There are parts of “Schmigadoon!” Season 2, which has the feel of a summer camp reunion where old friends come together to put on a show. After being a key character in the Apple TV+ show’s inaugural season, Dove Cameron returned to the ensemble for season two to play Jenny Banks, a ghost on the loose partly modeled after “Cabaret” heroine Sally Bowles.
Although he wasn’t in the first episode, Tituss Burgess fit seamlessly into the world of winking, lovingly told musical theater riffs. As Season 2’s narrator, he welcomes viewers to most episodes set in the town of Schmicago, which is full of references to the enduring stage shows of the 1970s.
Speaking at the IndieWire Awards Spotlight, Cameron and Burgess talked about how they each have a chance to navigate this hyper-specific, stylized tonal playground overseen by showrunner and series co-creator Cinco Paul.
“If you have time, Cinco will always let you do a ‘fuck me’ pass,” Cameron said. “When you’ve done everything, it’s always my favorite thing to do. I’m like “Fuck me?” where you just do whatever you imagine about the scene. And the performers on this show are often so dreamy themselves that they’ll come up with something outlandish that will fit.”
They all credited Paul and the series’ writing staff for the freedom they had for giving them enough in the text to serve as a constant guide.
“It creates a playful atmosphere. This man, you rarely find a showrunner who doesn’t operate out of ego. Working with him, working with them, and everyone on this show was probably the most creative, collaborative experience I’ve ever had in front of the camera,” Burgess said. “He sets the tone and lets us go in and screw it up, and then we’ll see what’s left in the wreckage, because there’s a lot of good stuff on the ground.”
Having that solid foundation is even more important when filming a music TV show. The demands of production are completely different from the stage process, where part of the process is discovering things through repetition and getting the show together over weeks of rehearsals. Here, all the unique components have been compressed into a fraction of the time.
“These numbers are on a musical-theatre stage scale with no rehearsal,” Cameron said. “It usually takes months and months of preparation to get a feel for the rhythm of the song. You don’t get that on a show like this. So it’s really about staying afloat, doing the work at home, and then crossing every limb that we pull off.”
A big part of finding the similar daily spontaneity of theater was being able to sing on set. Sometimes certain logistical sequences required the actors to work to some pre-recorded numbers, but some scenes wouldn’t have captured the same spark unless the people on screen had the opportunity to sing to each other (or to the audience).
“We always want to sing live because that’s what we do. This is our jam. So for me it’s not a problem,” Burgess said.
“You don’t know what the character is with the jump. And if I got stuck on the character choices I made in the booth two months before I shot a track, I’d be so upset with myself,” Cameron said. “Especially for more intimate tracks like mine and Aaron (Tveit’s) track, you just have to harmonize in person. You just have to harmonize and be in love and kiss and all while singing. Otherwise, you feel worn out.”
For more on Dove Cameron’s conversation with Tituss Burgess, watch the full video above.