DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Today the streaming service Apple TV+ premieres a new six-part series that's pretty unusual. It's a TV musical called "Schmigadoon!," using the Broadway musical "Brigadoon" as a launching point. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.
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DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: You don't have to be a fan of musical theater to enjoy "Schmigadoon!" The plot and the fun are easy enough to latch onto. Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong play Josh and Melissa, two New York doctors who have been a romantic couple for a few years now. While on a remote hiking trip, they accidentally wander away from the group and end up in a magical, old-fashioned town where everyone breaks into song from time to time. It's a world from which the new visitors can't escape, at least not until they find true love, which apparently they're not experiencing at the moment with each other.
Even if you don't recognize the story of "Schmigadoon!" as a playful variant of the 1940s Broadway musical "Brigadoon," there are some excellent TV precedents that you might know. NBC's recent "Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist" served up a delightful weekly musical series in which the central character imagined those around her suddenly bursting into emotionally revealing song and dance routines. A classic episode of the TV series "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" did a similar thing involving a curse that had everyone communicating in song. And I can't help mentioning the mind-blowing musical miniseries by Dennis Potter, whose dramatic masterpieces "Pennies From Heaven" and "The Singing Detective" showed just how much you could do with recycling old musical recordings from the '30s and '40s.
In "Schmigadoon!," the characters of Josh and Melissa, it's quite clear, aren't exactly fans of the musical genre. But the show's creators and writers, Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, certainly are. And that informs every single scene - not only the music and lyrics but the way the numbers are staged, choreographed and even cast. So when Josh and Melissa first stumble into the town of Schmigadoon, they're met with people who look like the townsfolk of "The Music Man," gather around the new visitors like the munchkins surrounding Dorothy in "The Wizard Of Oz" and sing a proud welcome similar to the opening of "Oklahoma!" It's a lot to take in at once, but it all works, especially with Josh and Melissa acting understandably confused.
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KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: (As Josh Skinner) OK, what is this? Why is music coming from everywhere?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) Welcome to our little town.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) Where friends are all you meet.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) And you will never see a frown.
AMITAI MARMORSTEIN: (As Pete the Milkman) Hey, everyone.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) Hey there, Pete. We bet you're probably wondering what we call the most beautiful, wonderful, magical place of all.
KEY: (As Josh Skinner) What is happening?
CECILY STRONG: (As Melissa Gimble) It must be something they do for tourists like Colonial Williamsburg.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (As characters, singing) Schmigadoon, where the sun shines bright from July to June and the air's as sweet as a macaroon - Schmigadoon.
BIANCULLI: Barry Sonnenfeld, the director who made the "Men In Black" movies and ABC's "Pushing Daisies" so entertaining to look at, does the same here. And the supporting cast is loaded with Broadway musical veterans who make the most of their respective turns. Alan Cumming from the superb revival of "Cabaret" plays the town mayor. "Pushing Daisies" co-star Kristin Chenoweth shows off her massive Broadway skills by doing a number playing off Robert Preston's high-energy "Trouble" song in "The Music Man" and does it astoundingly in one unbroken camera take. And Martin Short has an obvious blast playing a leprechaun who appears from nowhere to start Josh and Melissa on their journey while singing a song that's 100% exposition.
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MARTIN SHORT: (As Leprechaun, singing) Once you have entered Schmigadoon, 'tis true you won't be leaving soon. Within its borders you are bound until at last true love be found. But till you find it, you must stay where life's a musical every day.
KEY: (As Josh Skinner) Was that a leprechaun?
STRONG: (As Melissa Gimble) Yes. He said something. What did he say?
KEY: (As Josh Skinner) I don't know. I was more focused on how he was shattering my whole construct of what's real and not real in the world because he was a freakin' (ph) leprechaun.
BIANCULLI: This new six-part Apple TV+ series also features very strong turns by, among others, Fred Armisen and Dove Cameron. The performances, the script by Daurio and Paul, the songs by Paul, the choreography by Christopher Gattelli, the direction by Sonnenfeld - each element feeds off the others. "Schmigadoon!" is produced by Lorne Michaels of "Saturday Night Live," and current cast member Cecily Strong and recent guest host Keegan Michael Key really pull this off. "Schmigadoon!" is being described as a parody, but it's a lot more sincere and complicated than that. Like such tongue-in-cheek Broadway musical comedies as "The Book Of Mormon" and "The Producers," it's a lovely production that's not only very, very funny in making fun of the musical genre but also is a wonderful addition to it.
DAVIES: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey. On Monday's show, writer Akash Kapur talks about utopias, the impulse to build a better world and what happens when dreams crash against reality. He was raised in an experimental community in India, left for school in the U.S. at age 16 and later returned to raise his own family. His new book is "Better To Have Gone: Love, Death, And The Quest For Utopia In Auroville." I hope you can join us.
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DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support by Joyce Lieberman, Julian Hertzfeld and Al Banks. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARTURO SANDOVAL'S "JOY SPRING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.