deeper.”
“Everything I love about musicals, I wanted to put into this show.”
To get into the mindset of musical composers like Richard Rodgers, Frank Loesser, and Meredith Wilson, Paul studied their work and played through entire musical scores on piano. After this, he says, “I had [the scores] in my bones and understood how they moved.”
Paul also credits executive music producer Doug Besterman and music and vocal performance supervisor David Chase with making the songs sound as authentic as possible. Besterman and Chase’s arrangements bring Paul’s songs to life. They truly sound like they’d fit right at home in a Golden Age musical, but they still bring something new to the table. As Paul puts it, he wanted Schmigadoon! to feel like “an undiscovered Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.”
The Rodgers and Hammerstein influence is undeniable throughout Schmigadoon!: Tveit’s Danny Bailey is a dead ringer for Carousel‘s Billy Bigelow, and Strong performs a very different take on a Sound of Music classic in a later episode.
But nowhere is the Rodgers and Hammerstein impact felt more than in Schmigadoon!‘s high-energy opening number, aptly titled “Schmigadoon!” Even musical theater novices will be able to notice the song’s resemblance to Oklahoma!‘s iconic eponymous song, including the repeated “Schmiga, Schmiga” and the spelling out of the town’s name, both ideas that Paul credits Besterman and Chase with.
An opening number is crucial to any musical, and the same goes for Schmigadoon! “You’re teaching the audience how to watch the show and what it’s going to be,” says Paul. “You’re introducing all the main players and really setting the tone for the whole show.”
As an opener, “Schmigadoon!” works on multiple levels. It serves as our first foray into the titular town, with a series of quirky introductions from its various townspeople, but it also prepares viewers for the many, many musical Easter eggs they can expect from Schmigadoon!
For example, “Schmigadoon!” doesn’t just pay homage to “Oklahoma!” Paul also cites “It’s a Typical Day” from Li’l Abner as inspiration for all the townspeople’s introductions, and Alan Cumming’s first speech as the mayor calls to mind the Munchkins’ welcome to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
The other songs from Schmigadoon!‘s first two episodes are no less jam-packed with musical references. Take the oh-so-catchy “Corn Puddin'”, the song that makes Josh want to leave Schmigadoon immediately.
“It was actually the first song I wrote for the show,” says Paul. “It came out of thinking, ‘what is the song that would be the most torture for [Josh] to have to sit through?’ It just had to be a song about the most banal subject ever.”
Paul drew inspiration from songs like The Music Man‘s “Shipoopi” and Carousel‘s “A Real Nice Clambake” to bring “Corn Puddin'” to life. “They’re these songs that would usually bring a musical to a screeching halt,” he says. “But in our show, [“Corn Puddin'”] actually moves the story forward. It gets Melissa to start participating in the musical, and it pushes Josh to his limit.”
Since there are so many great musicals to pull from, Schmigadoon!’s songs always surprise with new references, often layered one on top of the other. However, they aren’t just references for references’ sake. They’re here to remind us of the shows we love and why we love them, from their exciting dance sequences to catchy songs to corny romances we just can’t help but root for.
Of course, none of this would work if the songs weren’t written and arranged by a team that’s so passionate about musicals. It’s evident from the rigor with which Paul, Besterman, and Chase approached these songs that they’re well-versed in musical theater.
Paul is even a self-professed theater kid: In his freshman year of high school, he played piano for his school’s production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (a show that is delightfully referenced in multiple Schmigadoon! songs). “That brought me into the theater group at school, and they became my tribe,” he says.
Now, Paul has come full circle, writing songs that theater kids and their own tribes will no doubt adore listening to over and over again in order to catch every last detail.
New episodes of Schmigadoon! are streaming on Apple TV+ every Friday. EPs featuring each episode’s songs are released every Friday as well.
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