“Schmigadoon!” AppleTV+ took a bold leap in its second season by transplanting its likable and sarcastic central couple (Keegan Michael-Key and Cecily Strong) from the “Corn Puddin'” territory of the golden age of musical theater to the recesses of the 1970s, with a little hippie free love thrown in for good measure.
Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli steered the series through the complete opposite of a sophomore slump, as “Schmicago!” (the new kind of title card seen in the opening credits) gave us the old glare in mind-bending dance numbers even more effervescent than season one’s candy-colored hoedowns (for which Gattelli received an Emmy nomination). . The affable and versatile choreographer (“Newsies,” “Hail, Caesar!”) chatted with TheWrap about getting Jane Krakowski back on a trapeze after 20 years, corralling kids for big numbers, and why she’s to be thankful for. to primetime dance competition shows for bringing the roaring form back to the small screen.
Were you able to report some of what happened in Season 2, knowing the direction that Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio were going to take with the music and bring it into this Fosse/Schwartz/Sondheim universe?
I don’t think I personally did. But without a doubt, having a lot of the same players back, I think he definitely played into what they were writing about, and bringing out the best in me knowing what I can do and contribute. Jane Krakowski, sure, with her number. And Kristen Chenoweth and Alan Cumming, since they’ve been friends forever and their chemistry, just pull those strings.
Your job on the show is one of the hardest because not only does it have to satirize everything they’re presenting, but it also has to be believably real. You can’t be yawing too hard, or the balance will fall apart.
I always feel like it’s one thing to be able to satirize something and make it funny, but I think the other part is that we’re paying homage to what all these brilliant choreographers did at the time. It’s all done out of love and hopefully sharing with viewers who may not have seen those numbers before and what we all love about them.
This season you’ve been working with people from many different backgrounds, from actors like Ariana DeBose and Aaron Tveit, who have a lot of dance experience, to ensembles for very young children. What is your process for working with everyone?
Fortunately, it was great to come back because I knew all of them and most of their strengths and how quickly they learned. Young artists only get a certain limit of hours because of the union, so it was like really focusing on what we can teach them in the shortest amount of time that gives the most bang for their 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 have it all, no one was hurt and no one dropped a plate. [Laughs]
We must talk about the incredible number of “Bells and Whistles” with Jane Krakowski. Did you use the trapeze knowing its history with the use of one in 2003’s “Nine”? [for which she won a Tony]?
We both said, “This is a gift.” And the trapeze was actually written into the script. Cinco’s idea was more of the “Chicago” kind of movie, “All I Care About Is Love,” kind of a circus-like vibe with the handkerchief-out-of-the-mouth tricks and whatnot. But I was in Jane’s trailer and she was like, “Well, I’m going to swing on it, right?” And I was like, “Do you want?” She said, “Why bring it if I can’t use it? I would 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 ready for it, and they had to rebuild the set because she initially didn’t need the pendulum.
Do you think there is more demand for choreographic numbers on television and that people are adopting that form?
I absolutely do. I always say that “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars” were game changers in terms of putting dancers in your living room, whether they were professionals or beginners. They really exposed the dance to people who may not have grown up with it. And I say that even [choreographing for] stage, I’m grateful for it. Because I feel like people can now sit through a huge dance number on stage, in a way that I don’t think they could have before. I feel confident throwing a bigger dance because they want it, and you can tell the people want it. Overall, it’s a very exciting time for sure.
“Schmigadoon!” now streaming on AppleTV+