Without exception, everyone involved in creating and executing Apple TV+’s newest sensation, the musical comedy (or is it a comedic musical?) Schmigadoon! has agreed that it was a magical experience.
Through a virtual press day, TV Fanatic had the opportunity to speak to many of the people who are so proud and excited to share this uniquely delightful work with the world. In this, our first in the series, we hear about the inception and vision for Schmigadoon! from its creator and one of the stars.
Executive producer and creator Cinco Paul not only dreamed up the idea of it and wrote the script, but he also composed all the songs as well. SNL’s Cecily Strong stars in it as Melissa and is also a producer.
Schmigadoon! was a lifetime in the making. Cinco Paul has loved musicals from his early childhood, and the opportunity to make a show from that love was a true wish granted.
“I’ve always wanted to write something like Schmigadoon! My whole life, I wanted to write a movie musical and just never really got the opportunity. There weren’t a lot of movie musicals being made when I first started when I wrote the classic Bubble Boy. [laughs]
“There weren’t a lot of musicals around at that time. Fortunately, the TV landscape changed, and there were more opportunities to do shows that were kind of weird and crazy and off-the-beaten-track.
“I’m so grateful that Apple allowed us to make this show because it is a dream come true for me, and this is what I feel my whole life let alone my career has been leading to.”
While Paul has actualized this life-long goal by creating Schmigadoon!, he still cannot put a finger on precisely what it is about musicals that continues to appeal to audiences throughout the decades.
“It’s so hard to answer that because it is ninety percent just magic. It’s hard to quantify it. The first time I watched Singin’ in the Rain, I was transported. [Fun fact: this is the musical Melissa watches at the beginning of Schmigadoon! Season 1 Episode 1.]
“I wanted to be able to sing ‘You Were Meant For Me’ to a girl when I saw that, and I wanted to be like Donald O’Connor and do the amazing things he was able to do.
“I think there’s something about music accompanied with story and character that unlocks our emotions like nothing else.
“In some ways, the meaning of the show is that these two people go into a town which is going to help them feel things that they haven’t been able to feel yet and express things that they haven’t been able to express yet because the musical theatre genre has given them permission to in some way.”
Despite being known best for his film scripts like The Lorax, the aforementioned Bubble Boy, and the many Despicable Me movies, Paul is clearly a talented composer and lyricist.
In creating the music for Schmigadoon!, Paul aspired not only to write great songs for the spectacular musical numbers, but he also wanted to capture the essence of the Golden Age musicals.
“It’s actually my first love, songwriting and writing songs. And then I got involved in this whole screen-writing thing.
“In many ways, it’s the same thing because you’re writing from character — hopefully. And you’re using the song to tell a story. So a lot of the same toolbox you’re using when you’re writing songs.
“But the real challenge of this for me was to make it as authentic as possible, to make it sound like Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Frank Lesser.
“And so, very early on, I got all the scores to those musicals and played through them on the piano ’cause I wanted it in my bones, y’know. So that when I composed, obviously, there’s me in there, but I wanted some of Richard Rodgers and these other composers in there as well.
“And so that was really helpful, but that was the biggest challenge, trying to make it sound like it was an actual undiscovered Golden Age musical.”
Knowing what he wanted to create, Paul still couldn’t start the process of scripting it until he knew who he’d be working with in the roles.
“Fortunately, Cecily was attached to the show very early on. We didn’t write any of the scripts until she was attached. So one hundred percent, I was writing for her. We wrote for her.
“I knew she would kill being drunk at a picnic basket auction, so that was written for her.
“And then, once Keegan was on board, I worked with him. We tailored it to him. But Cecily and Keegan are both so great at grounding this in reality which was really key for the show, right? Because everybody else is nutso.
“They had to be as real as possible. And they really brought that. That was an important part of casting them but also writing for them. They had to be our eyes and ears in this crazy world.”
In addition to its talented comedic stars, Schmigadoon! has a cast stacked with Broadway and musical film talent.
Kristen Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ann Harada, Jaime Camil, and Jane Krakowski are just some of the names that jump off the credits of a show filled with vocal talent.
“I’ll say about half of these people’s pictures were up in the writers’ room. We wrote Mildred Layton for Kristen Chenoweth. The Countess was written for Jane Krakowski. Doc Lopez was written for Jaime.
“So many of these people were targeted, and it was really important to me that we get actual musical theatre pros because I wanted everyone singing live on set, and you needed people who could deliver eight shows a week, and they did.
“Cecily will tell you they were PHENOMENAL. So consistent and so great.”
Cecily Strong is best known for her hilarious antics as part of the Saturday Night Live ensemble. Her pivot to Schmigadoon!, a scripted (and scored!) musical television series, is nothing short of a triumph.
She spoke quite candidly with the press about the differences in the productions.
“Obviously, they made me memorize this one. I didn’t get cue cards. But I think it’s all coming from the same place, and it’s all me. [On Schmigadoon!,] I got to show my emotions a little bit more without ruining any sketch.
“[It] felt like somebody wrote the most loving, heightened version of myself I could ever aspire to be. And that somebody’s [sitting right there]. It’s Cinco, Cinco wrote it.”
Making Schmigadoon! was clearly an emotional experience for everyone, but for Strong, as the “straight” real-life character, Melissa, had the challenge of holding it together when her character is plunged into totally outrageous circumstances.
“I’m pretty sure I did lose it. Plenty. It was a joy. I don’t think it’s not fun to play a straight character because we laughed so much.
“It’s funny. The character roles are funny. The straight roles are funny. And it’s fun just to watch people perform in front of you. I got a lot of private shows.”
“I really enjoyed just about every scene, especially when I got to work with any of my castmates. I will say the last scene where we’re all dancing at the end… I think it was the first time we really had everybody in the room at the same time, and that was so emotional.
“It was so joyful, and I think I remember just laughing like a maniac with Keegan when we were cutting.
“It was just like, ‘I can’t believe I’m in this room with these people in this magic town right now.’
“And it was truly so emotional. I always watch that scene, and I turn to whoever is watching next to me, might be my dog, and I like to go, “Real tears, real tears.”
Paul is quick to back her up on that sentiment. “Those were real tears! I will tell you. I could tell that she was just feeling it.”
Josh: You’re pissed off at me for some reason.
Melissa: For some reason?
Melissa: You lost my heart! I gave you my heart and you lost it.
Josh: Mel, it was a ROCK.
Melissa: It was a metaphor!
Near the start of the premiere, before Melissa and Josh cross the footbridge threshold into the world of Schmigadoon, they discuss/argue over the metaphor of exchanging hearts (in the form of vaguely heart-shaped rocks engraved with their names).
Similarly, the show is being given to its audience a metaphor embued with meaning by its creators.
Paul sees it as a beautiful message for the world.
“I would say for me, Schmigadoon! is a beacon of hope. It’s about hope and love and earnestness and sincerity in a time when those are in short supply sometimes.
“And it was especially amazing to do this, to shoot this in Vancouver in kind of a dark time. It was a hard time. It was really a labor of love for everybody involved.”
Strong recognizes how the time spent in Schmigadoon represents a safe space in which the main characters can reflect and grow as people.
“They’re stuck in a place. If you’re a person that moves fast and you’ve just accepted things, it’s a chance to re-examine things and look at your problems for once.
“There’s a chance to solve them, and you’re in a safe place. You’re in a musical which is safe, right? And so it’s a chance to — like we say in the end — become better.
“It’s the opportunity to become better people, and we have this time in this magic space to figure that out for ourselves.”
Schmigadoon! streams on Apple TV+ with new episodes dropping on Fridays. Check out our reviews and stay tuned for exclusive press day interviews with
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.