The new Apple TV+ series Schmigadoon! is theater at its most over the top, but also its most charming. That makes it a perfect fit for a number of stage veterans, including Avenue Q‘s Ann Harada, who chews the scenery wonderfully as Mrs. Menlove. I recently spoke with Ann about what it means to be part of a TV program that’s having fun with the art form she loves, striking the perfect tone between absurd and believable, and what she enjoys most about the show.
Brittany Frederick: As someone who’s spent so much time in the theater, what’s it like to be part of a series that’s kind of sending up musical theater?
Ann Harada: It’s great. I don’t think of it as just sending up musical theater. I think of it as a huge love letter to the musical theater. It’s just fun to take a deep dive into it with other nerds who are going to get the jokes.
BF: You were in Smash, which had its Broadway show-within-a-TV-show, and now Schmigadoon! is its own show-within-a-show, except for the characters it’s real. How do you play that sort of meta angle?
AH: In Schmigadoon, I’m already in an altered universe; in Smash we were in reality. In Schmigadoon! we’re in a world where everyone is in a musical so it’s not like I’m on 45th Street trying to get a cab. I would say the difference between TV musical and stage musical is that it’s just so much easier to sing to one person. You don’t have to play to 2,000 people or make it read to a big house. You have to make it read to Cecily Strong.
BF: I’ve talked to Cecily and some of your other co-stars about how important tone is for this show. How did you find that balance between character and caricature?
AH: [Executive producer/director] Barry [Sonnenfeld] had a very acute sense of tone, and if we were too big he would say like “Too much.” That’s sort of the line you ride when you’re in a musical on stage because you’re heightened, but it still has to be real. You still have to feel the things you feel and sing it directly to the person you’re singing it to, just in a slightly elevated way. You’re already so aware because there’s so much going on. You’re singing, I have to keep up with the orchestra, there’s this going on, maybe I’m dancing, so your brain is sort of working on a couple of different levels.
BF: Did you have favorite Schmigadoon! moments that you particularly loved?
AH: So many. Anytime there’s a number that sort of is a call back to another classic number of the musical theater, that just makes me laugh. Corn pudding makes me laugh. I love the picnic basket scene. I wish I was in that picnic basket scene, just because I love that scene so much in Oklahoma. There are little moments that are direct references to these Golden Age musicals and yet it’s telling this particular story.
BF: With all those moments, and you mentioned getting the jokes earlier, how much nerding out was there on set between you and the other Broadway veterans?
AH: We’re all theater nerds, so of course we’re getting the jokes. (laughs) The question is, is anyone else going to get the jokes or care? You’re like, is it still going to work even if you don’t know anything? Does this story still make sense on its own? I think it does. I hope it does and I hope people will get sucked into it.
BF: Is there anything you want to say to those audiences as they start watching Schmigadoon?
AH: just think it’s extraordinary. I’m working on a musical project right now in Dublin and we’re still able to make musicals under these conditions. For me, the best part of musicals is the collaboration, to be with all the other people in a room, and the hardest part of all this is I’ve had to learn music by myself in my room, Zooming with the musical director. You don’t have that immediate feedback. But that we’re still able to create even under these stupid conditions is astonishing to me, and I think Schmigadoon! is so beautifully done. It just feels like we made it in the before times. That’s the greatest compliment I can give it, I think.
Schmigadoon! is now streaming on Apple TV+.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.