Cecily Strong is a total theater geek.
The “Saturday Night Live” mainstay (and two-time Emmy nominee) started drama classes when she was just 3 years old as a way of channeling her oddball energy. She remembers renting VHS tapes of iconic movie musicals “Oliver!”, “West Side Story” and “My Fair Lady” and watching them with her grandmother.
“I had a crush on Lt. Joe Cable in ‘South Pacific,’ like all little kids do,” Strong, 37, says with a laugh. “I did theater before anything else. I thought I was going to be a very serious theater actress before starting comedy after college.”
‘Schmigadoon’ review:Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong star in a musical you didn’t know you needed
Now she’s getting a chance to live out her Broadway dreams in the effervescent new “Schmigadoon!” (now streaming on Apple TV+), a winking satire of Golden Age movie musicals with a decidedly modern spin. The half-hour, six-episode first season follows doctor couple Melissa (Strong) and Josh (Keegan Michael-Key) at a wilderness retreat, where they hope to put the spark back in their relationship.
But after getting lost in the woods during a torrential downpour, they wander into a magical town called Schmigadoon, where the cheery, old-timey citizens burst into song and dance ad nauseam. They soon learn they’re trapped in a musical, and the only way out is by finding true love, with each other or someone else.
The show is co-created by “Despicable Me” screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, who first got the idea 25 years ago.
“I was watching, of all movies, ‘An American Werewolf in London,’ and it opens with two friends backpacking through the countryside,” Paul says. “I thought, ‘Oh, wait. The opening of this is a lot like ‘Brigadoon,’ ” a 1954 movie musical based on the Broadway show. “‘What if these guys stumbled into a musical instead of a werewolf?’ And that’s where it was born.”
The series’ cast is stocked with Broadway veterans including Kristin Chenoweth as the scornful town puritan, Alan Cumming as the closeted mayor and Ariana DeBose as a tap-dancing schoolmarm. Aaron Tveit plays a sweet-talking swain who tries to steal away Melissa through song, much to the chagrin of the musicals-hating Josh.
“I adore musicals, so the biggest challenge was any scene we were shooting where the ensemble starts performing this fantastic song and dance right in front of your eyes,” says Michael-Key, 50. “I’m sitting here bopping along and the director’s like, ‘Cut! Keegan, you can’t bop your foot! No smiles, please!'”
Paul wrote all the songs, which riff liberally on classics such as “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” “The Music Man” and “The Sound of Music.” Through these sardonic numbers, the series also critiques some of the more outdated elements of beloved musicals: During one early song, for instance, townsfolk sing about spanking their girlfriends. (Melissa is quick to remind them it should be consensual.)
“These are (shows) that we love and they are problematic, but it’s done in a way that’s not cynical or snarky, which I think is really lovely,” Strong says. “It’s like teasing your mom: ‘I love you so much, but you do this one thing.’ That’s what it kind of feels like.”
For Paul, it was also “really important that the ensemble not look like those all-white ensembles of those old movie musicals,” he says. “They look like what a Broadway show would be cast like today. We wanted it to be diverse and look like the world.”
Ultimately, you don’t need to be a musical nerd to enjoy “Schmigadoon!,” although you’ll certainly pick up on some of the more niche references if you are.
“If you hate musicals and you close your heart off, then you may not respond to the show,” Paul says. “But it’s definitely designed to win over people with comedy and work the musical magic on even the toughest customers. Those who appreciate and love musicals, though, should especially respond to the show.”
And while a second season hasn’t yet been announced, Michael-Key says Paul already has an idea for how to move the story forward, despite the closure for Melissa and Josh at the end of Season 1.
“My understanding is that if there’s a second season, it would be titled ‘Schmicago,’ ” he says. “I don’t know too much about the plotting of it, but I do know Melissa and Josh are in it. He has figured out a very clever way (to bring them back), so fingers crossed.”