Apple TV+’s quirky and heart-warming musical comedy, Schmigadoon!, feels like it sprang fully formed off our screen and into our lives a few weeks ago.
In actuality, it filmed over forty-three days in the fall of 2020, a period when many film and television productions were either completely shut down or pivoting to digital remote formats where performers could isolate but still interact.
Meanwhile, Schmigadoon! presents us with huge, glorious musical numbers where the actors TOUCH each other and SING to each other.
On Schmigadoon!’s virtual press day, TV Fanatic had the opportunity to discuss with stars Aaron Tveit (Danny Bailey) and Dove Cameron (Betsy McDonough) what that was like.
Tveit, a veteran of film and television but probably best known for his work in live theatre, winning a Tony award for his portrayal of Christian on Broadway’s Moulin Rouge, was mindful of the unique circumstances of producing Schmigadoon!
“What was really interesting is the fact we were very aware that we might’ve been some of the only people getting to do a musical at that time.
“With Broadway shut down and theatres across the countries of the world shut down, that we got to come together and tell this story — albeit within the parameters and protocols [needed] to safely shoot these shows — it made it all the more special that we were getting to do this while nobody else was doing the same thing.”
Cameron has also performed major musical theatre roles — portraying Young Cosette at the age of eleven and Cher Horowitz in an Off-Broadway production of Clueless: The Musical in 2018-19 — but is probably most recognizable to young Disney fans as twins Liv and Maddie as well as Mal on The Descendents movies.
She shared her thoughts on creating a musical like Schmigadoon! versus typical TV and film productions.
“It was a very interesting thing because, normally, the whole appeal socially of a musical as a person who’s doing it is that camaraderie/team effort/chemistry thing that you create as a group, as a family.
“That’s what usually sets it apart from TV and film. TV and film is quite a solo effort, and even though you’re all creating something together, it’s not quite the same.
“So, to do a project that married the two in this time… It’s such a bizarre thing to shoot a musical number incrementally, separated from our incredible chorus and everybody.
“Especially in the bigger numbers like Corn Pudding and things like that. You know, we were reacting to playback, so it was very interesting to see. I think it really came together well, but it was definitely a unique experience. Very educational.”
Both Tveit and Cameron play the initial love interests for the protagonist couple, Melissa and Josh, played by Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, respectively.
Tveit’s Danny Bailey is immediately identified by town busybody Mildred Layton (Kristen Chenoweth) as a rapscallion and no-good-nik.
Tveit was able to prepare/research a bit for the role since Danny’s a character drawn from musical canon.
“For me, Danny’s very much Billy Bigelow from Carousel, which is a role that I’ve always wanted to play and actually never got an opportunity to play. I was really living my Billy Bigelow dreams doing this.
“There are other influences as well, but my version of whatever my Billy would be was very much what happened with Danny, I think.”
Cameron had a bit more of a challenge, getting a grasp on Betsy’s core motivations.
“I don’t think I had any specific references for Betsy. I feel like Betsy is sort of a male-gaze amalgamation of a bunch of different kinds of ideas of women that are in musical theatre, but she doesn’t really have a Billy Bigelow comparison.
“In my mind, she’s like an over-sexed Marilyn meets Oklahoma!’s Laurey or ‘I am sixteen…’ [Liesl in The Sound of Music] She’s all of it in one, right? So, it was sort of that fantasy to play.”
Many elements had to come together in perfect proportion for Schmigadoon! to emerge the glorious, joy-filled, wickedly savage work of art that it is, and that has been nothing short of magical for everyone involved.
Tveit praised much of the world-building to the people who literally built their world.
“Getting to shoot in Vancouver with these incredible craftsmen that built our set and every single aspect of the production was just so wonderful and tactical and tangible.
“Besides the sky around the set, none of it is CGI-ed or bluescreened. They built this amazing world for us to get to inhabit. And so, when that happens, it does a lot of the work for you.
“As soon as you step on set and put those costumes on or see what they’ve built, you kind of have to be transported. It helps all of that. It was pretty magical.”
Cameron agreed on the fantastical level of immersion the set provided.
“I even forgot to touch on that! All of these sets are huge. They are as big as they look. That set when we have the river going through it. That was real water.
“It really was like stepping into a world, and so in that sense, it was incredibly magical.”
She then shared the magic of the cast forced to rehearse separately and then expected to just click into place when brought together.
“In a more esoteric, hard-to-put-your-finger-on-how-to-word-it, “actor” sense, it’s a very rare experience where every single person at every single level who’s doing every single job — down to the most minuscule details and the broad strokes tone of it all — knew exactly what we wanted to do and what we were doing together collectively to create this world.
“It was always like, ‘You know what you’re doing? Great.’ And everyone executed it flawlessly and that kind of magic for approaching something so big in such a non-linguistic… we all just knew what it was. It’s such a rare thing. That was magical.”
“It felt like we were speaking a language that we all intuitively knew.”
Experience the magic for yourself! Schmigadoon! is available on Apple TV+!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.