"It is a sea of positivity and joy in an often bleak and cynical world." That's how series co-creator and star Josh Gad describes the Apple TV+ animated musical Central Park, which drops Season 3 on the streamer beginning September 9.
The series, from creators, writers, and executive producers Loren Bouchard, Gad, and Nora Smith, will once again find socialite Bitsy (voiced by Stanley Tucci) trying to purchase the New York City park, with park manager Owen (Tony winner Leslie Odom, Jr.) launching a new campaign to encourage city-dwellers to fall in love with Central Park.
Playbill caught up with Gad ahead of the premiere to see what the series has planned for the season.
How would you describe Central Park to someone who’s not yet seen it?
Josh Gad: Central Park is a shot of pure joy and musical adrenaline (for those that like those things). It is a love letter to New York City, its people, the power of perseverance, and a celebration of perhaps the greatest public park in the world. It also happens to have perhaps the greatest cast ever assembled for a TV musical series: Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Titus Burgess, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Rory O’Malley, and Stanley Tucci.
What’s in store for viewers in Season 3?
I always hate when anyone begins a sentence with “this season is bigger and better than anything we have ever done.” So, please let me apologize before I describe this season as bigger and better than anything we have ever done. It truly is next level in every way, shape, and form. The songs are the greatest we’ve done, the guest cast is the best we’ve ever assembled, and the stories are incredibly exciting. It's basically House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings without any elves, dragons, explosions, lust, medieval sets, or live action elements. But otherwise, it’s just as exciting.
Any fun guest appearances you can tell us about?
This season we have assembled an unbelievable group of guest stars including Sam Richardson, Ike Barinholtz, Ben Schwartz, Zoë Chao, Ron Funches, Jack McBrayer, Amber Ruffin, Yvette Nicole Brown, Craig Robinson, Tim Meadows, David Alan Grier, and many more!
What’s the series’ origin story? Do you remember your first germ of the idea and what sparked it?
I had always loved TV animation. My friend Kevin Larsen came to me one day with an idea to develop a show about people living in Central Park. I loved it but pitched back that it should be a musical. Having been a giant fan of Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith’s work on Bob’s Burgers, they were literally the first people we approached and said “what do you think of this?” Both of them immediately responded to the idea of doing a full-on musical set in Central Park. The two of them did their beautiful mind work, changed it to a story focusing on one family and their conflict with a wealthy tycoon living in an ivory tower, and the rest is history.
What do you think makes animation such a perfect fit for a musical theatre format?
Musical theatre is in my DNA. I got my big break on Broadway doing The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, then found my way back to Broadway creating the role of Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon. On screen, I’ve done animated musicals (Frozen, Frozen 2) and live action ones (Beauty and the Beast). So, this was just a culmination of everything that I had learned and experienced in all of the other mediums, combining musical elements with a great story. I think animation is such a perfect marriage to musical theatre because it allows you to achieve things that would otherwise be practically impossible or exorbitantly expensive. Animation is also all about color and the greatest musicals in the history of big or small screen have been technicolor wonderlands, from Cinderella and Aladdin, to The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz, to Moulin Rouge and Chicago. The richness and diversity of animation and its various styles can create that beautiful marriage and do so in unique ways from number to number.
Can you share some of your favorite song moments from the series?
“Own It” in Season 1 stands out because it was a proof of concept that a small screen musical could actually work. I also love the grandness of the Season 2 finale songs written by our resident geniuses Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel (who also wrote “Own It”) because they thread numerous songs and musical motifs from 24 episodes into one giant tapestry. Other songs that stand out are “Weirdos Make Great Superheroes” written by Sara Bareilles, “We are the Music” by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, “Weehawken” by Super Commuter, “Light the Match” by Danny Elfman, and “Paint the World” by Ingrid Michaelson. But honestly, we have a song this season written by Open Mike Eagle and sung by Leslie Odom Jr. that I think may be the most powerful song we have ever done. I CANNOT wait for the world to see and hear it.
What do you think it is about the show that really resonates with audiences?
It is a sea of positivity and joy in an often bleak and cynical world. I think that goes a long way with audiences who sometimes need to be reminded that the world can be a beautiful place.
Your character, Birdie, serves as the narrator for the show. Which character is the heart of the show and which character is the conscience?
I think the heart of the show is the entire Tillerman family. They never back down, give in, or give up. But the conscience of the show is definitely Owen Tillerman. He is the quintessential essence of all things moral and right.