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 have 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 Cinco Paul and Cecily Strong to discuss this inventive and nostalgic show. As the showrunner and song writer for Schmigadoon!, we discussed the challenges Paul faced writing Schmigadoon! and the musical inspirations he drew from. With Strong, who plays one of the two leading characters, we discussed her joining the scripted show and finding joy in being a part of the production of the series.
In many ways, the story of Schmigadoon! is a positive one. Despite the struggles that Melissa and Josh initially face, the message is clear when it comes to positivity. “Schmigadoon! is a beacon of hope, and it’s about hope and love and earnestness and sincerity. In a time when those are in short supply. It was especially amazing to do this, to shoot this in Vancouver in a time when it was kind of a dark time. It was a hard time. But it was really a labor of love for everybody involved,” recalled Paul, who referred to the production that took place during the pandemic.
Strong also added, “They’re stuck in a place, if you’re a person that moves fast and you just accept things, it’s a chance to— you’re stuck here and you have to sort of re-examine things and look at your problems for once. There’s a chance to solve [those problems]. And you’re in a safe place, you’re in a musical which is safe, right? It’s a chance to [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.”
For Paul, a lover of music and musicals, creating Schmigadoon! and pulling from all the different inspirations was a part of the challenge but also the excitement. Paul cites his first love as songwriting, saying screenwriting came second for him. “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,” said Paul. With the changing of the television landscape, however, opportunities arose. “There were more opportunities to do shows that are 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 like my whole life, let alone my career, has been leading to.”
Paul went on to explain that the big challenge came when composing and writing for the show, toeing the line between parody and making the music sound authentic. “[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 Loesser. And so, very early on, I got all those scores to those musicals and played through them on the piano, because I wanted it in my bones, you know? And so when I composed, obviously there’s me in there, but I wanted some of Richard Rogers and these other composers in there as well. That was really helpful, but that was the biggest challenge. Trying to make it sound like it was an actual undiscovered Golden Age musical.”
Written For The Character
Unlike many scripts and shows, Paul revealed that Strong’s character Melissa was actually written for the actress. “Cecily was attached to the show very early on, so we didn’t write any of the scripts until she was attached. 100% I was writing for her, we wrote for her,” Paul explained, going on to joke, “I mean, I knew she would kill being drunk at a picnic basket auction.” Paul then also added that Key’s role as Josh was also later tailored to him when he was cast.
“Cecily and Keegan are both so great at grounding this in reality which was really key for the show, because everybody else is nutso. So, they had to be as real as possible and they really brought that and 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,” said Paul.
Indeed, although she’s normally playing a whole range of characters as a cast member of Saturday Night Live, Strong was able to lean into more of herself when playing the character of Melissa. “I think so much of what I do on the show, I think it’s all coming from the same place and it’s all me. This one I got to show my emotions a little bit more without ruining any sketch. It’s all me anyways and this one felt like, I would say, somebody wrote the most loving, heightened version of myself I could ever aspire to be,” Strong said.
And as a fan of musicals and of theater, Strong praised one of the large scenes of the series that featured nearly everyone in the cast dancing together. “There’s a scene where were all dancing at the end and it’s everybody, 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 like laughing like a maniac with Keegan when we were cutting. Because 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.”
Bringing Broadway to Apple
Working with legendary Broadway talent has its bonuses, and for Paul this meant hiring pros who not only knew the inspiration from which the show was drawn from but also the dedication required to play in the part. “We wrote Mildred Layton for Kristin Chenoweth, The Countess was written for Jane Krakowski, Doc Lopez was written for Jaime [Camil]. So many of these people were targeted. And it was really important to me that we get actual musical theater pros, because I wanted everyone singing live on set and we needed people who could deliver eight shows a week, and they did.”
Musicals are a brand of magic for Paul, who discussed his love of the genre and how that love influenced the story of Schmigadoon! “It is like 90% just magic. It’s hard to quantify it. The first time I watched Singing in the Rain, I was transported. 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 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. And that’s, in some ways, the meaning of the show. These two people go into a town which is going to help them heal things that they haven’t been able to heal yet and express things that they haven’t been able to express yet, because the musical theater genre has given them permission to.”
Schmigadoon! premieres July 16th on Apple TV+!