Schmigadoon! Director Barry Sonnenfeld on What Drew Him to the Unexpected Musical Series

Throughout his career, filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld has taken on a number of ambitious projects, with projects like The Addams Family and Men in Black series both being wildly different from one another, though a unifying factor in his work is an unconventional and heightened approach to various subject matters. In this regard, it took many people by surprise that he was directing the musical-comedy series Schmigadoon! for Apple TV+, yet Sonnenfeld confirmed that, while the genre he's exploring might be fresh territory for him, the nature of the series' tone falls perfectly in line with what appeals to him. Schmigadoon! premieres on Apple TV+ on July 16th.

"One of the things I really like to do, if you look at the body of my work, is world creating. Whether it's Wild Wild West, Addams Family, Pushing Daisies, A Series of Unfortunate Events, or Men in Black, there's always a quirkiness to everything I do," Sonnenfeld expressed to "And, also, an otherworldly, even if it's real-world based ... you won't see me directing a new legal drama. I wouldn't know where to put the camera or what to do. The great thing about Schmigadaoon! is it lets me continue in that world. Oh, The Tick, the original The Tick with Patrick Warburton, is another one."

He continued, "In most of those cases, I worked with Bo Welch, who's a production designer. He read the scripts and loved them, my wife read the scripts and loved them. I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I get to create another world that's gotta be reality-based, even though there's singing and dancing, if they start winking at the camera and saying, 'Oh, this isn't real,' then you're dead. The audience has to believe that [the characters] believe this is reality, but on the other hand, for the same reasons I like reality-based things, I am not a musical-theater lover. I never sought out watching Carousel on TCM or anything like that. That was my challenge, but I came to love the experience."

Schmigadoon!, a parody of iconic Golden Age musicals, stars Strong and Key as a couple on a backpacking trip designed to reinvigorate their relationship who discover a magical town living in a 1940s musical. They then learn that they can't leave until they find "true love." The first season stars Keegan-Michael Key, Cecily Strong, Dove Cameron, Aaron Tveit, Ariana DeBose, Fred Armisen, Jaime Camil, Jane Krakowski, and Ann Harada. Martin Short guest stars.

While Sonnenfeld himself might not have been as experienced in the world of musical theater, he had the help of some veritable all-stars to help sell the experience.

"The challenge was keeping it reality-based yet still letting people break into song and dance. You do that because you have a great group of actors that are incredibly talented and the great thing about Broadway actors is they can be theatrical and real," the director detailed. "Same with Brits, Brits can always be theatrical and real. And we had a lot of great Broadway-trained people in this show. Chenoweth, Jane Krakowski, Aaron Tveit, they're all fantastic Broadway performers. Then you fill it out with other great actors. Who knew everyone was so talented that they could all sing and dance and act? It was amazing."

Of the entire impressive ensemble of characters, Sonnenfeld went on to point out the importance of Key's role in the project, who had to walk a fine line of disbelief and earnestness.

"What I loved about Keegan-Michael Key's character is he was my way in, because his character, just like me, hates theatrical movies and Broadway theater and all that and doesn't buy into the reality," Sonnenfeld revealed. "So, in many ways, he is also the audience's perspective for anyone who doesn't come in loving musical theater. He is their perspective, so he's a guy who's elbowing you as you're watching it, going, 'Am I nuts or are these people nuts?' Those who love Broadway musicals, you're already in, so I think it's a win-win. But Keegan, for me, was my grounding source."


Schmigadoon! premieres on Apple TV+ on July 16th.

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