AppleTV+’s “Schmigadoon!” took a bold leap in its second season by transplanting its snarky, sympathetic central couple (Keegan Michael-Key and Cecily Strong) from the “Corn Puddin’” territory of musical theater’s golden age to the torn-stocking, cleaver-wielding recesses of the 1970s, with a little hippie free love thrown in for good measure.
Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli shepherded the series through the complete opposite of a sophomore slump, as “Schmicago!” (the new sort-of title card seen in the opening credits) gave us the old razzle-dazzle in eye-popping dance numbers even more effervescent than the first season’s candy-colored hoedowns (which Gattelli received an Emmy nom for). The affable, versatile choreographer (“Newsies,” “Hail, Caesar!”) chatted with TheWrap about getting Jane Krakowski back on a trapeze after 20 years, corralling children for big numbers and why primetime dance-competition shows are to thank for bringing the form roaring back to the small screen.
Did you get to inform anything that happened in Season 2, knowing the direction Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio were going to take with the music and bringing it into this Fosse/Schwartz/Sondheim universe?
I don’t think I personally did. But for sure in having a lot of the same players back I think it definitely played into what they were writing, and pulling the best out of me knowing what I can do and contribute. Jane Krakowski, for sure, with her number. And Kristen Chenoweth and Alan Cumming, given they’ve been friends forever and their chemistry, just pulling those strings.
Your job on the show is one of the hardest because it not only has to satirize everything that they’re presenting but has to be believably real as well. You can’t be winking too hard, or the balance will fall apart.
I always feel like it’s one thing to just be able to satirize something and make it make it funny, but then I think the other part is that we’re paying homage to what all those brilliant choreographers did at the time. It’s all done out of love and hopefully sharing with the viewers who may not have seen those numbers before and what we all love about them.
This season you were working with people of very different backgrounds, from actors like Ariana DeBose and Aaron Tveit, who have lots of dance experience, to ensembles to very young children. What is your process for working with everybody?
Luckily, it was great to come back because I knew all of them and most of their strengths and how quickly they learned. Young performers only get a certain limit of hours because of the union, so it was like really homing in on what we can teach them in the shortest amount of time that gives the most bang for the buck. [“Sweeney Todd” parody] “Good Enough to Eat” had so many camera setups and we had about a day and a half, and everyone was working so hard. But we got it all, nobody got hurt and nobody dropped one plate. [Laughs]
We must talk about the incredible “Bells and Whistles” number with Jane Krakowski. Did you use the trapeze knowing her history with using one in 2003’s “Nine” [for which she won a Tony]?
We both said, “This is a gift.” And the trapeze was actually written in the script. Cinco’s idea was more about the kind of “Chicago” movie, “All I Care About is Love” circus kind of atmosphere with the handkerchief-out-of-mouth tricks and such. But I was in Jane’s trailer, and she asked, “Well, I’m gonna get to swing on it, right?” And I was, like, “Do you want to?” She said, “Why bring it in If I can’t use it? I’d love to do it. There’s a trapeze school down the street where I can get lessons!” We were all so excited that she was game for it, and they had to rebuild the set because it didn’t initially need the pendulum.
Do you think there’s more of a demand for choreographic numbers on TV and that people are embracing that form?
I absolutely do. I always say that “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars” changed the game in terms of putting dancers in your living room, whether it was professionals or amateurs starting out. They really exposed dance to people who may not have grown up on it. And I say that even for [choreographing for] stage, I am grateful for it. Because I feel like people can sit through a big dance number on stage now, in ways that I don’t think could have before. I feel confident to throw in a bigger dance break because they want it, and you can tell people want it. Across the board, it’s a very exciting time for sure.
“Schmigadoon!” is now streaming on AppleTV+