Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!
If you’ve stepped into my little Recap Club, you know what time it is. It’s time to play “Spot the Musical Reference” while watching the newest season of Apple TV+’s musical comedy Schmigadoon! Except, well… she goes by Schmicago now.
Schmicago picks up “Ten Seconds After Schimgadoon,” an introductory card informs us. Josh Skinner (Keegan-Michael Key) and Melissa Gimble (Cecily Strong) have just left the magical town of Schmigadoon, where life’s a Golden Age musical; they’ve rekindled their previously floundering relationship, and they’re ready to reenter the real world hand-in-hand. They had to find true love to escape Schmigadoon, but it turns out that they were truly in love with each other all along. This development was shocking, to say the least since we witnessed their incompatibility with our own eyes for six episodes.
Back in reality, the Schmigadoon glow only lasts for so long, however. The first few minutes of the premiere find Josh and Melissa slowly realizing that they’re miserable in their post-Schmigadoon life. They’ve gotten married, moved to the suburbs, and decided to try for a baby, but long-term happiness eludes the couple. The romance fades. A monotonous montage emphasizes how unfulfilling the newlyweds each find their professional lives. A fertility doctor delivers the bad news: “This cycle was not successful.” Lest you feel tempted to give the writers credit for realizing that Josh and Melissa are actually a terrible couple, I should point out that, so far, the show positions Josh and Melissa’s marital malaise as the inevitable cost of living in the mundane, non-magical/musical world.
As the depression creeps in, Josh and Melissa each find themselves thinking fondly of Schmigadoon. Melissa embarrassingly tries to start a chorus of “Corn Puddin’” when she overhears the word “pudding” at the grocery store. Josh finds his kazoo nestled in his underwear drawer and looks at it intensely. After the unhappy meeting at the fertility clinic, Josh and Melissa impulsively decide to return to Schmigadoon in an effort to recapture their lost zest for life. (Have they forgotten how desperate they both were to leave Schmigadoon while they were trapped there?)
Costumed for success, Josh and Melissa drive to the woods and start searching for the musical town. After wandering in the forest for a whole day, they’ve come no closer to reaching Schmigadoon. The couple gives up and starts driving home, resigned to the fact that perhaps Schmigadoon isn’t meant to be found twice. That is until they get a flat tire on a bridge and they hear the sweet strains of an organ drifting toward them on the breeze…
Josh and Melissa get out of the car, look up, and see a sign. A literal sign. “Welcome to Schmicago,” it reads. And before Josh and Melissa can figure out what’s happening, they’re hit with jazz hands. “Ooo, ooo,” the chorus sings. A Narrator steps out of the dark.
Oh no. Oh no. It’s Pippin.
Season two’s introductory number, “Welcome to Schmicago” (a direct riff on “Magic To Do”), fills Josh and Melissa in on the deal. Gone are the Golden Age musicals of Schmigadoon. We’re in Schmicago now, where Bob Fosse reigns supreme. The Narrator (Tituss Burgess, an excellent new addition to the cast) sings about the dark delights of Schmicago. He warns that there’s “lots of sex, no romance” and “mystery and magic, endings that are tragic.” A chorus of sexy Cabaret-esque dancers back up the Narrator, which lights up Josh like a Christmas tree.
Our main couple notices a bevy of familiar faces in the cast, but they’re clearly not the same characters. Josh waves at the former Mayor (Alan Cumming), and Melissa quickly corrects him. “Would you wave to Sutton Foster in The Music Man because you recognized her from Thoroughly Modern Millie?” she asks with disdain. With each glimpse of the returning players, we get clues as to which other musicals—besides Pippin—will be incorporated into Schmicago. We get a tease of Cabaret, of course, but also Hair, Oliver!, Chicago, and Sweeney Todd.
Schmicago isn’t precisely what Melissa was hoping for. She’d wanted to return to the comforting milieu of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but she’s saddled with Kander and Ebb. She quickly puts it together that Schmicago is to the 1960s and ’70s what Schmigadoon was to the ’40s and ’50s. “So clearly, we’re in the next era of musicals here,” Melissa explains to Josh. She’s not as familiar with these shows, but she knows that “in general, these musicals are darker, with more sex, and violence, and imperfect rhymes.”
Melissa wants to leave, but Josh convinces her to stay the night at Hotel Schmicago. Josh reasons that since they already have true love—the key to leaving Schmigadoon—they should be able to leave Schmicago at will. They aren’t trapped this time, so they can leave in the morning if they want to. Right? … Right?
At the hotel desk, the couple meets Madam Frau (Ann Harada), formerly Mayor Menlove’s wife. Madam Frau tartly asks them how many hours they’d like the room for and if they’d like a girl. After clarifying that they want the room for the whole night (with no third), Josh and Melissa make their way up to their dismal, dingy, dirty room.
As they take in their shabby surroundings, someone busts through their door, asking for a cigarette. It’s Sally Bowles! Uh, I mean, Jenny Banks (Dove Cameron), née Betsy the potentially-underage ingénue from Schmigadoon. Jenny sweeps through the room like a whirlwind and insists that the newcomers watch her perform at the Kratt Klubb later that evening.
Josh and Melissa figure that going to the club would be better than sitting in their nasty room, so they change clothes and head down to Schmabaret. The couple finds a table and settles in for our second musical number of the night: “Do We Shock You.” The number, performed diegetically by the showgirls on stage, pays tribute to “Hey Big Spender” from Sweet Charity. The scantily clad performers lined up in a row behind a ballet bar boldly state that “there’s no norm we won’t transgress.” But Josh and Melissa, denizens of 21st century New York and not bizarro Weimar Germany, find themselves quite un-shocked by the tame things the showgirls melodically disclose. “I’m into boys and girls, does that just blow your mind?” one girl asks, before another girl claims, “I’ve experienced an orgasm… a female one.”
After the number ends, Josh and Melissa find their evening interrupted by the owner of the Kratt Klubb himself, Octavius Kratt (Patrick Page, of Hadestown fame and the other new addition to the show’s cast). The couple accidentally sat at his reserved table. Mr. Kratt doesn’t mind, though. He invites them to stay, ominously. Mr. Kratt, in addition to owning the club, supplies electricity to all of the businesses in Schmicago. “My passion is power,” he supplies, in an ominous double meaning. After sizing up Melissa, Mr. Kratt excuses himself. “I have to powder my nose,” he says in the most ominous manner I’ve ever heard. Page’s incredible low bass voice makes everything sound ominous, if you hadn’t gathered.
Finally, Sally, er, Jenny takes the stage. She drags a chair behind her, signaling that we’re in for the Schmicago version of “Mein Herr.” The number that follows, “Kaput,” is, indeed, a remixed version of “Mein Herr,” down to the choreography. Here is where I must confess that I don’t think Dove Cameron is pulling it off. Comparing anyone to Liza Minelli seems mean, but how can I not in this case? So far, Cameron feels too lightweight in all aspects of this role. She rushes through her lines, her singing lacks some grit, and her dancing isn’t sharp enough (especially compared to the principal dancers, who nail the notoriously difficult Fosse-style choreography all episode long).
When Jenny finishes her number, Josh gets up to find the bathroom. He becomes lost on his way, inadvertently stumbling upon a crime scene in one of the dressing rooms backstage. Melissa leaves the table to find Josh, and she discovers him standing over the body of a dead showgirl. As Josh and Melissa freak out about what to do, another showgirl sees them next to the body. Now Josh is the prime suspect in a murder, and the couple knows they have to hightail it out of town.
So… About Josh’s theory that he and Melissa can leave Schmicago whenever they want because they already have true love… He’s wrong. Josh’s favorite leprechaun (Martin Short) has cut the transmission line in their car. He gleefully informs the couple, via a rhyming ditty, that they are, unfortunately, stuck in Schmicago. “So now it’s here your lives ye’ll spend / Until you’ve made a happy end,” the leprechaun sings.
When Josh and Melissa try to cross the bridge that brought them to Schmicago on foot, they get the Schmigadoon treatment. The bridge leads them straight back to Schmicago and into the waiting arms of the police. Sergeant Rivera (returning player Jaime Camil) arrests Josh for murder and carts him away in the police wagon.
The Narrator pops back up to remind us what Schmicago’s all about. “Mystery and magic, endings that are tragic… Welcome to Schmicago!” Tituss Burgess goes for the octave jump on “Schmicago” and kills it, ending the episode on a high note.
And all that jazz…
- For those of you wondering, I did take the advice of the Narrator and looked up the word “farrago” in the dictionary. According to Mirriam-Webster, a farrago is “a confused mixture or hodgepodge” So, there you have it. The writers will not be trying to rationalize why the hippies of Schmair live in the same city as Schweeney Todd. I respect this brazen “just roll with us” approach.
- Ariana DeBose shows up as the Emcee at the Kratt Klubb, and Josh recognizes her as Emma from Schmigadoon. But other than that, DeBose isn’t given much to do in this episode, which is surprising given her prominent role last season.
- “Mein Herr” was written for Fosse’s film version of Cabaret. So “Kaput” is not simply an homage to the song, but rather the iconic scene from the film in its entirety. Subsequent stage revivals of Cabaret have included “Mein Herr” in the show, as well as “Maybe This Time,” the other song added to the film version.
- When Josh is lost backstage at the Kratt Klubb, he passes by a dude casually reading Mein Kampf. Will Schmabaret have actual Nazis?
- The Narrator repeatedly reminds us that there are no happy endings in Schmicago. Endings that are tragic, remember? So how are Josh and Melissa supposed to find a happy ending here? I have a dirty mind, so my first thought was that the leprechaun means “happy ending” in the massage parlor sense. That would gel with the “lots of sex, no romance” vibe. But I also don’t know how erotic massage fits into any of these musicals either.