Television Review: Season Two “Schmigadoon!” — Even More Boffo
By Sarah Osman
Rejoice, my fellow musical theater geeks, Apple TV’s Schimgadoon! is once again taking center stage.
Among the most delightful surprises of 2021 was Schmigadoon!, Apple TV+’s send-up of ’40s and ’50s musicals. It was a toe tappin’, knee slappin’ love letter to the Golden Age of Broadway. Not only were there hilarious songs inspired by The Music Man, Carousel, and Oklahoma!, but Great White Way legends like Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth were on hand to add a touch of glitz. At the end of the first season, Josh (Keegan Michael-Key) and Melissa (Cecily Strong) had found true love and could finally leave Schmigadoon. The ending was wrapped up with such a pretty — and tightly knotted — bow that a second season seemed doubtful. But rejoice, my fellow musical theater geeks, because Schimgadoon! is once again taking center stage.
Season two picks up right after season one: Josh and Melissa are married and live in wedded bliss. However, they are struggling to conceive and fairly well exhausted by the monotony of everyday life. The pair yearn to return to a simpler place, filled with cheery songs and delicious “Corn Puddin’.” However, when they give in to their nostalgia and head for Schmigadoon, they find it has been transformed. It is now Schmicago, a darker, grittier version — inspired by the musicals of the ’60s and ’70s — of what was once an easy livin’ paradise. This time around, Josh is the one who wants to stay: he is enthralled by the salacious costumes and seedy atmosphere. Melissa is the one who wants to go. She doesn’t care for these kinds of musicals — she cannot even sit through a performance of Sweeney Todd. But the devilish atmosphere is too much; they’re quickly swept up into the sleazy nightclubs and corrupt courtrooms of Schmicago.
The season’s opening number is inspired by Pippin’s “Magic to Do,” complete with weird white faces and outré dance moves. The incomparable Titus Burgess joins the cast as “the narrator” (based on Pippin‘s lead player): he makes snide comments, via song, throughout Melissa and Josh’s knockabout journey. Burgess fits perfectly into the zany world of Schmigadoon! His best moments include asking the pair serious questions — then singing how those inquiries are purely rhetorical. Broadway royalty Patrick Page is also a terrific addition as the villainous Octavius Kraft. For the most part, Page channels his take on Hades from Hadestown. Yes, that musical premiered in 2019 on Broadway, but who says Schmigadoon! has to play by the rules? It works.
Cast members from season one have returned, and they are in completely different roles. Dove Cameron adroitly puts across Jenny Banks, a not-so-subtle parody of Cabaret’s fast-talking Sally Bowles. Aaron Tveit is now Topher, mostly inspired by Claude from Hair. But the character also mocks the wealthy white men of ’60s and ’70s musicals who are privileged enough to have the time to “find themselves.” Cumming is brilliant as a cleaver-wielding butcher — who has a passing resemblance to a famous knife-wielding barber. Chenoweth plays his partner-in-crime, who also happens to run the orphanage. Jane Krakowski returns as “Bobby Flanagan,” a gender-swapped version of Billy Flynn from Chicago. As for Josh and Melissa, they are just as confused stumbling through “Schmicago” as they were in Schmigadoon! Josh grits his teeth when he’s told a parable by a loving group of hippies, and Melissa struggles to nail an audition (in a brilliant riff on A Chorus Line). All the performers are just as game here as they were in season one: it’s great fun watching them ham it up for season two.
Because I am a fan of gritty ’60s and ’70s musicals, the hidden Easter eggs were much more amusing (and easier to find) this time around. No spoilers here, but being familiar with the original musicals is probably more necessary this time around — the song spoofs become so much funnier. The showstopping numbers pay very clever homage to their sources — by way of costuming and staging, along with subtle clues in Schmicago’s set designs. Having Josh and Melissa looking for true happiness, rather than have the characters break up and discover their love again, is a smart move, a strategy that is more in line with the themes of Cabaret and Hair. Considering how sharp this season is, may the theater gods inspire a season three. Just imagine what the creators and cast members of Schmigadoon! could do with ’80s and ’90s musicals, a lineup that would include Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and Les Miserables.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman