Welcome to Schmicago, the fictional city at the center of the second season of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio’s musical comedy series Schmigadoon! The first season, which premiered in the summer of 2022 on Apple TV+, followed a modern couple, Josh and Melissa (played by Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong), who have grown complacent in their relationship. On a couple’s retreat in the woods, they stumble upon the magical town of Schmigadoon as it appears from the fog (Like Brigadoon, get it?). They are trapped there, inside a world of Golden Age musicals, and cannot escape until they find true love.
Last season, Playbill writers recapped each episode of Schmigadoon!, calling out the allusions and spotting the many Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, Willson, and Gershwin tunes referenced in the show.
We’re back to do the same for Season 2’s Schmicago, which takes us to the grittier and darker musicals of the mid-’60s and ‘70s. The first two episodes dropped on Apple TV+ April 5. The remaining four episodes will release weekly on Wednesdays beginning April 12.
Episode 1: "Welcome to Schmicago"
Talaura: Oh man. I have been excited about this for some time now. But I have to admit, I don’t know this time period of musicals as well as I know Golden Age, so I’m counting on you, Logan, and your musical theatre degree to make sure I don’t miss any jokes.
Logan: You’re in luck because as everyone knows, anyone with a musical theatre degree is both highly educated in musical theatre history and loaded with cash from working in the incredibly lucrative industry for which they trained. But to tell the truth, I’ve been anticipating the mere idea of this since the first season of Schmigadoon! ended. The fact that they actually made it is mind-boggling. I’m interested to see how they tackle the next era of musical theatre, because that group of shows is not as homogenous as the Golden Age classics! I have faith in Cinco and his whole team, though.
Talaura: So, to catch us up a bit, the first season ended with Josh and Melissa sure that they are each other’s true love, but BLACKOUT before we actually see them cross the bridge to leave Schmigadoon. Season 2 begins “10 Seconds After Schmigadoon” and Josh and Melissa are smiling in the woods. They made it out. They are true loves! We knew that, though, didn’t we?
Then we see a montage of their marriage and their life together over, presumably, the next couple of years. They buy a house. They have picnics. They do their doctor jobs (she’s an OB-GYN, he’s an orthopedist). They visit a fertility doctor. They are beginning to seem unhappy. And we’re getting little Schmigadoon reminders…a kazoo in Josh’s t-shirt drawer, Melissa “hears” someone say “Corn Puddin.’” (Aside: “Corn Puddin’ won last year’s Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics. Watch the video here.) We’re hearing some Schmigadoon tunes in the plaintive underscoring. The fertility efforts aren’t working. Now they’re downright sad. And within the first five minutes of the first episode, we know exactly where Josh and Melissa are. That’s some very economic storytelling.
Logan: Did you catch that the shopper who Melissa thought she heard talking about Corn Puddin’ was former Elphaba Jessica Vosk? I was surprised because in my experience, she’s been more receptive to musical theatre outbursts.
Talaura: Donned in the vintage sherbet plaids of musical theatre/ice cream social costuming, the couple heads back into the woods to search for Schmigadoon and the magic they found there. But really, they're just lost in the woods, so they give up and go home.
Logan: Melissa and Josh suddenly find themselves dealing with a flat tire. And wouldn’t you know, that just happened to befall them while driving over a creepy bridge drenched in
theatrical haze fog. It turns out they’ve found their way to Schmicago and are being greeted with a pretty one-to-one parody of “Magic to Do” from Pippin. Not only is the accompaniment paying homage to that iconic introductory piano vamp, choreographer Christopher Gattelli is giving us an almost complete recreation of Pippin director-choreographer Bob Fosse’s original staging for the number, disembodied gloved hands and all.
Looking around, I spot some ‘60s and ‘70s musical theatre characters, from a vengeful, knife-wielding man covered in blood, to scantily clad women, scruffily dressed orphans, and circus-adjacent hippies. They’re all here! New cast member Tituss Burgess looks to be Schmicago’s Leading Player (Pippin)-Emcee (Cabaret) type, telling us what’s going on but always with a sneaky twinkle in his eye.
Talaura: The entire company welcomes Josh and Melissa to Schmicago, which they describe as “a fantastical farrago,” with Burgess’ Narrator suddenly behind them barking “Look it up!” Well, I did. A farrago is “a confused mixture: hodgepodge.” That tracks.
Logan: No tea no shade, but this feels like a reference to Pippin songwriter Stephen Schwartz’s penchant for filling his lyrics with…well, let’s just say words that one isn’t likely to hear in general parlance (you know, like "penchant" and "parlance"). I'm willing to bet more than a few Wicked fans don't understand this "verdigris" that everyone fixates on, according to Elphaba (from the lyrics of "The Wizard and I," "verdigris" is when copper oxidizes and turns a blueish green, like the Statue of Liberty. Gold star for me!)
Talaura: Our narrator tells us exactly what the season’s obstacle is in, “The Tale of Josh and Melissa, a typical married couple in the midst of a typical existential crisis, here on a quest for the most elusive of treasures: happiness.” So, they can’t leave until they’re happy—a seemingly difficult task for this era of musicals that rarely have big happy endings and joyous finale numbers.
One of things we talked about a lot last year was what was being satirized within the parody. Like, there were a lot of moments throughout the season where the gender status or treatment of women in the Golden Age were being called out. It’ll be interesting to see what commentaries are made during this era of musicals.
Logan: We solved women’s rights after the ‘50s, right?
Talaura: Mmm-hmmm. Melissa helps us along by dropping a couple of musical titles from this era: Chicago, Cabaret, Pippin. Oh, and that she’s less familiar with these shows, too! Same, girl. Same.
Logan: Melissa says she was never into this era of musical theatre because of a childhood trauma involving being taken to a production of Sweeney Todd and having to leave early after being splattered with blood. Fun fact: I saw a production of Sweeney last summer at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York (that’s right—I’m naming names) and because I was seated on the front row, I was forced to wear a rain poncho—because they used a blood cannon. That’s not a phrase I really ever imagined existing. Sondheim, with a splash zone!
Talaura: Did no one tell Thomas Kail about the blood cannon? Missed opportunity...
Logan: I also loved that one of the defining features Melissa cited for this era of musicals is imperfect rhymes, revealing that she also passionately believes they’re wrong. A lovely homage to the fiercely held opinions-cum-fact amongst musical theatre fans. Yes, dear Playbill readers—we see what you’re writing in the comments (and believe me, we’re usually right there with you).
Talaura: Again I say, same, girl. Same.
After a little back and forth about whether they should stay or whether they should go, Josh and Melissa make their way to the Hotel Schmicago. There they find an “extremely blonde” and German-accented Ann Harada behind the front desk. As Melissa pointed out in the opening number, all the actors from the first season are playing different characters. Harada was a sweet and prim Mayor’s wife in Schmigadoon. Here she appears to maybe be a Fräulein Schneider, the landlady from Cabaret.
Logan: But who also seems to be a Madam now? I’m not mad about it.
So our dynamic duo check into a dingy room, only for an eccentric young woman in a stylish bob to walk in. Is this Sally Bowles? No! Dove Cameron has moved on from season one’s Betsy to season two’s Jenny Banks and she’s perfectly marvelous. I would be remiss if I didn’t add that Cameron is specifically paying homage to the movie version of Sally Bowles, as she, like Liza, has dispensed with the stage character’s British accent.
Talaura: Her patter is spot on, darling. It really is.
Josh and Melissa go to the Kratt Klub, not to be confused with Cabaret’s Kit Kat Klub. It’s kind of empty and quiet. The next number is diagetic (the actors know they are singing)—a performance on stage at the nightclub. With the dancers lined up at a ballet barre center stage, this looks like Fosse’s “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity. And the first notes reference the number, too.
I was going to say this during the opening number, but I got sidetracked. It's kind of amazing to hear these very familiar opening vamps, but then completely different melody and lyrics fall out of the actors' mouths.
The showgirls sing “Do We Shock You?,” pointing out a man in a dress, their tattoos, and other not-really-shocking-to-a-2020s-couple sins, which seems a little La Cage Aux Folles, but also I believe is a reference to Sally Bowles,' "Am I shocking you, talking like this?," after telling Cliff she's living with but not married to a man. In their time, though, some of these musical moments must have been really surprising to audiences emerging from the Golden Age. It had been happening in movies, but to have premarital sex set to song was surely scandalous.
Logan: This definitely feels like a tribute to Fosse’s smut-forward sensibility. We’re also getting somewhat of a Sweet Charity mash-up in the choreography. I spotted steps from Fosse’s “Big Spender,” “There’s Gotta Be Something Than This,” and “I’m a Brass Band.”
Talaura: I think I just heard a little “Rose’s Turn” in the orchestration there… ”Hold your hats and hallelujah/Mama’s gonna show it to you.”
Logan: I am, as ever, in musical theatre nerd heaven.
Enter Ariana DeBose, last season’s Marian the Librarian stand-in, Emma, now the Kratt Klub’s Emcee. Ya, they’re not even making this hard. The character is literally the Emcee, just like in Cabaret. I was more interested in the names of the Kratt Klub cabaret girls, which included Annie, Kate, Molly, Tessie, Pepper, and Duffy. I think these girls would have trouble making that stage floor shine like the top of the Chrysler Building. Yes, those are the names of Miss Hannigan’s orphans in Annie—but still unrevealed is what kind of monster would name their child Duffy.
Talaura: And while "Kratt Klubb" is giving us a little "Kit Katt Club" in its name, I can't help but see a little shrouded nod to Nazi-era Germans. Kraut? Can we say that? Is that bad?
Logan: Google says that’s mostly a slur against German WWI and WWII soldiers. I’m OK with slandering that group, to be honest.
Josh and Melissa find out they’re sitting at a reserved table, reserved for the club’s owner, Octavius Kratt. This is one of this season’s new players, Broadway favorite and Tony nominee Patrick Page! He seems to be playing a Judge Turpin-like basso villain—territory Page is all too familiar with, having played Spider-Man’s Green Goblin, The Lion King’s Scar, and Hadestown’s Hades on Broadway.
Talaura: It's also cracking me up that Harada’s character name is Madam Frau, which is basically Woman Woman. (But also, a whorehouse Madam, as you pointed out earlier.)
Logan: Thank God I’m finally getting to write about whorehouses in Playbill. And it’s not even related to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas!
Now it’s Jenny’s turn to give us her brand new number, “We’ve Gone Kaput.” The music is one part Kurt Weill, two parts Kander and Ebb. There’s chair-ography. There’s double entendre. Ladies and gentlemen, we are watching a mash-up of Cabaret’s “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Mein Herr.” And for good measure, they threw in a pretty direct quote of Chicago’s “When You’re Good to Mama” vamp there at the end.
Talaura: And there's "Mein Herr" wordplay in the lyric, too! “Get him out of mine hair.” God, that’s good!
It occurs to me that all we’ve seen so far is basically Fosse choreography, with Pippin, Sweet Charity, and Cabaret. We know we’re probably getting some Chicago numbers, also Fosse. But I remember seeing some Godspell characters (the aforementioned circus-adjacent hippies) in that opening number, so I looked at the Vault to see who choreographed that. No one. No one is credited for choreography in the original production of Godspell. Is that weird? Am I the only person who didn’t know that?
Logan: I did NOT know that, but of course Godspell was heavily improvised and borderline devised theatre. I bet the original company just "yes, and"-ed their own way through the staging.
Talaura: Josh leaves Melissa at the table “to go powder his nose,” stumbles past a Mein Kampf-reading Nazi backstage, and goes into a dressing room where he—gasp!—finds a dead girl. They try to high-tail it out of town, but not only does their car have a flat tire, now it won’t start. They open the hood of the car to check the engine and *poof* there’s the Schmigadoon leprachaun (Martin Short), who reiterates, via song, that they are stuck there until they find a happy end.
“These musicals don’t have happy endings!” exclaims Melissa.
Logan: Josh says they should just think happy thoughts, but I’m like… Mary Martin’s Peter Pan debuted in 1954, Keegan. Wrong era!
Talaura: With the police sirens closing in, Josh and Melissa try to run across the bridge, and like in Schmigadoon, they end up right back on the same side of the bridge where they started. *Magic.* Jaime Camill, the town doctor in Schmigadoon, is the cop waiting to arrest Josh for the murder of the showgirl Elsie Vale.
Logan: Come to think of it, she was the happiest corpse I’ve ever seen.
Talaura: Bah. I didn't get it. I tried to Google the name and only came up with a signed Bavarian plate on Ebay.
Logan: The first episode ends with another ‘60s-’70s musical theatre standby: a transition reprise of the opening number!
Episode 2: Bustin’ Out
Logan: If you’re locked in suspense, never fear. We got two episodes this week—and if we’re being honest, none of us have anything better to do, so we’re definitely going to keep mini-binge-ing.
Episode two starts in jail, with Josh incarcerated for murdering Elsie. We find out that his fate could be worse than the inmates of the Cook County Jail. In Schmicago, Josh is up for the electric chair. And apparently, it gets used a lot.
Talaura: [Sings this next part like the Narrator] Josh is getting a cellmate. Look, it's Aaron Tveit. Schmigiddy-wait!
Suddenly Josh is in a completely new musical world than we've been dealing with in Episode 1 (although it was definitely hinted in the opening number). It's the hippie musical. Think Hair, think Godspell, and also Pippin. Oh, but we've had Pippin. A lot. Now I've confused myself. The narration and the Fosse means Pippin kind of straddles both worlds. ANYWAY. Aaron Tveit played Danny Bailey in Season 1, a sort of Billy Bigelow-like carnival barker. Now he's here with a puff of curls on the top of his head looking very John Rubinstein/Victor Garber. He's all peace and love and daisies and believes all the inmates are innocent.
Logan: Including a gold-suited Conrad who "didn't touch that girl" (Bye Bye Birdie).
Talaura: Topher, as Tveit is called in Schmicago, sings "My Doorway to Where" which is a very exaggerated "Corner of the Sky," Pippin's soul-searching anthem. Schwartz's lyrics like "Cats fit on the windowsill/Children fit in the snow" become Paul's "Camels make love in the desert/A table works best with a chair." I am constantly tickled at both Josh and Melissa's unfiltered reactions to the strange world around them. There are lots of little looks arounds and small exclamations. "Your doorway to where???" repeats Josh here. Because it is so ridiculous (like many Schwartz lyrics).
Topher cryptically tells Josh that he's going to make it his mission to get him on the Happiness Bus.
Logan: Meanwhile, Melissa is working on getting Josh a lawyer, and she’s set her sights on Mr. Flanagan. Except—whoops! It’s not Mr. Flanagan at all. It’s Jane Krakowski, last season’s Countess, now back as Bobbie Flanagan. The character is, of course, a nod to Chicago’s usually male lawyer Billy Flynn. And “Bobbie" is a nod to the leading woman in the recent Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company—which reimagined its leading role to be female. So many layers of musical theatre references.
Talaura: Melissa acknowledges her own bias in looking for Mr. Flanagan, but she's quickly reminded that ladies can be lawyers but they shouldn't expect to be judges. Sexism has indeed not been solved in whatever time period we're in now. The 1920s, the 1970s?
Bobbie recites her credentials over a vamp with some Fosse Charity walks à la Roxie's monologue. She stops to straighten a framed newspaper headline on the wall that reads, "Execution Frazzles, Bobbie Dazzles," a little nod to Flynn's "give 'em the old razzle dazzle" and Roxie's "I always wanted my name in the papers."
Oh, also! It surprised me to discover that Krakowski, with the exception of Damn Yankees! at City Center Encores in 2008, has never done a Fosse work or a Kander and Ebb work. I asked her. She confirmed.
Logan: That needs to be corrected immediately. I'm calling the Weisslers.
Bobbie suggests that Melissa spend her time getting a job at the club so she can look for clues as to who actually killed Elsie, which Bobbie calls the “standard play.” This plot point isn’t giving me so much musical theatre references as it is giving me Murder, She Wrote. But I’d love to see a Murder, She Wrote musical so I’ll allow it.
Talaura: Who would you cast as Jessica Fletcher?
Logan: It's a shame Angela won't be able to reprise her performance, but in lieu of that I think, I would say Audra. She's similarly likeable, similarly beloved, similarly Tony-winning. I'm calling the Weisslers.
Back at the club, auditions are being held for Elsie’s spot in the chorus and everyone is on stage wearing what appear to be old-timey swimsuits. A truly divine audition sequence follows, “I Need to Eat,” heavily borrowing from A Chorus Line’s “God I Hope I Get It,” complete with nods to Michael Bennett’s original choreography—the auditioners even sing about Melissa popping her head, just like A Chorus Line’s Cassie.
Talaura: Just like Chorus Line's Zach, Madam Frau asks for the auditioners' life stories. We get snatches of “At the Ballet” and “Nothing,” and we get to see what happened to Liesl Von Trapp after she stayed up and tasted her first champagne. Melissa steps forward with "I am a doctor, a doctor doctors," a reference to “Music and the Mirror"—she even ends the sequence in that number's iconic final pose, à la Donna McKechnie. The chorus line moves to the front of the stage for the classic headshots pose or, in Melissa’s case, driver’s license.
Logan: Proving that sometimes story matters more than logistics, Melissa gets the job despite being...choreographically challenged, let's say. Justice for the movers of the world.
Back in prison, Bobbie is visiting her new client, entering as the prisoners sensually sing her name. We’re getting yet another layered reference here, with nods to both “Roxie” and “All I Care About Is Love” in Chicago, and Company’s many “Bobbie baby, Bobbie bubbes.”
Talaura: Sidebar...this reminds me of seeing Bebe Neuwirth play Billy Flynn in "All I Care About Is Love" one year at Broadway Backwards, and I've wanted that ever since. I will now also accept Jane Krakowski in the role.
Logan: According to this lawyer, winning a murder trial is all about
razzle dazzle “flim flam, flapdoodle, and pizzazz,” which is luckily her specialty.
Talaura: Pretty sure "flapdoodle" was also a lyric in Kristin Chenoweth's big Season 1 number "Tribulation." Note to Cinco Paul: I will expect to see it somewhere in Season 3.
Logan: Les Schmiz! Let's manifest that into reality.
Talaura: We're back at the club, and a stagehand passes the camera carrying a stack of Fosse hats: bowler hats, the straw hats for "Who’s Got the Pain," and those Spanish hats from "Cool Hand Luke." There are details everywhere. It takes 90 minutes to watch a 30 minute episode because I'm pausing to look at the details. (You saw Topher had a sock puppet in that last scene, right? Good Samaritan?) Madam Frau gives Melissa rouge for her knees. Details!
But plot stuff: Jenny offers to show Melissa the ropes and, with Elsie out of the picture, becomes Jenny's roommate.
Logan: But it's only one sordid room, it's Schmicago instead of Chelsea.
Now Bobbie and Josh are at a press conference, where Bobbie seems to be less focused on Josh’s innocence than with telling the story of what drove him to murder Elsie. And what did drive Josh to murder Elsie? Why, jazz, of course! Josh goes rogue and insists he’s innocent, which convinces the press that he’ll fry for the crime.
Talaura: In this scene, we get what looks like will be our running joke for the season. Season 1 it was Pete's injuries. Season 2 it is a very famous Sondheim line from "Ladies Who Lunch." I think we forgot to call it out in the first episode.
Logan: Does anyone...still call it out...in the first episode?
Back in his prison cell, Melissa has arrived to tell Josh she got a job performing at the club—which she swears is mostly so that she can help save him from this trial. In true form, Topher moves to launch into a reprise of “My Doorway to Where,” only for Josh and Melissa to put a stop to that.
Talaura: Josh and Melissa were so much at odds with each other in Schmigadoon. Here they are really on each other's side. I like this.
In Elsie's old room, Jenny and Melissa dish a bit. Turns out Elsie was Kratt’s favorite and now Jenny is cozying up to Kratt. He promises to make her a big star, which is all she's ever wanted. Sergeant Rivera comes to get Jenny for Kratt.
Logan: A member of law enforcement doing a villain’s evil bidding, à la Sweeney’s Beadle!
Talaura: Rivera and Melissa seem to share a Schmigadoon moment. They were courting there, after all. It's quickly subverted as Rivera warns Melissa to watch where she sticks her nose or she could end up like Josh.
Logan: Now alone in the apartment, Melissa looks for more clues and finds a boa. As she puts it on, we cut to a cabaret number performed by Jenny, Melissa, and the Emcee—an Andrews Sisters-like, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”-style musical performance, “Bustin’ Out.” Meanwhile, Topher’s band of hippies busts through the prison wall to get Topher and Josh out of jail and onto the literal Happiness Bus.
What I love about this moment is they’re not just satirizing specific songs from this era of musical theatre—they’re satirizing how musicals from this period love to use songs. Grittier and more naturalistic stories don’t give as many opportunities for straightforwardly entertaining numbers, so writers of the period—particularly Kander and Ebb—started using showy, old-school numbers with thoughtfully written lyrics to ironically comment on the plot. Think how Sally Bowles has a mental breakdown singing “Life is a Cabaret, old chum.”
Talaura: There's a cabaret cast party in the dressing room to celebrate Melissa's opening night. Her popularity gets her Elsie’s star dressing room, where she finds a notebook with “17 Quick St. 11 AM every Sunday” written on it. A clue! The underscoring sounds suspiciously like Sweeney Todd—Could “Quick” be a stand-in for “Fleet?”
Logan: On the Happiness Bus, everyone is singing "My Doorway to Where," including Josh, who did not sing until the final episode of Schmigadoon. He's really digging Schmicago. Tituss Burgess’ Narrator, also on the bus, is not digging this sing-along. He looks like the basketball coach who got stuck chaperoning a bus full of theatre kids during his off-season. Or perhaps a stage manager on a non-union tour.
See you next week for Episode 3! And in the meantime, browse through new photos from Schmigadoon! Season 2, which includes a look ahead to future episodes.