Schmigadoon! is many things. A parody of the golden age of musicals, a story about love and a couple struggling with their love, the name of a magical town full of music and dancing townspeople from the 1940s. Created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Schmigadoon! follows a backpacking couple, Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key), who get lost and trapped in the town of Schmigadoon. Unable to leave until they find true love, the struggling couple has to embark on a journey of self-discovery, all while singing and dancing along to the musical archetypes that inhabit the town.
We spoke with Aaron Tveit and Dove Cameron who play two of the townspeople of Schmigadoon. Tveit plays the heartthrob carnival worker Danny Bailey, who is labeled as a bit of a bad boy and starts up a flirtation with Melissa. (“I get to really live out my Billy Bigelow Carousel dreams as the town bad boy with Cecily. It was so much fun,” said Tveit.) Cameron plays the beautiful and innocent young Betsy McDonough, a simple girl prized for her good looks who starts up a flirtation with Josh.
Leaning All Into Schmigadoon!
When discussing their larger-than-life characters, Tveit and Cameron both agreed that they were encouraged to lean into the caricature of their characters. “I think that each character is such a caricature of a caricature that the joy of it is that these are all characters that we can kind of know as an audience member. And so I think that the fun of it is that the show is self-aware and the characters are not,” Cameron explained. “We really wanted to lean into that surrealism that is like these characters are really living this life,” she says, adding, “I definitely wanted to lean into it as an actor, while also giving a real human element, which is something we all tried.”
In particular, both of their characters were able to play directly off of Melissa and Josh, who existed as characters from the “outside world”. “From our perspective, the more we leaned in, the more serious we were in our commitment to playing these archetypes, as it were, it worked better,” said Tveit. “But I think the fact that we got to, especially Dove and I, we got to bounce off of Cecily and Keegan’s reality, those two things are what really makes it work. Whereas if we only went halfway or commented on it, it wouldn’t work. So we learned as we went that, it seems counterintuitive, but the bigger we were, the more we leaned in, oddly, the more honest it was in a weird way.”
Broadway Legends in Small Town America
Being a musical, Schmigadoon! has an impressive cast of Broadway legends starring on the show. The entire cast is full of big names from Broadway and from the stage, including Tveit himself. “It was really, really special,” said Tveit. “I’ve known Kristen [Chenoweth] a little bit over the course of, you know, you run into people. But I’ve never met Alan [Cumming] before and I’m a huge fan of Alan’s. And getting to know Jane [Krakowski] as well.”
“It’s just when you get to really work with these people that you’ve admired for a long time, sometimes they say don’t meet your idols, because it’s gonna be a disappointment, but this is just the complete opposite. People are all even more incredible in person than you ever imagined. And then for everyone to come together at a time where we kind of realized we were the only ones getting to do a musical, maybe anywhere,” Tveit commented, referring to filming during the pandemic. “It’s always special, but it made it even more so.”
“You don’t always get to really work and meet with people that you admire this much, especially in a musical like this, so it was wonderful,” added Tveit.
Cameron, who is primarily known for her performance as Mal from Descendants, talked about her experience of working with such big-name talent on a project like this. “I grew up not just loving music and film and TV as mediums, but like, looking at these people that, to me, were these otherworldly aliens of talent. And being like, I want to be where you guys are, like, I want to play with you guys. And so I think I always say that I feel like I snuck in, I’m like fooling everyone. I’m like, ‘You think I’m doing this, but really I’m here for these guys,’” Cameron teased.
“When I saw the material and the opportunity, and how fun it was going to be to play, and the full permission that we were going to be granted as performers, and then when I heard who was doing it and who was cast, I felt like I’d cracked some secret code. I was like, ‘Don’t tell anybody about this project before I get in front of the people.’ I was going to do anything to be a part of it.”
Stage or Screen? Or Best of Both?
Much of Schmigadoon! feels very much like a live musical. The actors are all singing without lip sync and dancing in large choreographed numbers. The set leans into the production style of a stage. For many of the actors who have both stage and screen experience, Schmigadoon! presents the opportunity to flex more of their acting muscles.
“The opportunities I’ve had to do things like this, it becomes like a perfect storm of all the work that I’ve got to do,” Tveit said when asked about the uniqueness of Schmigadoon!‘s genre. “To be able to work in these different mediums is wonderful, but when they all get to come together this way it’s really a dream come true because you get to lean on all your different experiences all at the same time.” But, for Tveit, the key element of a musical was missing. The audience. “As hard as being on stage every night is, I always say that’s the best because you get this instant connection, and you’re rewarded at the moment for how hard you’re working every night.”
But, the most dynamic part of Schmigadoon! is, surely, it’s entirely new and original score and list of songs, written and composed by Cinco Paul. “I think what he’s so brilliant at is creating these songs that are sort of like parody, reminiscent of and playing into this old MGM classic feel,” Cameron explained. “This golden age of musical feel. Melodies and sweeping progressions, and these lyrics are so reminiscent. They touch on our heartstrings. Any human who’s alive has seen these sorts of things that we’re parodying. But he’s also he’s brilliant because he sneaks in all of this contemporary messaging and it is quite human and quite touching and the story of Schmigadoon! is quite progressive in its storytelling.”
Schmigadoon! premieres July 16th on Apple TV+!