On AppleTV+’s delightfully bonkers musical spoof Schmigadoon!, Dove Cameron plays cartoonishly over-the-top farmer’s daughter Betsy. She’s all blond pigtails, cherry red lips and coquettish flirtation. “I view her not really as a person as much as she is an idea of the projected male fantasy,” Cameron tells GRAZIA.
The series, created by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and executive produced by Lorne Michaels, spoofs classic musicals of the 1940s by transporting a contemporary couple (Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong) to an idyllic village where time seems to have stopped in the early 20th Century. Even if you’re not a fan of musical theater, Schmigadoon! has the joke density, knowing humor and gonzo energy of shows like 30 Rock and Girls5Eva, and the cast—Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Fred Armisen, Jane Krakowski—has charm coming out the wazoo.
A devotee of both Broadway and high camp, Cameron is right at home in the kitschy world of Schmigadoon! Who better to try to convert musical skeptics?
Schmigadoon! is just so delightful and the cast is so funny. It must have been such a blast on set.
It was such a fun show to shoot. It’s so fun when you are a fan of what you’re doing—but in a real way. I think, obviously, you wanna like what you’re doing all the time. But when it’s something that you would watch, that’s not a prerequisite! That’s not always the experience. So, it was such a joy to be a part of it while it was going on. And then to watch it back.
Like Keegan-Michael Key’s character, I am a bit of a skeptic of musicals. Maybe more of a Broadway agnostic. But I would like to give you the opportunity to sell me on musical theater: what’s so great about it?
Oh, wow! I think that the musical was such a lynchpin of American entertainment for so long. And then it kind of went away—in what I would refer to as a dark time in American culture. It was sort of like the musical represented something that became no longer relevant to American culture because it painted a picture of a world we didn’t live in. And we went from really needing it in a darker time to not needing it so much. And now it’s back. We need the hope that they represent and we need the uplifting spirit that I think something like an American musical can only really represent. That’s why I think Schmigadoon!, in general, is so fresh right now—other than the fact that it is a fresh take on all these big titans of musical theater, bringing them into the modern era. But it’s also making fun of it, and so Schmigadoon! allows somebody like yourself, a self-identifying musical theater agnostic, through Keegan-Michael Key’s character, to be in on the joke as well. We’re making fun of and honoring something. That allows everybody to be a part of it, whether you’re a fan of musicals or not.
What musical should I watch immediately?
Ugh, that’s difficult, because I do have people in my life who are like you, that don’t really like a musical. So, what I would recommend to you is not going to be the same thing that’s, like, my favorite show. I mean, I feel like everybody in the world loves Hamilton. I feel like that was something that really allowed everybody in, even if you don’t like musicals. But also, I think Heathers: The Musical is quite pop culture-y and very fun. Like, a lot of movie adaptations, I think people really like, even if you don’t like musicals. But if you’re going to watch the best musical of all time, I would say The Light in the Piazza.
Betsy is such a high camp character. What was your approach to playing a character like that? What’s your relationship to camp?
Listen, I live, eat, sleep, breath, die for camp! Camp is my number one most important ingredient. I think that most things should be done [with a camp sensibility]. And I think that all my favorite things have huge elements of camp. And I also think that camp is like—I’ve said it so many times it’s going to stop sounding like a word! I don’t know, people have such a narrow definition and negative connotations of camp, but I think that a lot of camp is in self-awareness and self-deprecation. There’s a certain tongue-in-cheek element to camp that is present in things that a lot of people wouldn’t normally refer to as camp.
Are there any characters in classic musicals that you’re spoofing as Betsy?
She’s not a full person, she’s like a concept. And that’s why there aren’t exact references as much as she’s an amalgamation and a patchwork of so many different references. I think that’s part of what makes the show in general so brilliant. It’s these two very real, grounded characters walking into a world of tropes and broad strokes people. I guess if I were to point to anything referential, she’s a combination of a bunch of the girls from Oklahoma! Like, a Laurey meets Marilyn Monroe. But also a sort of, [sings] I am 16 going on 17…