How ‘Schmigadoon!’ season two made this critic a super fan

I left my coronary heart in Schmicago. If you’re baffled by this declaration, effectively, you simply haven’t spent high quality time in “Schmigadoon!” Musical theater lovers know what I’m speaking about: “Schmigadoon!” is the giddy Apple TV Plus streaming sequence that transports Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key to zany show-tune twilight zones the place they encounter the likes of Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski (precisely whom severe Broadway followers would look forward to at a stage door in any dimension).

The cockeyed genius of the sequence, which lately completed rolling out a six-episode second season, is discovering profundity in parody. Which is to say, the songs by Cinco Paul that propel the story are melodically and lyrically adjoining to point out tunes viewers already know. And they’re usually sung by characters with borrowed Broadway attributes: Dove Cameron’s Jenny Banks is a lifeless ringer for Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles, and Alan Cumming’s bloodthirsty Dooley Blight is a demon butcher simply off Fleet Street.

So you possibly can name this a tribute article to a tribute sequence, regardless that I approached the primary season of “Schmigadoon!” warily. In these six episodes, Strong’s Melissa and Key’s Josh backpacked into a candy-colored Golden Age of Broadway prompt by the 1947 Lerner and Loewe musical “Brigadoon,” which is about an enchanted Scottish city that materializes as soon as each 100 years. My trepidation was that the streaming present, the brainchild of Ken Daurio and Paul, could be one other patronizing lampoon of characters breaking midsentence into music. A Hollywood roll of jaded eyes.

Pshaw! Everyone within the know is aware of that Dolly Levi and Effie White and Mark Cohen and Evita Perón and Jean Valjean and Evan Hansen merely gotta sing. But a kinder, gentler intention than I had anticipated was quickly discernible, a sense of devotion to musicals reasonably than a denigration of them. This turned much more obvious in Season 2, the season I fell in hopeless love with “Schmigadoon!”

It’s within the second season that Melissa and Josh, docs who at the moment are married and unhappily childless, discover themselves wishing that they may return to Schmigadoon, which in fact within the sentimental knowledge of musicals, you possibly can by no means do. So as an alternative they stumble into the legendary metropolis of Schmicago, the place the harder-edged musicals of the Nineteen Sixties and Nineteen Seventies are conjured by lots of the actors from Season 1 in contemporary, flintier roles.

Kander and Ebb (of “Cabaret” and “Chicago” fame) and Stephen Sondheim (“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”) encourage this specific world, inhabited by the “Schmigadoon!” rep firm. Other gifted parodists coming back from Season 1 in new roles embody Ariana DeBose, Ann Harada, Martin Short and Jaime Camil.

“Welcome to Schmicago, our fantastical farago,” Burgess sings, Ben Vereen-style, within the opening music of Season 2, which was impressed by composer Stephen Schwartz’s “Magic to Do” from “Pippin.” “It kind of starts with me diving into the era and looking at all the different shows,” Paul defined in a Zoom interview from Los Angeles.

The period for Season 2 stretches from roughly 1965 to 1979, encompassing a extra cynical time and a era of exhibits fostering a grittier sensibility. Landmark musicals, for instance, comparable to “Cabaret” (1966), which traced the rise of Nazism via songs in a Berlin cafe, or “Chicago” (1975), sardonically sending up the general public’s fascination with superstar and scandal.

Or considered one of Paul’s lodestars, “Pippin” (1972), a medieval allegory about an idealistic era coming to phrases with a chilly world. “Pippin spoke to me so much, like I identified with him,” Paul, 59, mentioned of the title character. Which is maybe why probably the most memorable denizens of Schmicago is a hippie commune chief performed by Tveit whom Paul describes as “Jesus meets Pippin,” alluding to a character prompt not solely by “Pippin,” but in addition “Godspell” (1970) and “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1971).

“I realized when we just started to shoot Season 2 that people have affection for the Golden Age musicals, but there’s a passion for these” later musicals, Paul mentioned. “It’s a little different because I think these are the shows we discovered when we were teenagers, and so our connection to them is deeper and more complicated. We’re all feeling angsty at that age, right?”

For me, Paul cemented his experience on this topic earlier than I had ever even heard of Schmicago: He wrote the music and lyrics for “A.D. 16,” a sweetly humorous musical with a ebook by Bekah Brunstetter, about a teenage Jesus, that had its world premiere at Olney Theatre Center in February 2022. (The present, he advised me, is being developed for future productions.) So he touched a nerve when he provided a rationale for my very own response to the second iteration of “Schmigadoon!”: “This season, I think, the response has been even bigger than the first season because we care more about these shows,” he mentioned.

Paul and the opposite writers settled on three distinct settings in Schmicago, the place an ominous haze appears to linger across the clock and everyone seems to be on the take: the nightclub, owned by evil Octavius Kratt (performed by a sequence newcomer, Patrick Page); the butcher store the place Cumming menacingly wields his cleaver (and the place within the backrooms Chenoweth oversees a cute cadre of orphans, a la 1976’s “Annie”); and the commune, a compound of flower kids that owes its tribal rock worldview to “Hair” (1967).

The extra deftly that “Schmigadoon!” can slip in a musical theater reference, the higher for an addict like me. (And you don’t should be a die-hard to benefit from the streaming sequence, as the unique songs serve the story effectively.) Sometimes, the quoting is shameless, as in Strong’s impressively buoyant rendition of “Maybe It’s My Turn Now,” for which she takes the stage in Kratt’s smoky bistro to belt a energy ballad paying homage to “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret.” Or when Cumming and Chenoweth sing a mischievous, syncopated “Good Enough to Eat,” a parody of Sondheim’s “A Little Priest.”

At different instances in Season 2, the musical theater references are exquisitely refined. Take, as an illustration, the second when a trio of actresses materialize in a bar, carrying groovy late-Nineteen Sixties get-ups, and theater lovers of a sure classic immediately summon reminiscences of “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Burt Bacharach, Hal David and Neil Simon’s 1968 hit “Promises, Promises.” Paul mentioned the format permits him with every new episode to jot down in his personal type, reasonably than stay constrained by pastiche all through the season.

“I generally feel that as we get deeper into the season, I feel a little more freedom to do my own thing,” he mentioned. “And the songs aren’t quite as beholden to the originals.” Thanks to the idiosyncratic musical line the present walks, between witty imitation and irreverent originality, “Schmigadoon!” has discovered its personal lane. It helps immeasurably that a solid steeped in Broadway’s conventions appears to play together with such unalloyed delight.

For his half, Paul needs to maintain going with the idea, till maybe he runs out of eras. “It always pains me a little when people say on Apple you should watch ‘Ted Lasso’ and ‘Severance’ and then if you like musicals, ‘Schmigadoon!,’” he mentioned. “I don’t think it really needs that qualifier, because I think the appeal of musicals is broader than people think. Like you don’t have to be a musical theater know-it-all. Just enjoy the magic.”

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