Ariana DeBose reveals which musical theater characters inspired her performance at SCHMIGADOON!

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Ariana DeBose stars as the wonderful and witty Emma Tate in the first season of Schmigadoon !, which airs weekly on Apple TV Plus.

DeBose’s credits on Broadway include Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, A Bronx Tale, Hamilton (Off-Broadway and original Broadway cast), Pippin, Motown, Bring It On the Musical and Company. She recently played Alyssa Greene in the Netflix film adaptation of The Prom, and she will be seen later this year as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake.

BroadwayWorld had the pleasure of sitting down with DeBose to hear about all of the great musical theater characters who inspired his performance on Schmigadoon! We also talked about her impressive musical number in class – and we even met her cat.

Read the full interview below!

The first two episodes of “Schmigadoon!” world premiere on Apple TV + on Friday July 16. The series continues with one new episode per week, every Friday until August 13.

A parody of the iconic musicals of the Golden Age, “Schmigadoon!” stars Cecily strong and Keegan-Michael Key as a couple on a backpacking trip designed to reinvigorate their relationship that discovers a magical town living in a 1940s musical. They then learn that they can’t leave until they find “the true love”. The six-part season also features Alan cumming, Kristin chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ariana DeBose, Fred armisen, Jaime Camil, Jane krakowski and Anne Harada. Martin runs prestigious guests.


I think Emma probably has my favorite arc of all the characters – I think she’s so awesome. What did you like most about playing her and creating this character?

I don’t know if I can pick just one thing that I liked the most! I feel like there are a lot of things I love about her. I love that she is so feminist, but also very feminine. She’s not sacrificing nothing in this spectrum, around these things. I love that she doesn’t sacrifice her self-esteem for romance or the man, which is really nice to see in a musical genre, isn’t it? Looks like it’s like in the 40’s. Because that’s not really what the ladies were doing back then.

So I felt like it was really refreshing. And I also loved the fact that in this city where the characters are so specifically in their ways, in tropes and stereotypes, she really is her own being. Of course, there’s an argument to be made that she falls into her own kind of stereotype, but she’s both from Schmigadoon’s world and not.

And I find it really convincing, which is why I wanted to take the job!

Emma is kind of an outsider; it is urban, but it also exists in a way on the outskirts. I think there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Emma and Marian the Librarian from The Music Man. Did you think of other musical theater characters?

Yes! I referred to Anna Leonowens from The King and I. But I didn’t just watch the musical or the stage version – I actually watched Anna and the King, with Jodie Foster. I found [Foster]The portrayal of the character is really compelling and complicated. Which, in the end, any woman worthy of the name is compelling and complicated.

I also went back to the Mary Poppins for it all – I really did! I loved the musical and of course I am passionate about Julie Andrews. And Emily Blunt too – but I’ll say I think Emily Blunt in The Devil Wears Prada to some extent had Mary Poppins notes, for me.

Oh, I love it.

Which isn’t something I think most people would say, but I look at it like this! And I pulled small things here and there – I don’t necessarily think that would be obvious. But I think all of these characters have something in common, and I don’t know if I can put words to it, but that feeling, that essence, is what I wanted Emma to have.

I want to tell you about your amazing musical number with all these kids in the classroom. Tell me about the shoot [“You Must Always Try Your Best”], especially during COVID!

Yeah, that was crazy. I think in general if you ask any of my cast mates they’ll say we didn’t necessarily have all the rehearsals we would have liked to have but we did, which is a testament to [choreographer] Chris Gattelli and his amazing team.

But these kids, man. Talented band! There is something in the water in Vancouver, Canada! They came so eager to learn, to adapt and to change, and they were very top notch.

[To her cat] Go on!

I have a cat, and he desperately wants to be here. [She picks up her cat].

I would say it’s – again the most important part is that these kids got this opportunity and they didn’t take it for granted. It was really cool to see a bunch of extremely talented, ambitious and adorable kids doing their jobs. And do it so well, despite the circumstances.

If you could play another character in Schmigadoon, who would you play?

[Laughs] I haven’t understood this question yet!

I feel like it would be a tie between Mildred Layton and I really want to play Mayor Menlove, but it could be a tough sell.

I think you could do it. Absoutely.

I could try! Or, you know what. I think it would be fun to play Pete. He’s just such a great little recurring character. Who doesn’t want to just fall on a sword and break their legs to make people laugh on purpose?


Watch an excerpt from “You Must Always Try Your Best” here:

Photo credit: Apple TV

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