There has been one particular HBO show that has set social media abuzz the past few weeks, but on Apple TV+ another program that has a passionate following of its own just wrapped up a delightful first season. That series, “Schmigadoon!,” follows a couple on the verge of a breakup, Melissa and Josh (Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, respectively), who end up magically transported to Schmigadoon, a strange town where everyone breaks out in song and looks like they stepped out of a 1940’s movie musical. And unless you truly hate musicals (sure, possible) or are extremely cold-hearted (also possible), it’s hard to resist.
Conceived by screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, the series finds Melissa and Josh’s rocky relationship stretched to the limit as they attempt to find a way to return to the real world. Despite their best efforts, they immediately become ensconced into the lives of the overly friendly townsfolk. Soon they find themselves up close and personal with an obviously closeted mayor (Alan Cumming), a progressive school teacher with a secret (Ariana DeBose), a handsome doctor who is too sexist for his own good (Jaime Camil), a perky waitress looking for a husband who is much younger than she appears (Dove Cameron), the town’s admitted “rapscallion” (Aaron Tveit) and a preacher’s wife who is excellent at judging everyone but herself (Kristin Chenoweth). Along with a chorus of some of Canada’s best musical talents, it’s a show that features some of Broadway’s biggest names knocking it out of the park.
Apple TV+ has been quiet on how successful “Schmigadoon!” has been for the service, but during a post-mortem interview for the show, Paul noted that he’d always conceived of multiple seasons and notes, “hopefully, we’ll get the chance to see that through.”
So, there’s a chance it could return for a second go-around?
“Yeah,” Paul says. “I will say that had been my conception all from the beginning. So, hopefully, it’ll happen.”
(No pressure Apple, but we’re eagerly awaiting that second season pickup press release.)
During the rest of our conversation, Paul detailed the incredibly short rehearsal process Chenoweth had for the incredible one-shot “Tribulation” number, the toughest song to crack, the moment director Barry Sonnefeld informed him he didn’t particularly like musicals and more.
The Playlist: I’ve read that you had an idea for a show like “Schmigadoon!” About 25 years ago and that it came to fruition because Lorne Michaels was looking for a musical project. But before that came to your attention what was the status of the project? Was there a pilot script? Was it in pitch form?
Cinco Paul: Literally, nothing in the works before that moment. It literally was an idea that I had all those years ago, and then just didn’t really know what to do with this, so I just filed it away. And then, when I was ready to start looking at TV, Ken and I had some other ideas that we’ve been thinking about, but based on that meeting with Andrew Singer from Broadway Video, which is Lorne’s company, it made me remember that old idea. And then, we sort of fleshed that out. As you may have read, it changed because it was originally about two friends. And then, it was really making it [about] a couple lost in a musical town that really unlocked it for me. But then that’s what led to, so we said like, “Here’s the idea.” They loved it. So, then we fleshed it out and pitched it to Apple and they loved it. And there we go.
And you filmed this in September, October of 2020. Correct?
Yeah. Yes. That’s correct.
So, you’ve written the show. You’ve written the songs. You’ve prepped it. Did anything change once the pandemic hit? Besides now standard COVID protocols. Was it always meant to have the look that it has, on a stage, et cetera?
Oh, yeah. That was always the intent. It was very fortunate for us that the show ended up being very contained, but that was always the plan, to be in entirely inside a soundstage and to have that look and feel. So, really the only other changes were COVID really did squeeze our production schedule a bit. So, there were things that had to be cut and trimmed. But other than that, it didn’t really change much, although obviously, we ended up needing to gets an ensemble, all our singers and dancers, in Canada. That was such a pleasant surprise that we were able to find these amazingly talented people that were either living in Canada or were originally from Canada who could cross the border without it causing a lot of problems.
I was going to ask you about that. How different do you think this show would have been if Broadway was still going on while you were shooting it? Would you have had the depth of talent that you’ve had or were you surprised by some of the people who were just free because Broadway had shut down?
Yeah. I mean, personally, I would like to think that all these people would have wanted to do this show but it’s very true that a lot of them might not have been available. It did help us in a way. It’s incredibly sad for how long it’s still shuttered theater, but it certainly did help us because we were really literally able to get the best of the best, everybody we wanted because not much was happening on stage at that time.
You wrote so many songs for this series. Is there one that was sort of the toughest nut to crack? Maybe you needed this to sort of move the story forward, but it wasn’t as easy as you’d hoped?
Boy, I mean, that’s a really good question. The opening song went through many incarnations. My first take of it was very different. I mean, maybe lyrically, it was kind of similar, but not really. It was more of what I call a generic musical theater-like bouncy, happy, welcome song. Sort of a lazy Broadway parody. I realized that I needed to hold myself to a higher standard and hopefully, that applied to a lot of the songs I wrote afterward. But I decided to really dive into the “Oklahoma!” of it all, as you can tell, and “The Wizard of Oz” of it all, and to make it as specific as possible because then, it ended up being a lot more fun and interesting, I think.
When you were first writing the show, was it less of an homage to those musicals than what it turned out to be?
No. I think it always had been, but I think after that, I guess it’s true that as we were in the writers’ room and crafting the show, it became clear that the fun was the more specific you could get, in many ways, the more fun it was. And I’m sure that informed my decision to throw out the opening number and write a completely different one because some of the newer songs I was writing were more specific and more fun, as Danny Bailey’s songs also came as a result of that shift. I had written a different song for Danny Bailey initially and I completely tossed that out [and started again]. The first part is very, “I’m a Bad, Bad Man” from “Annie Get Your Gun.” And then, it definitely becomes a mellow shift, “Carousel” song.
Is there any song that has become more or less popular with viewers than you expected?
Boy, I mean, it is surprising to me [the reaction to] “Corn Puddin’” because that was actually the first song I wrote for the show. And I guess there’s like a kind of simplicity to it or something which people really respond to. I mean, I always thought it was a fun song, but I think it’s one of the more popular songs from the show, which is a little surprising. I’ve also really enjoyed how much people like the song “Suddenly,” which I was always really happy with, but it’s a very earnest song. It’s not a [comedic] song. It’s been interesting to see that for so many people it’s one of their favorite songs from the show.
I have to ask you about the insane, incredible soon-to-be-legendary number, “Tribulation”, with Kristin Chenoweth. Can you talk about the inspiration for it and when it was decided it would be one shot?
It came up as we were in the writers’ room, getting ready for this episode. It became very clear to me that, “Oh, this is the moment for Mildred to have this, “Ya Got Trouble” [moment].” It seems really interesting to me to take a song that was a protagonist song about selling something and turn it into a villain song, which was really a commentary on the methods used by politicians to this day. So, that was really the inspiration for it to sort of highlight that things haven’t changed, that people are still pointing to other things as distractions to help themselves get elected. And then, it was really fun to just sort of search for all the antiquated terms like fiddle-faddle and jiggery-pokery, colder than the hinges of hell, milk going sour in the springhouse, all that sort of stuff, and put it into the classic patter song. And then, when we were in preproduction, I think it was Barry Sonnenfeld, our director, and Christopher Gattelli, our choreographer, were brainstorming and came up with the idea to do it in one shot. Barry first asked me because he said, “They wouldn’t have done it in one shot in the old days. I hope you’re O.K. with that.” And I said, “Yeah, I’m totally O.K. with it because, the fact Kristin, I bet she’ll kill it. It would be amazing if we could pull it off.” But she was very nervous about it and I think she’s been pretty upfront about it. I had to, several times, say like, “No, Kristin, you can do this. I know you can do it. You’re going to be amazing at it.” But it’s a lot of words that don’t rhyme. There’s no easy way to learn this except for just to completely learn it. She has a whole speech in the middle and it’s crazy. So, we had set aside a whole day just for that number, but it only took three times to get it and on the third time, she nailed it.
I’ve probably watched it 10 times. The thing that blows my mind and it’s the tiniest thing and you probably don’t even notice it, but there’s a moment where she’s on the cart and she has to swivel her body in one graceful motion. I keep watching it wondering like, “How did she know to put her one foot here and her other foot here, so she would perfectly turn when it turn?”
It’s amazing and really not a lot of rehearsal on the actual sets I have to say because of COVID. We have a lot of limitations and we’re filming daily on the set. So, when do you rehearse on the set? I think they had one rehearsal on the set before the day.
Were they mapping it out in a rehearsal stage beforehand then?
Yes. There was a rehearsal stage where we were rehearsing all the dance numbers. So, Christopher Gattelli was with the ensemble and everybody and he sort of taped it off and say, “O.K., this is where this is going to happen and this is this part of the town square.” So, they were mostly rehearsing there. And then, I think one rehearsal before the day we shot it on the set, which is crazy.
How did Barry Sonnenfeld get involved in the project?
I think it may have been Andrew Singer of Broadway Video who had mentioned him. Obviously, I’m a fan of Pushing Daisies and Get Shorty in particular. So, they set up the meeting and it became clear that he was our guy, even though later on the set, he confided in me that he didn’t really like musicals.
Day one on the set, he says like, “Just so you know, I don’t really like musicals.” I was like, “Barry, this is a heck of a time to bring it up.”
Did he tell you that just in case it didn’t turn out well, that like, “Well, I really don’t like them”?
Well, I think he genuinely didn’t like it because for the rest of the shoots, half-jokingly he would say, “Why do we have to have all these songs? Do we really need all these songs?” He was joking, but I think there was clearly some truth behind that all. I think he would have been happier without songs, but ultimately it all worked out and I think he became a convert at the end.
So, the series ends, seemingly with Josh and Melissa going back over the bridge. It has been called a “series.” It has not been labeled, as far as my knowledge is, as a limited series. Is there a chance “Schmigadoon!” could come back for a second season?
I had always conceived of this as multiples seasons, so hopefully, we’ll get the chance to see that through.
I know you’ve already committed to another project but has it been discussed? Is Apple happy with the show?
Yeah. Well, Apple is beyond thrilled with the show and it’s apparently been very successful for them. So, fingers crossed.
So, there’s a chance?
I have nothing to say, but I’m telling you there’s a chance.
There’s a chance. That’s better than nothing!
Yeah. I will say that had been my conception all from the beginning. So, hopefully, it’ll happen.
Obviously, people will talk about “Tribulation” and maybe “Enjoy the Ride,” but is there any number that you’re particularly proud of in the show besides those?
Yeah, I think my favorite number is “With All of Your Heart,” which was with Ariana and the school kids, the tap-dancing number. I mean, I’m really happy with how that song turned out, but her performance is just electric and amazing and Chris’ choreography just turned out perfectly. Except, very early on, I knew I wanted a tap-dancing number with kids in the show because to me, that’s such a big part of what makes these old musicals delightful. And then, I wrote the spelling part of it for the kids, but holding up the carpet, the little chalkboards, which was Chris’s idea was just so perfect and it just really makes me smile, that number so much.
“Schmigadoon!” is available on Apple TV+ worldwide.