Welcome to Schmicago, the fictional city at the center of the second season of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio’s musical comedy TV 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.
In season two, Josh and Melissa are trapped in Schmicago, inspired by the grittier and darker musicals of the mid-'60s and '70s. Our dynamic duo is tasked with finding a happy ending, which could be a tall order when dealing with plots inspired by such shows as Sweeney Todd, Cabaret, and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Playbill is back to walk you through all of the references from every episode of Schmigadoon!'s second season, which debuted with a double episode drop April 5—get caught up with the recap of those episodes here.
But now, on to episode three!
The Moment Before: Josh, falsely imprisoned for the murder of Kratt Klub showgirl Elsie Vale, decides to head out with a band of hippies (they crash their happiness bus into the cell he’s been sharing with hippie leader Topher). Back at the Kratt Klub, Melissa has gotten a job as a showgirl so she can look for clues that might lead to Elsie’s real killer. She finds the address “17 Quick Street” in Elsie’s notebook—could this be the clue that makes it all make sense?
Episode 3: Bells and Whistles
Logan: Wanted signs are going up for Josh all around Schmicago, which is also giving us a glimpse of some local shops named for the composers whose musicals are being satirized this season. I spotted “Sondheim’s Children’s Playthings” (thanks, Cinco, for the unobstructed reveal of that one!), “Schwartz Happy Family Portraits,” “Herman’s Hummable Tunes,” and “Ebb and Co. Apothecary.” (Well, Ebb was a lyricist. But I digress).
Speaking of digressions, we have to talk further about “Herman’s Hummable Tunes” before we even get into the plot of this week’s episode. This is referencing some true Broadway beef that all theatre fans should know. So in this era of musical theatre—particularly the 1970s—Sondheim was dominating the scene, debuting a series of musicals that totally transformed the art form. Gone were the days of easily entertaining melodies, often devised as much for a show’s plot as it was for the radio airwaves. Sondheim brought an operatic-like obsession with storytelling to his music and focused far more on that than his songs becoming radio hits. As a result, he was often criticized for writing songs that were “un-hummable.” Sondheim even satirized this directly in Merrily We Roll Along’s “Opening Doors,” which he’s on the record saying is the closest thing to autobiographical writing in his entire catalogue.
Cut to the 1984 Tony Awards. At this point, Sondheim already has five Tony Awards to his name for his music and lyrics, and Sunday in the Park With George could earn him a sixth (the show went on to become the rare musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, but that’s beside the point here). Amongst the show’s competition that year is La Cage Aux Folles, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Herman is best known for shows like Hello, Dolly! and Mame, kind of the ultimate “happy” musicals. Go see a Herman show, and you can count on a rousing march or two, along with timeless and ever-so hummable songs like “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” and “Before the Parade Passes By.” But La Cage was not as easily entertaining as some of Herman’s earlier work. Based on a French comedy, the musical told what was, for 1984 Broadway, a pretty edgy story about a professional drag queen and his husband whose son marries into a conservative family.
Back to the 1984 Tony Awards. Larry Kert (Sondheim’s original Tony in West Side Story and the first replacement Bobby in Company, no less!) is announcing the winner for Best Original Score, which turns out to be Herman. And he begins his acceptance speech saying, “This award forever shatters a myth about the musical theatre. There’s been a rumor around for a couple of years that the simple, hummable showtune was no longer welcome on Broadway. Well, it’s alive and well at The Palace [Theatre, home to La Cage’s original production].”
The shade! A Broadway rivalry became official, giving birth to many of those fiercely held theatre
facts opinions we talked about last week—as you can tell from the nearly 500 words I just banged out about it! Talaura, you talk now.
Talaura: Well, that’s all we have time for! Thanks for coming, everybody!
So, yes. Leading Player Tituss gets us caught up with the Wanted posters and a short reprise of “Welcome to Schmicago.” Melissa rushes into Bobbie’s office with her new clue (the Quick Street address in Elsie Vale’s date book).
But let’s talk costumes here real quick. This feels like the first time Melissa is in something she chooses to wear. We’ve seen her in her own red coat and in costumes for the cabaret, but now she’s in day clothes from the Schmicago world. And for her, it’s not the Chicago/Cabaret world, or the Hair/Godspell world, (or the Sweeney Victorian world we suspect we’re heading towards). She’s wearing a straight wool overcoat over a miniskirt, chunky pearls and earrings, and a straw hat tilted on the back of her head. Her world is the more sunny musicals of the '60s coming out of the Golden Age, which makes sense because she loved Schmigadoon. Think How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Anyone Can Whistle, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Promises, Promises.
Am I overthinking this? Maybe. But I don’t think so. She also “gets emotional” when she learns Josh broke out of jail. That doesn’t seem very Melissa. You know who does get emotional? Fran Kubelik.
Logan: As she leaves, we get a little Sweeney in the underscore. Shout out to arranger and orchestrator (and three-time Tony winner) Doug Besterman and film and TV composer Christopher Willis, who are really working overtime to make sure we’re getting lots of great musical theatre callbacks in the orchestrations and underscoring too.
Meanwhile, Josh is with Topher at the hippie commune with what looks to be a group of characters straight out of Godspell—including one wearing the vest from a marching band uniform that I choose to believe is a nod to Oliver!’s Artful Dodger. Josh, officially on the lam, is freaking out, but Topher has just the thing for that: “Everyone’s Gotta Get Naked.”
Talaura: The number opens with a nod to the nonsense lyrics from Hair’s “Good Morning Starshine”: “Gliddy glub gloopy, nibby nabby noopy la, la, la, lo, lo.” And the song itself is a direct reference to how Hair famously brought nudity to the Broadway stage in 1968. At the end of its Act 1 closer, “Where Do I Go,” the tribe briefly appears skyclad. It was shocking. (I would think the lyrics of “Sodomy” were even moreso to audiences then. They are to me now!)
Audiences were ready to get naked, though. The original production of Hair (book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermot) ran for over four years and was shortly followed by the even more risqué (now with extra nudity!) Oh! Calcutta! in 1969.
Logan: Nice. I also loved that Grease characters became the nonsense chant at the beginning. “Rizzo, Cha-Cha, Doody, Zuko, and Kenickie.” No “Rama lama lama ka dingitty ding de dong” here! (I need everyone to know I looked up how that was spelled in the published score.) This number is a mash-up in a lot of ways, actually. That syncopation at the end of the chorus is from Pippin’s “Simple Joys,” and the Rhodes electric piano lick at the top of the dance break is straight outta “I Gotcha” from Liza With a Z. OK, actually “I Gotcha” existed before Liza With a Z, but we all know that’s when it really started to matter—to show queens, at least.
Talaura: Leading Tituss welcomes us to Quick Street, “the seedier side of Schmicago.” (Sign spotted: Kander’s Absinthe Cafe next to Herman’s Hummable Tunes. Let’s hope Logan doesn’t have a 600-word treatise on Kander and the Green Goddess.)
Talaura: Melissa stumbles upon Miss Codwell’s Home for Unwanted Orphans, run by Kristin Chenoweth. Last season, KChen played the preacher’s wife (a sort of Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn type), and we had to wait until the fifth episode before we got her big number, so I’m happy to see her a little earlier this season. She’s very Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Lovett-leaning this go 'round, with her hair in little top knot buns and her exaggerated cockney. But with her orphans and her mention of bathtub gin, she’s also planted firmly in Annie’s Miss Hannigan territory. Upon seeing Melissa, she immediately tries to sell her a child in the song “Worst Brats in Town,” a send-up of Mrs. Lovett’s “Worst Pies in London,” with triple rhymes and double entendres to die for.
Logan: Also worth mentioning that orphans (well one boy, at least) are also for sale in Oliver!. You can tell we’re in Sondheim territory because the time signature keeps changing. And, like “Worst Pies,” this song is less a traditional song than a monologue set to music. These parodies are pretty smart, folks.
Talaura: Josh gets a smiley on his cheek to show he’s really part of the tribe. The tribe hates Kratt and “his evil power company,” but getting naked and telling parables isn’t working in fighting the power. To show Josh “the power of parables,” the tribe performs “The Lamb Without a Flock.”
So, it is my understanding that Godspell is full of these little improvised-clowned-vaudeville-parable story moments, but I don't really know as I have never seen it in its entirety. I tried to watch the film version once. Much like Josh, very early in, I said, “Oh no, I already hate this,” and turned it off.
Logan: Don’t worry—I’m sure the millions of dollars Schwartz has made off that show will more than soothe his hurt feelings from that review.
Back on Quick Street, it turns out the address Melissa found is Blight’s Butcher Shop, home to Dooley Blight, who Miss Codwell seems to be in love with. Probably needless to say, Alan Cumming’s Dooley is our Sweeney stand-in after being closeted Mayor Aloysius Menlove last season. Dooley gets a “Worst Brats” reprise (Josh Groban found shaking), but this time it’s the bratwurst he’s making.
Talaura: That brats/bräts callback…just *chef’s kiss*.
Logan: After Melissa tells Dooley that Elsie has been murdered, we learn Dooley’s backstory—and the Sweeney Todd references abound. We find out that Jenny Banks is Dooley’s daughter, and Elsie was keeping Dooley up on how she was doing. Singing a take on Sweeney’s “The Barber and His Wife,” Dooley sings, “There was a butcher who had a wife and daughter,” recounting a harrowing tale about a rich man who wanted the butcher’s wife for his own, only to murder her when she refused his advances—and then had the butcher charged with the crime. But instead of making Jenny his ward, this rich man waited until she was old enough and put her on the stage. This gets Dooley into an “Epiphany”-like portion of the song where he vows vengeance and says
“they all deserve to die” he wants to “kill them all!”
Talaura: Melissa is putting it all together: The rich man is Kratt, and maybe he killed Elsie. She’ll tell the police! But Dooley says he has the police under his thumb, so murder is the only way. We also find out he can’t bear to see Jenny because he is a ghost of the man he once was—similar to Sweeney who, according to his Act 2 “Johanna (Quartet),” can’t bear to see her because she would remind him too much of his wife.
A member of the hippie tribe arrives in roller skates to tell Melissa that Josh is fine, and Melissa runs after the “birthday clown allergic to bras.” Shout out to this episode’s writer and noted fellow theatre nerd, Julie Klausner!
Logan: Things are great at the commune, because everyone’s passing around bread infused with what we can only assume is *gasp!* weed. Melissa’s mad because Josh has been getting high with hippies while she’s out trying to save him, but that basically just gets her labeled a square by the hippies. Nevertheless, Josh and Melissa decide it’s time for Josh to turn himself in to the police and they leave the commune.
Talaura: Josh (sans his tribe hair) is in court and everyone thinks he’s guilty. But where is his lawyer, Bobbie? Jane Krakowski descends into the courtroom on a trapeze—it’s a courtroom circus! This is also reminiscent of Krakowski’s entrance in Nine, as she descended from the flies in silks for the number “A Call From the Vatican” in her Tony-winning turn as Carla Albanese. Her big number here is “Bells and Whistles.”
Logan: And this one is another mash-up moment. We’ve got choreography from Sweet Charity and Chicago’s “Hot Honey Rag,” while the music is actually giving us a lot of Chorus Line. I heard the vamp from
“Tits and Ass” “Dance 10 Looks 3,” and some moments from “I Can Do That” while Jane’s tap dancing, which is appropriate. I’d also like to believe that moment where she’s on roller skates is perhaps a nod to another Jane Krakowski Broadway performance: Starlight Express (Krakowski made her Broadway debut in the trains-on-roller-skates Andrew Lloyd Webber musical).
Talaura: Then we get the ventriloquist moment from Chicago’s “They Both Reached for the Gun,” followed by patter from Company’s “Getting Married Today.” This number is crazy good. I don't think there's enough that could be said about it really. Not only is it a plethora of musical theatre references, but Krakowski pulls out all of her own performance "bells and whistles" for it. The dancing, the vocal dexterity, trapeze, roller skates, splits! It's a showstopper.
The jury foreman (last season’s oft-injured Pete) announces Josh is innocent and Bobbie is absolutely stunning. And we get our “I’ll drink to that!” for this episode. Melissa and Josh are sure they have their happy ending, but a look to the camera from Leading Tituss says otherwise.
Logan: And now we’re in Kratt’s office, and he is fit to be tied after this verdict comes down. Kratt yells at some of his henchmen in a fairly direct parody of Jesus Christ Superstar’s “This Jesus Must Die,” with Kratt filling in as the very bass-singing Caiaphas. I mean, it just doesn’t get better than these Patrick Page low notes.
Talaura: We find out his thing is he wants a wife, but he always “wants the women who don’t want me.” We even get a little awkward self-flagellation à la Judge Turpin’s “Johanna (Mea Culpa)” in Sweeney.
Logan: Yes, which is not in the current Broadway revival, by the way. Not that I’m bitter about that or anything.
Talaura: Mmmm-hmmmm. He looks out the window and spies Melissa (still in a ‘60s frock) leaving the hotel with Josh (now back in his modern clothes). Obviously, he’ll take her to wife. Which would also take care of his nasty Josh/Elsie Vale problem somehow, killing “two birds with one *very, very low Patrick Page note* stone.” BLACKOUT.
See you next Wednesday!