The Fabulous Charms of ‘Schmigadoon!’

The Apple+ comedy is musical nirvana for theater kids

Schmigadoon!, now streaming on Apple+, essentially comprises one joke stretched out over six half-hour segments. Fortunately, it’s an excellent joke, and the series makes for one of the most delightful viewing experiences in years. Your mileage may vary, though. If, like me, you grew up performing musical theater and your parents had a full library of Broadway cast recordings on vinyl, this is the show for which you’ve been waiting your whole life. On the other hand, if you hate musicals, you’d probably rather watch anything else, because Schmigadoon! is a Musical with a capital M.

Schmigadoon! joins a short list of successful meta-parodies of Broadway, alongside the South Park movie, Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, and The Drowsy Chaperone, and maybe a few others. But all those productions had other purposes in mind besides deconstructing Broadway. With Schmigadoon!, the deconstruction is the whole point.

The premise is wish-I-had-thought-of-it simple: An urban couple, both doctors, in their late 30s or early 40s, are having stagnation problems. The couple, played by Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong, go on a hiking trip to try to revive their relationship. In the process, they accidentally cross a bridge into a mystical land called Schmigadoon! that is, essentially, a 1940s/1950s musical come to life. They soon learn, via a spectacularly ridiculous cameo by Martin Short, that they will never be able to leave Schmigadoon! until they find “true love.” An epic treasure trove of song parodies emerges, including this one, Corn Puddin’, the best parody of classic Broadway ever devised.

The show has theater lovers squealing every week. Schmigadoon! spares no Broadway cliché in its mockery. Oklahoma! comes in for the most epic pasting, as do Brigadoon and Carousel. But there are also numbers that make fun of Guys and Dolls and South Pacific, and characters ripped straight from The Music Man. The catalog goes deep. I ran out of fingers to count the Lil’ Abner references. Each number is funnier than the next. The choreography is perfect as well, as is the ensemble chorus of Broadway-caliber performers who have to carry much of the load.

It also features a hilarious Alan Cumming as the “queer” mayor of Schmigadoon, and a buttoned-up Kristen Chenoweth as the leader of a sinister group called “Mothers Against The Future.” Aaron Tveit and Ann Harada, not well-known to screen audiences but absolute stalwarts of Broadway, deliver brilliant and hilarious numbers. And Jane Krakowski, who really knows how to belt one out, hasn’t even shown up yet.

Schimgadoon! also owes a lot of success to a fantastic lead performance from Cecily Strong, who has never taken the spotlight like some of her flashier Saturday Night Live contemporaries. Strong plays her part very naturally, and isn’t a Broadway-caliber performer, but she’s clearly having the time of her life, and this is her signature role. Key is the same basic urban schmendrick that he was in the terrible Netflix sitcom Friends From College. As of yet, he hasn’t sung a note, and is kind of schticky. But he knows how to land a laugh line.

If the show has a flaw, it’s that the flashback scenes to the “real” world before Schmigadoon! don’t actually feel real, they feel screen-written, in a “remember that one time you puked on a date” kind of way. But they are also quite brief. The show refuses to let its foot off the gas for long.

Schmigadoon! works so well because it recognizes that the musicals we all grew up loving are now hopelessly dated and misogynistic, full of gender roles that weren’t even relevant then, much less now. But it also celebrates that culture, innocently. Show co-creators Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio made their nut on animated features like Horton Hears a Who, Despicable Me, and The Lorax, so they earned this passion project. Paul and Daurio actually met while working on a musical for the Mormon Church, so they didn’t exactly rise through the usual Hollywood channels. An excellent writing staff, including Julie Klausner and Bowen Yang, gives the show a little bit of a youthful bite, but Paul and Daurio’s gee-whiz spirit shines through. They’ve got themselves a barn, and they put on a hell of a show.

Alan Cumming, totally not gay, in ‘Schmigadoon!’

 

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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