Kristin Chenoweth really needs no introduction. Whether musical, comedic, or dramatic, her talent has been well-documented, praised, and immortalized on stage, television, and cinematic screens.
She is seared into the minds of millions of audience members as Wicked’s Glinda (“Galinda, with a GA”), Pushing Daisies‘ Olive, Maleficent on Disney’s Descendents, and even the supremely powerful Easter on American Gods Season 1.
Most recently, on Apple TV+’s sensational musical homage, Schmigadoon!, Chenoweth has stunned audiences with her portrayal of the town’s puritanical civic powerhouse, Mildred Layton.
Via today’s technological magic, TV Fanatic was able to speak with the enchantress herself during a virtual press day. (TBH, the real miracle was that I was able to speak at all.)
With her career passport stamped in fantastical worlds like those of Wicked, Pushing Daisies, and American Gods, was her sojourn in Schmigadoon just as extraordinary? What makes these experiences so immersive?
“For me, everything has to be rooted in realness, or the fantastical worlds don’t exist.
“Even if you go back to things on stage, for example, Wicked is really the love story between two girls, right? I mean, the friendship, the love friendship.
“The love story between Cecily’s character and Keegan’s character allowed all of us to be bananas and live in a place called Schmigadoon.”
Surprisingly, there was a moment of hesitation when Chenoweth was first offered the project. (Which would’ve been a real spanner in the works as Mildred Layton was specifically written with her in mind.)
“Believe me, when I was offered it, I thought, ‘I’m worried about the title because I don’t want to make fun of one of my favorite milieus. I’m not going to do it.’
“And then I read it, and I thought, ‘This is a love letter to Broadway. This is a love letter. This is so funny and fantastic.’ It was an easy yes.”
But she had her own conditions.
“When [Cinco Paul] said I could have the brunette hair and the Joker lips. I said, ‘I’m in.’
“I did really want to look really different. And Cinco… I just have to say, if I may, it’s a little weird to say, but … Sometimes writers get so close to the material, they can’t negotiate.
“The opposite here. He is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Just in life, forget that he’s so talented.
“[When] Sonnenfeld says we’re going to do Tribulation in one take, I’m like, ‘No, no. We’re going to do cuts.’ He said, ‘No, we’re going to do one take.’ And Cinco was there every step of the way.
“You know what he was? He was an encourager to everybody.
“He’s smart. He writes something smart. He knows that if we feel confident, we’re going to believe it. And that’s what the key to it was. Everybody believing this crazy world we were in.
“I mean, even when I say the word ‘Schmigadoon,’ I go, Wait, I was in something called Schmigadoon?’ But I love this world.
“I loved during the time it came — just on a personal note, having had loss — and at the height of a pandemic before a vaccine was available or even an option, Schmigadoon came at just the right time.”
In his brilliant way, Cinco Paul has used this homage to Golden Age musicals to comment (on multiple occasions, both explicitly and implicitly) on the representation of women in those shows, which were very much products of their time.
Oh, women were so underwritten in early musicals.
Having played many of the iconic women characters of musical theatre throughout her career, Chenoweth was markedly aware of the commentary being made as well as the need for it today.
“One of the things I loved is that he did that. Twenty years ago, I was in the movie, The Music Man, with Matthew Broderick, for ABC, and I’m raising my hand going, ‘Why is she an old maid at thirty?’
“I was in a show, a Burt Bacharach/Hal David/Neil Simon play, Promises, Promises, where a woman has an affair with a man, a married man, and waits for him to leave [his wife] and waits for his phone call for six weeks.
“This is in 1963, and I’m like, ‘Why would anyone do that?’ What I love about this harkening back is to see how far we’ve come, especially as women.
“Y’know, Mildred wasn’t always Mildred. What fascinated me was what made her Mildred. And I know all the reasons I had personally [which] made her who she is.” [Note to readers: I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to ask her about these, but my time was up. 🙁 ]
“But I love it. I love to see how far we’ve come. I love to learn from the past. If we erase it, how can we not know? And even, dare I say, laugh at it?”
Schmigadoon!’s season finale airs this Friday, August 13th, on Apple TV+!
If you’re just catching up, be sure to check out all our Schimigadoon! Season 1 Reviews as well as our series of press day interviews!
We’ve had the great pleasure of speaking with series star and executive producer Cecily Strong and creator Cinco Paul, Dove Cameron (Betsy) and Aaron Tveit (Danny), Ann Harada (Florence Menlove), director Barry Sonnenfeld, and Jaime Camil (Doc Lopez).
What have you loved most about the series? What (or WHO) are you hoping for if a magical second season were to appear?
And can we please give it up for Ms. Chenoweth and her eighteen pages, four minutes, and ONE TAKE extravaganza of a number on Schmigadoon! Season 1 Episode 5?
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.