It’s quirky to the point of absurdityTWITTER / @ArianaDeBose

To quote Phineas and Ferb, there are 104 days of summer vacation. Unfortunately for me, spending it building a rocket or fighting a mummy was very much out of the question in a global pandemic. Stuck scrolling listlessly through LinkedIn in a guise to appear productive, I had resigned myself to the fact that I might actually have to start working soon, when what should appear on my phone to save me? If you guessed a reminder that the free trial of Apple TV bundled with my music subscription was about to run out you’d be correct – and yes, sadly I am one of those people. With few other options, I acquainted myself with the platform’s (rather finicky) home screen, found a series with the intriguingly peculiar title of Schmigadoon! and hit play.

“What I expected was a whimsical, predictable fairytale set to an abundance of sickly-sweet show tunes — and in many ways, Schmigadoon! is exactly this”

Admittedly, it was an easy hook: a struggling couple trapped in a strange town, forced to endlessly relive a Golden Age musical — unless they can find their true love and successfully cross the bridge back to normalcy. Throw in opening credits sprinkled with the names of stage and screen heavyweights — including Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit and Jane Krakowski — this hopeless romantic/musical theatre junkie was sold.

What I expected was a whimsical, predictable fairytale set to an abundance of sickly-sweet show tunes — and in many ways, Schmigadoon! is exactly this. It’s quirky to the point of absurdity, packed with poorly disguised innuendos and, at times, relies far too heavily on its wealth of vocal and physical talent to keep it afloat. Though offering an unexpectedly fluid performance from Cecily Strong, its reimagining of The Sound of Music classic ‘Do-Re-Mi’ as a crash course in sexual health (ingeniously renamed ‘Va-Gi-Na’) steps just an inch too far over the line between comedy and cringe. Here, the show abandons the most basic of screenwriting principles — show, not tell — in favour of screaming ‘I’M A MUSICAL!’ as loudly as it can at its audience.

Such oversight is all the more prominent by the time we reach its sombre, and somewhat disappointing, finale. This final episode lacks not only in its disjointed writing — Josh and Melissa brought abruptly back together despite having established separate romantic arcs — but is also by far the weakest musically. With a meagre two songs, in contrast to the four or five showcased in previous segments, the finale reads as simply having run out of steam. Conceding to the pitfalls of its limited series six-episode format, the music — the glue which holds the show together — is waylaid in order to conform to the demands of television viewing.

Allowed to relish in extraneous riffs, accidental voice cracks and the breathlessness of singing while performing a top-notch tap routine, DeBose shines.TWITTER / @ArianaDeBose

Despite my frustrations, Schmigadoon! undeniably possesses an emotional strength which will have its viewers tuned in until the very last note. Although rough around the edges, the moment in which Josh finally starts to sing had me sobbing into my coffee cup on the train home. Coupled with the infectious joy which radiates from the final track ‘How We Change’, and a standout performance from Ariana DeBose as ‘schoolmarm-with-a-secret’ Emma Tate in Episode 4’s ‘With All of Your Heart’, there are times where Schmigadoon! is certainly worth singing about — and moments in which it borders on being downright brilliant.

“Each episode is filled with aural and visual echoes, wittily paired with puns and gags that keep the pace moving and breathe new vibrancy into bygone favourites”

Where recent movie-musical adaptations such as Ryan Murphy’s The Prom fall flat, Schmigadoon! demonstrates that musicals translated to screen can work for contemporary audiences — with one condition: they have to embrace not being perfect. Sticking with Ariana DeBose as an example, there’s a jarring difference between her performance of ‘Alyssa Greene’ (in The Prom) and her overall sound as Emma Tate. ‘Alyssa Greene’ is filled with what Sideways, a musical commentary channel, describes as vocal ‘airbrushing’; it’s polished to perfection, the sound quality crystal clear at all times, not a single note out of place — and that is precisely the problem. A lethal combination of pitch correction, cutaways to flashback scenes, and little interaction between the supposedly infatuated leading love interests, strips DeBose’s stunning vocal performance of its emotional nuance. As Emma Tate, it’s an entirely different story; she’s playful, magnetic, dynamic — it becomes nearly impossible to take your eyes (and your ears) off her. Allowed to relish in extraneous riffs, accidental voice cracks and the breathlessness of singing while performing a top-notch tap routine, DeBose shines.


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Schmigadoon! also capitalises on the unique nostalgia of musical theatre where its peers do not; on its replayability and most of all, on the tendency of its audiences to ask ’where have I heard that before?’ Each episode is filled with aural and visual echoes, wittily paired with puns and gags that keep the pace moving and breathe new vibrancy into bygone favourites. Mayor Manlove’s declaration of his sexuality with the lyric ‘I am a homosexual’ in Episode 4, staged conveniently at the funeral of one of the other townsfolk, has an eerie ring to it — ‘My Dead Gay Son’ from Heathers, anyone? Cinematographic choices build on this sense of cohesion, creating a production that is masterfully put together. Use of parodic title cards, declaring oddly specific passages of time — e.g. ‘Two Years, Five Months Ago’, and the recurring split-screen dream sequence through which Josh and Melissa find their way back together, are flourishes that only further enhance its ingenuity.

For a show I had initially dismissed as merely a guilty-pleasure watch to pass the time, Schmigadoon! surprised me in the best of ways. In spite of a lacklustre ending and a plot that succumbs in places to childish fantasy, it’s also stylish, smooth and packed with spectacle — worthy of a watch, even for the most musical theatre-hating sceptics among us.