Welcome to Schmicago, the fictional city at the center of the second season of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio’s musical comedy TV series Schmigadoon! The first season, which premiered in the summer of 2022 on Apple TV+, followed a modern couple, Josh and Melissa (played by Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong), who have grown complacent in their relationship. On a couple’s retreat in the woods, they stumble upon the magical town of Schmigadoon as it appears from the fog (Like Brigadoon, get it?). They are trapped there, inside a world of Golden Age musicals, and cannot escape until they find true love.
In season two, Josh and Melissa are trapped in Schmicago, inspired by the grittier and darker musicals of the mid-'60s and '70s. Our dynamic duo is tasked with finding a happy ending, which could be a tall order when dealing with plots inspired by such shows as Sweeney Todd, Cabaret, and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Playbill is back to walk you through all of the references from every episode of Schmigadoon!'s second season, which debuted with a double episode drop April 5—get caught up with the recap of those episodes here. Episodes follow weekly on Wednesdays, with our recap of the third episode here.
But now, on to episode four!
The moment before:
With Josh acquitted for Elsie’s murder, Melissa and Josh believe they have their happy ending and can leave Schmicago. As they do, Kratt, who has taken a liking to Melissa, watches them from his window, vowing that he will have her.
Episode 4: Something Real
Talaura: As Melissa and Josh head for the bridge out of Schmicago, we get another foreboding song narrative from Leading Tituss that tells us they will probably not be able to go. Also, it’s Episode 4 and we know we have two more episodes that are likely not set back in the suburbs. As suspected, they try to cross but end right back where they started. After a little quibbling with Leading Tituss (who is not helpful!), they discover that it isn’t just a happy ending for them that is required, but perhaps one for the whole city.
Logan: Josh and Melissa strategize using little caricature cards of the entire cast. Sidebar, they look a lot like those Roger Hargreaves children’s board books, like Mr. Happy and Little Miss Sunshine. I think the world is ready for the Broadway version of that series. I am, at least.
Melissa realizes that almost everyone in Schmicago—including Josh and herself—have made choices they thought would make them happy, but it didn’t work out. That’s a pretty astute way to boil down the plots of a lot of these darker ‘60s and ‘70s musicals, particularly the Sondheim shows. It’s a good read on what inspired Sondheim’s much-discussed cynicism, what he was seeing in the world and talking about in his work. Society was done with its picture-perfect post-World War II fantasy, and artists like Sondheim were ready to talk about what was really going on beneath the surface.
Talaura: I think here, Melissa really is the heart of the show…the kind of every person. She wonders how they can make everyone happy when they can’t even make themselves happy. But life is hard. “Why does it have to be so hard? Why can’t it just be easier?” she asks. And Josh, as I think I mentioned in an earlier episode, is really supportive. Who they are as a couple this season is very different from the first season. It’s lovely.
Logan: For Schmicago specifically, Melissa starts to think that Dooley is key to everyone’s happiness. If they can reunite Dooley with his daughter, Jenny, a chain reaction of happiness will fix everything. Josh thinks they should go bigger and kill Baby Hitler—forcing the pair to wonder what year exactly they’re in—1920? ‘30? ‘68? Who can tell?
Jenny arrives, and Melissa tries to get her to talk about her father, but Jenny is stubborn that he’s dead to her. Josh’s idea? Take her to the hippies.
Talaura: Hippies make everyone happy! It’s kind of their thing. Jenny is enchanted by them. They all sit down for a Tribe meeting and Topher is about to share a parable. He asks for a suggestion and takes Josh’s word “father.” Before Topher can get too far into it, he’s interrupted twice more by Josh and Melissa as they offer suggestions that might tailor the parable to Jenny and her father. Topher gets a little pissy and storms off singing that “they should just do it since they think they can do it better” than him, in a refrain that sounds very much like the fight between Jesus and Judas in “What’s the Buzz” from Jesus Christ Superstar. (Aaron has some high notes! There’s a lot of Reddit discourse about whether he’s a baritone or a tenor. I don’t know, but I’d see his JCS.)
Logan: Redditors, get hip to the magic of a baritenor! So now it’s Josh’s turn to lead the parable, and as a musical introduction begins, he realizes that it’s to be in song. This number, in which the entire Tribe encourages Jenny to “Talk to Daddy,” is a straight parody of Sweet Charity’s “Rhythm of Life,” also sung by a zany hippie religious group. We’re also getting a lot of Sweet Charity's “Rich Man’s Frug", both its music (when they’re repeating “mutter mutter mutter,” that’s a direct lift from the Frug) and its iconic Bob Fosse choreography!
Talaura: I had actually completely forgotten that Sweet Charity goes to hippieville, too. When I think of it, it’s always “Big Spender” in my mind. That’s funny that it was already kind of blending worlds.
Logan: Sweet Charity is a bizarre show, and the “Rhythm of Life” moment is a bizarre moment in it—but it has fabulous music and choreography, so bring it on!
Talaura: Also, have we discussed Josh singing so much this season? Josh adamantly refused to participate in any sing-alongs in Schmigadoon, and sang only a love duet with Melissa in the final episode. But he’s much more into it in Schmicago.
However, the “Talk to Daddy” parable plot fails to encourage Jenny to call her father. Instead, she’d rather talk to “the angry boy in that tent.” Topher. Well, this is a strange love story we’re setting up.
Logan: In a vulnerable moment, Topher tells Jenny feels like he might be a phony, and it turns out Jenny also wonders if she’s always performing and who the real Jenny even is. (I really enjoyed this scene because it’s absolutely an aspect of Sally Bowles’ character too, though we never see her deal with it outwardly.)
Needless to say, Topher and Jenny are feeling a connection, and it looks like it might just be a love match. The two sing a lovely, love duet, “Something Real,” heavily inspired by Pippin’s aptly named “Love Song.”
Talaura: What I really appreciate about this song is that it isn’t an over-the-top parody of anything. It’s referencing Pippin’s simple “Love Song,” but it isn’t really poking fun at it. I would say that it isn’t even pastiche. It’s giving us, just like its title, “Something Real.” (I'm also kind of obsessed with Jenny’s lyric, “Don’t want you to save me ‘cause that’s absurd." It's a layered hit at ingenues needing saviors and Topher as the Jesus stand-in.)
Logan: Josh and Melissa are thrilled that they indirectly created this pairing, and wonder if love is the key to the happy ending they’re after. Perhaps they can be matchmakers for Dooley and Miss Codwell too!
Talaura: Melissa and Josh go to Dooley’s butcher shop to set up the date with Miss Codwell. He’s certain that no woman would be interested in him, but Melissa convinces him that he’ll clean up great.
Logan: Dooley’s lines about how horrible the world is are straight out of Sweeney territory. For the Sondheim character, “there’s a hole in the world like a great, black pit and the vermin of the world inhabit it and its morals aren’t worth what a pig could spit.” For Dooley, the “world is crawling with the maggots of humanity’s failure. No light can shine through the layers of evil.” That last bit is also referencing Eugene Lee’s designs for Sweeney Todd’s original Broadway production. Director Hal Prince wanted his Sweeney to be about class injustice and set his production in a Victorian factory as a framing device for that concept. Lee was able to find and dismantle an old factory and use it in the original set, including dirty, grimy windows that became the factory’s ceiling high above the stage. Depending on where you were sitting, they might not have even been visible, but the windows ensured that no light touched the characters without first being corrupted by the dirty, old glass, just like all the characters of Sweeney Todd have been corrupted by the unjust imbalance of power. Genius!
Talaura: (If you haven't guessed it yet, Logan is basically Playbill's resident Sweeney Todd expert. I claim Man of La Mancha, which Mr. Paul has seemingly left roaming the Spanish countryside, far, far from Schmicago. I am trying to get over it.)
Shortly we’re on a double date at the Kratt Klub. It’s an insanely awkward and weird first date, but Dooley and Codwell seem to get each other. She takes his arm on the walk home, followed by a smiling Melissa and Josh.
Logan: Like Sweeney and his razor friends, Dooley seems to be pretty obsessed with his cleaver, even using it as an eating utensil. I guess we should add that to the axiom about running with scissors as a definite no-no.
Talaura: The camera goes wide and we see they are walking under brightly colored umbrellas, a reference to the 1964 French musical romance The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The completely sung-thru film starred Catherine Deneuve and was scored by Oscar winner Michel Legrand (who was Tony-nominated for the short-run 2002 musical Amour). It’s a gorgeous technicolor film with bright colors and a beautiful, lilting score (which the underscoring here is reminiscent of, too). But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have a happy ending!!
Codwell invites Dooley in for a nightcap. She’s trained little Tammy to tend bar! I don’t think that’s a specific reference to anything. It’s just hilarious.
Logan: Turns out, Dooley is a victim of Big Meat and can’t get access to good quality vittles because he’s too far down the food chain as it were. “Life is a pile of shit,” he says, invoking Sweeney bitterness yet again. Miss Codwell, on the other hand, still hates those orphans. Lightbulb!
Talaura: I feel a “modest proposal” coming on. I feel as much as this is parodying Sweeney here, it is also a nod to Jonathan Swift, the Irish satirist from the 18th century’s Golden Age of Satire. His 1729 essay, “A Modest Proposal” suggested the solution to poverty might be selling the children of the impoverished to the rich as food. A fun coincidence that "Quick" (as in street) is also synonymous with "Swift." (Like many theatre majors, I also have an English degree.)
Logan: Yes, much like Sweeney Todd but notably so much more horribly, Dooley and Codwell decide they can solve both of their problems by making Codwell’s orphans Dooley’s new meat supply, which gets us into our “A Little Priest” parody. Just like in Sweeney, the number begins with a mini-reprise of the show's “Worst Pies in London” parody, “The Worst Brats in Town,” and segues into a rhyming game between Codwell and Dooley. Instead of rhyming professions with descriptors like in Sweeney, Codwell and Dooley rhyme orphan names with cuts of meat (“Have you any ham?” “Courtesy of Sam!”).
The music turns more upbeat and vaudeville-like and suddenly we’re in the “A Little Priest”/”You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” (from Annie) mash-up we never knew we needed, complete with dancing orphans who, according to the Dooley and Codwell, are “Good Enough to Eat.”
Talaura: That’s such a great hook. Not only is this a great parody of “A Little Priest,” like so many of Cinco Paul’s songs, it’s chock-full of its own jokes and puns. Dooley sings “I'd love some ground beef?” and Codwell answers, showing him a little girl or a little boy, “Which do you prefer? We've got Patty or Chuck.”
Logan: And keep listening, because they packed a lot into this one. We get a little of Bye Bye Birdie’s “Put On a Happy Face” as an interlude between verses, Annie’s “Hard Knock Life” for the sand dance break, and “Beautiful Girls” from Follies during Miss Codwell’s showgirl moment—AND the orphans all do the iconic Michael Bennett choreography to “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises, Promises. It’s a musical theatre nerd feast! (It’s not really directly referenced, but I’d also be remiss if we watched a scene with singing, dancing orphans and a cauldron of gruel and I didn’t bring up the Oliver! “Food, Glorious Food” connection.)
Talaura: Melissa and Josh are peering through the window and assume, what with all the joyful orphan choreography, that “this is beginning to look like a happy ending.” Pan out to Leading Tituss staring straight into the camera telling us otherwise. BLACKOUT.
See you next Wednesday for Episode 5!