Welcome to Schmigadoon! where the wind comes sweeping…no…that’s Oklahoma! In Schmigadoon, the air’s as sweet as a macaroon. The musical comedy parody dropped the first two episodes of the six-episode series on Apple TV+ July 16, and Playbill was up at midnight watching, or rather, completely geeking out and trying to spot all the spoofs, allusions, and Easter eggs.
Read on as two Playbill staffers go scene-by-scene calling out plot points and the Golden Age musicals that inspired them.
EPISODE 1: Schmigadoon!
Talaura: The episode opens with an instrumental version of the theme song, played over title-card credits. Right away, I’m hearing musical phrases from Oklahoma! in both melody and orchestration, and visually we’re getting some show credits as a series of matte paintings that pay homage to the overture sequences of many classic Technicolor movie musicals.
Logan: This is a good place to mention that Tony winner Doug Besterman did orchestrations and arrangements for the series, along with Broadway dance arranger David Chase. Three-time Tony-winning scenic designer Eugene Lee (the original Sweeney Todd and Wicked are among his best-known designs) is a consulting producer on the series, and he must have been very in his element working on this Broadway-adjacent project with so many Saturday Night Live alum on and behind the screen—Lee has been a scenic designer for the sketch show since its premiere in 1975.
Talaura: Also, while we’re here, the series is created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, probably best known for the Despicable Me film series, BUT, did you know they also wrote the screenplay for Bubble Boy, starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal? And did you also know that they adapted that movie into a stage musical? (There’s a studio cast recording starring Alice Ripley and A. J. Holmes.)
Now out of Technicolor and into the real world, we are introduced to Melissa, an OB-GYN, delivering a baby, and Josh, a surgeon, …surgeoning. Then we see them on the night they met at the hospital vending machine. Melissa’s candy bar gets stuck and Josh tells her to kick the machine. She does, candy comes cascading out the vending machine like coins from a slot machine. It’s all chemistry and magic and candy here. It’s a pretty cute meet-cute.
Logan: I would like a meet-cute with that stash of candy, honestly. That was a very aspirational part of this episode for me.
Talaura: Also, I really appreciate that bit of magic there. We’ve read the log line. We know where this show is going, but giving us that moment in their normal lives is a nice little indicator that this relationship is special. We flash forward a year to their anniversary dinner. Melissa makes a heartfelt toast to Josh and all of the wonderful things that he is and he responds with “I feel the same.” Not cool, Josh. She bristles (OBVIOUSLY) but he surprises her with a dessert tray of candy bars. Awww. Ok. Cool, Josh.
Flash forward another three years and the couple is in bed, Melissa watching Singin’ in the Rain on TV as Josh covers his head with a pillow. She is sad and lonely and reaches for a Snickers. I get you, girl.
Exactly two months later, Melissa and Josh stand with other troubled couples being introduced to the Sacred Heart Trail.
Logan: I was reminded of Roxie claiming to be from the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Chicago, but I don’t think that was an intentional reference. I’m making a mental note to calm down theatre-nerding out over this show, but honestly they’ve made that very difficult.
The leaders of this couples counseling camp give everyone heart-shaped rocks with their loved one’s name carved into it, telling them to “give their heart” to each other at the beginning of each day as an exercise. I think I smell a plot point!
Before we know it, Melissa and Josh are on a hike and it’s pouring down rain. Tensions are rising—
Talaura: Josh lost Melissa’s heart rock!
Logan: —but suddenly, just like Tracey Turnblad, they can hear bells in the distance. Sensing civilization—and cover from the rain—the couple follows the music and heads over a quaint footbridge covered in dense fog, only to emerge and find themselves in Schmigadoon, population 167. We’ve gone from real-life to the studio sets of a classic movie musical, complete with a town square and dancing villagers.
The people of Schmigadoon do a charming number about their fair city for Melissa and Josh, which pays some serious homage to Oklahoma!’s title number, from lyrics, to melody, and even its vocal arrangements—and shout-out to the fabulous choreography by Tony-winning Newsies choreographer Christopher Gatelli, by the way. This is the song they used as the Schmigadoon! overture.
Talaura: Yay! First musical number! “Schmiiiiiiig-a-doon, where the sun shines bright from July to June.” I’m all in. Let’s face it, though, I was all in months ago when this show was announced. You know who is not all in? Josh. Thinking they’ve stumbled into a little tourist town “like Colonial Williamsburg,” he tries to stop the number “we’re not ticket holders.” Melissa is enjoying it, though. “You know how much I hate musicals,” Josh says. “People don’t just burst into song in real life.” Ugh. He’s that guy.
Logan: Right away we are surrounded by musical theatre standbys. An “old maid” school marm named Emma (played by Ariana DeBose) is giving me Marian the librarian vibes, and there’s a “lithping” little boy who likes to introduce a lot of the goings on about town—now nine-time Academy Award-winning film director “Ronny” Howard found shaking. Maybe we’re saving the 76 trombones for a future episode.
Talaura: There’s a gun-toting pappy who wanted a son, but had seven daughters—a little reference to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Let’s hope we don’t go too far into that terribly problematic plot line. Although, I will say, if we do, I already trust it in Paul and Daurio’s hands.
I want to go back to a line from the opening number…”Where a man can dream dreams so big and wide, and a gal can be there right by his side.” These writers are going to acknowledge that underbelly of sexism and racism in the Golden Age musical. But with love. It’s clear they love these musicals.
Logan: I also loved the Mayor of Schmigadoon (played by Alan Cumming)’s introduction being a nod to the Mayor of Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz, down to that iconic muted trumpet fanfare. Next we meet Kristin Chenoweth as Mildred Layton, the judgemental preacher’s wife. I assume Kristin was legally obligated to appear in this project whether she wanted to or not—some things are too perfect not to happen. Like when this project got green-lit, I imagine her suddenly appearing from a puff of smoke—or maybe a pink bubble—with a signed contract in hand.
Talaura: Melissa and Josh are going to stay overnight at the town inn. Mrs. Layton notices they are not married, and makes a jab at them being an “exotic” couple. There’s that acknowledgement of racism in musicals of yore.
On our way to the inn we meet Aaron Tveit looking very Billy Bigelow in a cable knit turtleneck sweater and jaunty cap. Oh, and he’s also a carnival barker trying to give Melissa a free ride on the Tunnel of Love. Mrs. Layton calls him a scoundrel, a rapscallion, a no-goodnik, and carnival trash, and we’re back on our way to the inn. Mrs. Layton forces the innkeeper to give the unmarried couple two rooms, on account of the town rules regarding such things. Melissa and Josh go off to their separate rooms with plans to check out the Tunnel of Love ride that evening, but Josh promptly falls asleep. A disappointed Melissa goes on her own, meeting Danny Bailey (Tveit) at the oddly desolate carnival. Melissa is disarmed…it’s Aaron Tveit…but in an abrupt change of tone he blurts out “Are you trying to get me to fall for you?” which leads into a number where he proclaims “You Can’t Tame Me.”
Logan: The Carousel references are of course abounding. We got cherry blossoms raining down on our pair, and though the bulk of this song isn’t a direct parody of any of the Carousel tunes, that middle section is a near exact quote of the introduction to “If I Loved You” in the bench scene.
Talaura: It kind of reminded me of “I’m a Bad, Bad Man” from Annie Get Your Gun.
Logan: Totally! Paul, who is credited with original songs, is also smartly filling the lyrics with lots of words like “feller” and “extree,” mimicking Oscar Hammerstein II’s penchant for writing [usually oddly hackneyed] dialects into his librettos. Carousel has a fair amount of this, but it’s all over Oklahoma!, most infuriatingly to me in “It’s a Scandal, It’s a Outrage”—if you sing “an outrage” like we would say in regular life as normal people, you are in fact not singing Hammerstein’s actual lyric.
Talaura: At the end of Danny Bailey’s song, Melissa applauds and says, “That was a very handsome song,” “What song?” he replies. The people of Schmigadoon don’t know they’re singing. Love it.
Logan: We’re clearly playing with diagesis, which is a great word to know if you want to sound like an even smarter (and nerdier) musical theatre fan. When characters know they’re singing and performing, the song is diagetic. If they don’t know they’re singing, it’s non-diagetic—think like “Don’t Tell Mama” versus “Perfectly Marvelous” in Cabaret. It can also be used to describe the difference between underscoring and music coming from a radio in a movie.
Talaura: Thank you, professor.
Logan: *tips hat*
Now it’s the next day, and Melissa and Josh are at the town café having some breakfast. Waitress Betsy, played by Dove Cameron, gets a little flirty with Josh, but Melissa barely has time to even process that before the entire town is singing a song about their famous Corn Puddin’. I don’t know of a direct link for this song, but it is a little reminiscent of when the entire ensemble of Carousel tells us in unison that “This Was a Real Nice Clambake.” I’ve always wondered what it would be like if Hammerstein let us hear from that one town asshole who disagreed.
Talaura: Who hates a clambake? That’s just ridiculous. I was also reminded of that old chesnut “Hand Me Down That Can O’ Beans” from Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon, although the film version of that that came a few years after the Golden Age was a little grittier in its palette than the technicolor MGM spectaculars. But “out the winder go the beans” is pretty fun to sing. Speaking of palettes, these sherbert-toned petticoats and waistcoats are super evocative of Golden Age ice cream and box socials. A fancy, feathered hat tip to costume designer Tish Monaghan.
Anyway…Josh has had it with the singing about corn puddin’. He’s outta there. Melissa and Josh, laden with backpacks, are now crossing the footbridge on their way back to camp. Except it’s Schmigadoon on the other side. They turn around. Schmigadoon there, too. Poof of green smoke; it’s Martin Short as a leprechaun (we see you, Finian’s Rainbow). He explains that they can’t leave until they find true love. And until they find it they must stay “where life’s a musical every day.” WHAT? They aren’t true loves? I mean, I know they have problems, but what about the candy machine?!
EPISODE 2: Lovers’ Spat
Logan: Unable to leave Schmigadoon, Josh and Melissa get into a tif, cuing the townspeople to sing a song about a lover’s quarrel in which Josh and Melissa are expected to participate! We also find out that Schmigadoon does apparently have a resident barbershop quartet, just like River City.
Talaura: That “Lovers’ Spat” song was kind of a reverse “Been a Long Day” from How to Succeed, a break-up song instead of a get-together song. Melissa ends with Josh because he’s not sure that their relationship is true love. She runs into the woods to cry, where she meets Mayor Menlove, who has also come to the woods to cry. He comforts her, telling her, via a song reminiscent of “Some Enchanted Evening”, that “somewhere love is waiting” for her, revealing much about his own desires in the process. Convinced that she deserves to find true love, Melissa throws her “Josh” rock into the forest.
Logan: Back in Schmigadoon, the town is getting ready to bid on picnic baskets that the ladies have put together, just like they do at Oklahoma!’s box social.
Talaura: Did you catch the names of Betsy’s sisters? Laurey, Carrie, Nellie, Fiona, Cindy, and little Tootie. Who’s Cindy? Cinderella?
Logan: Wait, is Tootie a Broadway reference I’m not familiar with?
Talaura: That’s the little girl in Meet Me in St. Louis.
Logan: You’re totally right. Tootie only means Facts of Life to me, but it should be said that there’s an episode of that where she auditions for a production of The Wiz, singing “Two of Hearts” by Stacey Q if I’m not mistaken. Ah, sitcoms.
Talaura: Betsy tells Josh which basket is hers so he can bid on it. “You’re going to the basket auction? Where men are bidding on women like livestock?” presses Melissa. We’re not taking little jabs at the sexism anymore; we’re throwing punches.
Logan: For good measure, we find out that the library needs money to replace the books burned by Mildred, who hates the sinful writings of “Chaucer, Voltaire, and Baaaaaaalzac,” just like the pick-a-little ladies in The Music Man—well, Raballaise seems to have gotten a pass in Schmigadoon, but I think they’d hate Voltaire too…
Talaura: And to further cement the correlation between Schmigadoon’s unmarried school marm Emma and The Music Man’s librarian Marian, we are told that Carson, the boy with the lisp, is Emma’s little brother.
Logan: Meanwhile, Melissa has gotten drunk by drinking punch from the gentlemen’s bowl, which has alcohol in it. Between this and many of her SNL characters, Cecily Strong has always been exceptionally fabulous in drunk scenes, and I swear it’s because she almost sounds a little drunk in her regular speech patterns. No shade, Cecily—we love an actor playing to their strengths.
Talaura: When the highest previous bid on Betsy’s basket is two dollars and two bits, Josh wins with an astounding twenty dollar bid.
Logan: I really appreciated them explaining that a “bit” is 12.5 cents. I’ve never looked that up, a real dramaturgical failing of mine.
Talaura: Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar…huh. Yeah. That math tracks. Anyway…prompted by the Josh and Betsy basket celebration, a drunken Melissa puts herself on the auction block. No basket, no pie, no preserves. Just a strong, independent woman with a brain. No bids. Until the music swells and Danny Bailey enters with a two dollar bid. “All I got in the world,” a la Curly (btw, did you catch that a bidder named Curly won a basket during the auction?)
As everyone leaves the auction with their new dates, Mrs. Layton says, “I don’t like those two outsiders, Howard. Or their new fangled city ideas. They don’t belong here.” Her eyes narrow. “They need to go.” So, even though it’s the town that is odd to our lead characters, Melissa and Josh are put in place as the mysterious strangers, setting them up to be catalysts of change in the town? Also, not that we were questioning Mrs. Layton’s role as villain, but she now has a clear objective.
Logan: The still-intoxicated Melissa is enjoying her date with Danny at the carnival. As the music kicked in and Melissa realized she was getting her very own song queue, I thought we might be headed into a “If I Were a Bell” moment, mimicking Sarah Brown’s drunken excursion with Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. Reminder that Sky tricks Sarah into getting drunk if anyone wants to add that to their classic musical theatre sexism round-up!
But instead we got a dance number that was really giving me some “Steam Heat” vibes, harkening back to that iconic Bob Fosse choreography in The Pajama Game—you’re outdoing yourself, Gatelli.
Talaura: I’m also getting a little “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the music.
Cut to Josh’s date with Betsy, where the writers are really leaning into “how old exactly is Betsy?” Melissa had previously referred to her as a teenager, and now Josh is questioning that..and Betsy is evading. Is she a teen? Is she 16 going on 17? Is she younger than springtime? We don’t know. In a very sultry and prop-entendre-laced (melons and sausages) reprise of Melissa’s previous “Enjoy the Ride” number, Betsy tells Josh that she’s going to wait until “she’s a bride.”
Melissa and Danny enter the Tunnel of Love. Betsy kisses Josh. Papa enters with a shotgun pointed at Josh and demands a proposal (spoofing Andrew Carnes/Ali Hakim/Ado Annie and the fathers of six out of the seven brides for brothers). Blackout. Roll credits.
Logan: Suffice it to say, I am loving this show. You said it so well, Talaura; it’s dragging all the tropes and problematic aspects of classic musicals, but the love for them is so present. It’s really engaging with the totality of the genre, nuances and warts and all. We should start a petition to get a theme park to create a world based on this town because in the immortal words of Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”
Talaura: I just want some corn puddin’.