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Schmigadoon! Season 2 Cast on the Universal Appeal of the Dark and Gritty Musical

Jane Krakowski, Dove Cameron, and more share their “gateway” musicals.
  • Not every musical has a happy ending. While Season 1 of Schmigadoon! dealt in cheery ensemble numbers and overly romanticized views of the world, Season 2 focuses instead on the conflict-ridden world of Schmicago, where sex, murder, and corruption abound. It’s not ideal for the show’s leads, Josh (Keegan Michael-Key) and Melissa (Cecily Strong), who returned to this magical world searching for more quixotic joy. But for many of the show’s actors, it was a dream come true.

    “This era of musicals is definitely my favorite era,” Aaron Tveit told Primetimer. “Who doesn’t want to walk between Cabaret, Chicago, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Sweeney Todd? It’s just an amazing landscape of musicals to be drawing from, and then, different from Season 1, they’re more complex, they’re darker, they’re grittier, they’re sexier.”

    Schmigadoon! creator and songwriter Cinco Paul’s vision from the start was to see the show through multiple seasons, each tackling a different era of musicals, starting with the Golden Age of the ’40s and ’50s, with nods to bright, colorful musicals like Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Music Man, and Brigadoon, the latter of which is the inspiration for both the show’s concept and title. When he sat down to plot Season 2, he let the overarching theme of doom and gloom determine what was next for Josh and Melissa.

    And when Paul brought the idea to the main cast, all of whom returned from Season 1, they couldn’t have been more delighted. This era is one that seems to be universally beloved, especially among musical theater aficionados. During a press day for the new season, every single person who spoke to Primetimer made a point of saying that this genre is their favorite.

    “I grew up as a kid on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Sound of Music and Music Man and South Pacific and all those loomed large when I was a kid,” Paul said. “But then when I was a teenager, I started finding shows on my own, and then I found Pippin and I found Sweeney [Todd]. It’s the things you discover when you’re a teenager that really define you ultimately, and I think so many people as teens found these shows. Because as a teen you’re feeling angsty anyway, you’re feeling dark.”

    For many of the performers, these shows were gateway musicals. Ann Harada’s first Broadway show was Pippin. One of the first shows Jaime Camil ever saw was Cabaret. Dove Cameron credits this era of shows for inspiring her to become a performer in the first place. And each actor was more than ready to step into those worlds and play those parts.

    “Fishnets and jazz hands, dark blue lights, seedy joints,” said Jane Krakowski as she veered into the era’s Mid-Atlantic accent. “It’s all right up my alley.”

    Within the winding narrative of this musical mash-up, the universal appeal of this era is reflected through Josh. In Season 1, Melissa steps in as the musical expert — she’s familiar with the tropes, the songs, the stories, and is a conduit for catching the audience up to speed and is delighted while doing so. Josh, on the other hand, is not as charmed by the world they’ve stumbled upon, annoyed by the constant breaking into song and the unnerving, ever-smiling faces. But from the start of Season 2, he gets it.

    Paul credited the “coolness” of these musicals for winning over Josh (and hopefully those watching who aren’t as keen on musicals). Josh and Melissa find themselves much more seamlessly blending into this world, more readily joining in on musical numbers, less in a hurry to figure out the magical formula that will allow them to return home.

    “It’s an elongated version of what happens when we go see a musical,” Cameron said. “It’s like they’re being transformed through these characters through these experiences and through these overarching larger-than-life storylines that are actually quite relevant through their reality-based New York lives and love life and self-actualization. It’s like, that is what happens to you when you are present to what musicals can do for you.”

    But the season offers something fresh even for those who are most familiar with the power of musical theater and this set of shows in particular. At first glance, the collection of musicals referenced don’t necessarily seem connected by more than era. For instance, the free-spirited, love-centered narrative of Hair doesn’t exactly align with the murderous, jealousy-driven storyline in Chicago. Still, Paul was able to draw connections and create amalgams of characters that made sense together. Tveit’s character, for instance, is a combination of Pippin, Jesus from Jesus Christ Superstar, Claude from Hair, and Anthony from Sweeney Todd — as such it makes just as much sense for him to be walking the grimy streets of a London-like town as it does for him to be treating a group of hippies to parables. It offered a new way to frame the shows for even their biggest fans.

    “Before reading the Season 2 script, I never thought Sweeney Todd and Annie would go together, but now I never want to see them separated,” Krakowski said.

    While the obvious demographic for Schmigadoon! is people who, like the cast, already know and love musical theater (“If I wasn’t in it, I’d be your target audience,” Krakowski told Primetimer), there are just as many, if not more, viewers who haven’t yet experienced their own gateway musical. Where Season 1 felt like a crash course in musical history, Season 2 seems more poised to win over skeptics like Josh by letting the musicals speak for themselves.

    Throughout Season 1, Melissa was like a walking footnote, adding context and details to every character, musical note, and dance move. While that device was useful for any uninitiated viewers and certainly revealed a lot about Melissa, it also had the potential to make diving into the world of Schmigadoon! feel like a chore. In Season 2, Melissa admits that she’s not as familiar with this brand of musical, due to a traumatic experience at a Sweeney Todd performance. That allows her and Josh to step into the world with parallel perspectives, freeing up more space in each episode for the musical numbers and pithy jokes to stand on their own.

    What sets Season 2 of Schimagdoon apart from Season 1 is its focus on showing, not telling. While there are still plenty of Easter eggs for the most dedicated fans to pick up on, those who may be experiencing a Cabaret-style number for the first time can simply sit back and enjoy. Season 2 bets big on the universal appeal of the musicals it skewers, and maybe that’s all it will take to bring more fans, both of the genre and the series, into the fold.

    New episodes of Schmigadoon! drop every Wednesday on Apple TV+. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Schmigadoon!, Apple TV+, Aaron Tveit, Ann Harada, Cinco Paul, Jaime Camil, Jane Krakowski