It’s time to get some corn puddin’ and freshen up your Broadway history, because Schmigadoon! has returned, Apple TV+’s toe-tapping parody show. The send-up of classic musicals was a favorite pick for SNL and theater buffs, but it also works as a kind of cultural history lesson, taking us through the fantasy lands created by the most influential entertainment of the 1940s and 50s. Where as Season 1 of paid homage to the cheerier musicals of the mid-century, Season 2 plays off of the moodier, edgier, dirtier musicals of the 1960s and 70s.
What’s the Story: A New York couple on the brink of breaking up, Josh (Keegan Michael-Key) and Melissa (Cecily Strong), head to a retreat in the woods to figure out their relationship. On a hike, they stumble into an alternate universe, a town full of characters who seem to be living inside the worlds of old-school musicals like Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Sound of Music, Annie Get Your Gun, and The Music Man.
Spoiler Alert for Season 1…
The couple found true love at the end, as you do in the musicals of the 50s. As the second season begins, they realize that true love doesn’t always guarantee true happiness. To ease their blues, they decide to journey back to Schmigadoon, only to discover that the town has undergone some serious changes as its entered a new era. To keep up with references and characters, a quick refresher guide to the musicals that have inspired the second season.
Chicago / Schmicago
“Schmicago,” the new name of Schmigadoon in Season 2, is a twist on Bob Fosse’s now iconic 1975 Broadway musical satire of a corrupt criminal justice system and the creation of “celebrity criminals” in the 1920s. The Chicago story: Velma Kelly is a jazz club performer who’s arrested for killing both her sister and husband. Roxie Hart is a housewife who idolizes Velma and desperately wants to be on the stage. She’s even sleeping with her furniture salesman, who’s told her he will make her a star. When Roxie discovers he won’t, she murders him, following in the footsteps of Velma. In jail, Roxie learns that to get the best treatment, she needs to bribe the Woman’s Ward matron Mama Morton and hire Billy Flynn, the best lawyer in town. Filled with jazzy tunes, show-stopping dance numbers, and skimpy flapper-era costumes, it’s no surprise that Chicago is the second longest-running show in Broadway history. The Schmicago twist: Look for a gender-flipped “Bobby Flynn” (played by Jane Krakowski) and a “shocking” number inspired by the Chicago song ‘Cell Block Tango.’ The satin lingerie favored by club performers, the blood red nightclub setting, and the shadowy silhouetted dancers all pay tribute to Fosse’s creation, which was adapted into the 2002 Oscar-winning film starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere.
Where to stream Chicago the movie: HBO Max
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
One of the darkest musicals ever made, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd was originally based on a character in a Victorian penny dreadful. The Sweeney Todd story: A barber (Sweeney Todd) with a beautiful wife and daughter who gets framed for a crime by a sleazy Judge who lusts after his wife. After raping Sweeney’s wife and driving her mad, he adopts his daughter as his own. When Sweeney is finally free and returns home, he’s dead set on revenge, and teams up with the quirky Mrs. Lovett — who runs the meat pie shop next door — to deftly use his barber blade for an all new purpose. Mrs. Lovett goes from selling “the worst pies in London” to the town’s new favorite “meat pie.”
The Schmicago-Todd twist: Look for the cleaver-carrying butcher played by Alan Cumming, who even partners up with the city’s owner of the orphanage, played by Kristin Chenoweth, whose hair looks just a bit like Mrs. Lovett’s.
If the Schmica-twist inspires you to see the musical, the film version of Sweeney Todd is one of the closest adaptations of a Broadway show to date, with Tim Burton’s aesthetic matching the musical’s twisted themes. Even Sondheim himself loved it!
Where to Stream Sweeney Todd the film: Pluto TV
Loosely based on the play I Am a Camera, which was adapted from the novel Goodbye to Berlin, Cabaret takes place in Berlin just as the Nazis are ascending to power in 1929. The Cabaret story: Set at the underground Kit Kat Club, it follows English nightclub performer Sally Bowles and her romance with American writer Clifford Bradshaw, as well as another romance between the local boarding house owner, Fraulein Schneider, and a local Jewish fruit vendor. One of the most famous characters in Cabaret is the Master of Ceremonies, who comments on the show’s events through not so subtle songs, exploring themes of political fanaticism and the rise in fascism.
The 1972 film adaptation of Cabaret was a big departure from the Broadway version — and from musicals in general. “Movie musicals were in ill-repute. They weren’t doing well at the box office,” Joel Grey told CNN in 2013. Director Bob Fosse was also against the idea of characters suddenly erupting in song, and he was “was intent on making it more adult – more relevant.” The film pushed some new boundaries with more overt sexual numbers and gay themes. It earned eight Oscars, still a record for a film that did not win Best Picture.
The Schmicago influence of Cabaret: Jenny Banks (Dove Cameron) sings and performs at the local nightclub in a bowl hat and suspenders, a nod to Sally Bowles. Academy-award winner Ariana Debose (West Side Story) hilariously plays the over-sexualized Emcee, and Ann Harada runs the infamous Kit Kat-esque nightclub and local hotel.
Fun fact: Alan Cumming actually won a Tony for playing Cabaret‘s Emcee on Broadway, so talk about meta!
Where to Stream it: HBO Max
Also known as The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, Hair tells the story of a tribe living in the “Age of Aquarius.” First staged in 1967, it follows a group of hippies living a bohemian lifestyle in New York City against the backdrop of an escalating Vietnam War. At the center of it is Claude, who must decide if he should submit to the draft and fight in the war, or dodge it and stay true to his pacifist principles. The musical generated a lot of controversy for its depiction of illegal drugs and sex, but one specific scene, in which the actors appear nude on stage, lives on in musical history. Although the film adaptation departs from the original musical, it captures the spirit of Hair and was well-received by critics.
The Schmicago version: Channeling Claude — along with the lead characters from Pippin and Godswell — is Topher (Aaron Tveit, a Tony winner for Moulin Rouge), who’s searching and questioning everything. And no, there is no nudity, although Topher may encourage everyone to get naked.
Where to stream Hair the movie: Pluto TV
Another 70s musical featuring Bob Fosse numbers, Pippin features a mysterious performance troupe who has “magic to do.” The story of Pippin: A young prince and his troupe set out on a search for meaning, narrated by The Leading Player, who breaks the fourth wall multiple times. The songs in Pippin have some heavy themes, from the fruitlessness of war to the banality of everyday life. Interestingly, the licensed version for amateur productions is significantly toned down from the original Broadway production, which was far more surreal and concerning.
Although there have been talks to give Pippin the Hollywood treatment, none have come to fruition. It’s a shame because Pippin does have some great numbers, and with its circus aesthetic it would look amazing on the big screen. A studio needs to get on that, pronto!
The Schmicago twist: First there’s Titus Burgess ( Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) as The Narrator, a nod to The Leading Player. He looks at the camera as he shares a running commentary on the characters and their choices. You’ll also see the Pippin influence in the opening number, complete with some of the show’s iconic dance moves. The song Topher sings about feeling lost and searching for purpose and belonging, “Doorway to Where,” is reminiscent (in theme and in melody) of Pippin’s “Corner of the Sky.”
Where to stream a recording of the stage production of Pippin: Prime Video
The most upbeat musical on this list, Annie is still widely performed at community theaters around the world. Based on the 1924 comic strip Little Orphan Annie, the musical first premiered on Broadway in 1977. The Annie story: Set in New York during the Great Depression, a plucky orphan lives under the watch of the frazzled and cruel Miss Hannigan, and she’s convinced her parents left her there by accident. When a wealthy overlord, “Daddy Warbucks,” wants to improve his image, he temporarily adopts her. Annie has three film adaptations, each with slightly different twists. The most significant departure was 2014’s Annie, which took place in modern day New York and updated each of the characters, including making Daddy Warbucks a tech mogul.
The Schmicago twist: With a nod to Miss Hannigan, owner of the orphanage in Annie, Kristen Chenoweth’s character even bemoans the orphans she has to take care of. Sadly, the kids do not have a “Hard Knock Life” inspired song.
Where to stream Annie: The 1982 and 1999 Annie is available for rent on VOD; the 2014 Annie is on Starz. The 2021 production starring Harry Connick Jr. is on Hulu.
A Chorus Line
First performed in 1975, follows a group of dancers as they audition for spots on a chorus line. Each one details how and why they became a dancer. The film version of A Chorus Line is a bit different: the focus is more on hopefuls trying to break into the business rather than veteran dancers who desperately need the part.
A fascinating meta look at the behind the scenes of theater auditions was captured in the 2008 documentary, Every Little Step. It follows the casting the 2008 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line and exposes the complex audition process for big musicals — mixed with interviews with the original cast.
The Schmicago connection: Listen for the song that is a direct parody of A Chorus Line. You’ll have to watch to find it.
Where to stream A Chorus Line: Prime Video. Every Little Step: VOD.
Easter Egg for Musical Theatre Fans: Keep an eye out for a character who may or may not be inspired by one in Company.