'Psych' Star James Roday Calls 'Ambitious' Musical 'Most Epic Psych-Out Ever' (Q&A)
"I don't think the expectation is that the 'Psych' musical is going to be 'Rent,' so I think as long as we didn't completely humiliate ourselves," he says, "we'd have a fighting chance of pulling it off."
Psych is ready for its musical spotlight.
Psych: The Musical, written and directed by creator Steve Franks, puts BFFs Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dule Hill) at the center as they're tasked with tracking down an escaped madman, playwright Z (Rent's Anthony Rapp), who six years earlier was declared criminally insane after locking a critic in a back room of the theater that he burned to the ground. Shawn and Gus are forced to consult with the one person Z confided in while in the institution, a dangerous villain from Shawn's past.
"The entire thing is basically a Psych-out," Roday jokingly tells The Hollywood Reporter, referencing the bloopers that air after each episode. "It's the most epic Psych-out of all time."
Roday talks to THR about the challenges of the musical's 14-day shoot, his favorite performance and reveals the moment he knew things were on track.
When was the first conversation you remember having about putting a Psych musical together?
Steve had been pitching aspects of the musical from season two. It was a matter of execution and how we were going to answer the question, why. Why does Psych need to do a musical episode and what are they going to do that's better or at least as good as other shows that have done musical episodes? That's kind of what took so long. We wanted to do something that felt appropriate to Psych, and appropriate to Steve, who's a musician and a songwriter. We started teasing it at Comic-Con [first in 2012 and then earlier this year] to make sure there was an appetite for it and I think it was pretty clear early on that yes, we have the greatest fans in the history of fandom -- to come out like "Hey, guys, we want to do an episode where we make lunch boxes," they would've thought that was awesome. We felt like we were in pretty good shape with the response if we could pull it off. Then it was our job to take our time and make sure we pulled it off. To Steve's credit, he could've jumped the gun and tried to do this two or three seasons earlier, but he wouldn't do it until he had it right and he knew exactly what it was in his head. It's his baby. It didn't come out until it was ready.
Shawn and Gus have had their musical moments over the course of the series. Did those ditties prepare you for the amount of singing you'd have to do in the special?
A little bit, sure, the fact that we had sort of sung silly on camera over the years. It definitely breaks the ice. Doing entire numbers with choreography was certainly a step up from anything we'd done before. But I don't think we were all that intimidated about the singing aspect of it for the exact reasons that you just mentioned. I don't think any of us necessarily consider ourselves singers but we know we can kind of sing our way through stuff. I don't think the expectation is that the Psych musical is going to be Rent, so I think as long as we didn't completely humiliate ourselves and it is funny and it is in the tone of what we do, we'd have a fighting chance of pulling it off.
How long did it take you to learn all the songs and record them in the studio?
That's the craziest part of the TV schedule. They gave us the blessing to go off and do this but only in the context of our normal season. It's not like we got extra rehearsal or development time or any of that. Steve basically locked himself in his office at the start of the season while we were shooting other episodes and had this ready in time for the two-episode block it took up. We spent one day recording in Los Angeles and we spent half of a Saturday working with the choreographer and downloading as much of the choreography as we could. And that was it. As far as shooting it goes, we only got 14 days, which is the exact time it would take to shoot two episodes. It was pretty ambitious.
Did you have a favorite song you got to perform?
I'm partial -- without giving too much away -- to the number that happens between Ally Sheedy's character Yang and the surprise guest singer that shows up to sing with her. That number just gets me every time I see it. It's bizarrely poignant and a little bit moving -- the culmination of the arc of that character. Also the way it's shot and the way they sound together, I have to confess it's my favorite song.
Were there other big spectacles that you liked performing?
I had a lot of fun with all of them, but in particular the song "I've Heard It Both Ways," which allowed me to tango with Mr. Tim Omundson. That's some really solid man-on-man action that I will be thankful for as long as I live.
What was it like acting and singing opposite Anthony Rapp?
We were all sort of like -- before he even got there -- OK, this is Anthony Rapp. This is a minor league team working with Derek Jeter. But luckily, he couldn't have been more generous, sweet and kind and he certainly made us feel like we were on the same playing field, even though we knew that we weren't. I think he had a good time, too. It's pretty tongue-in-cheek what we do, and I think it was fun for him to come in and not be as serious, even though he kinda had to be serious. He had to be Psych serious.
He is playing a villain in this ...
That's probably one of the things that appealed to him about doing it. I'd never dare speak for Anthony, but I'd think that's maybe one of the things he thought would be fun.
Did he give you any pointers to help in your vocal performance?
All of the tracks had already been recorded, so we were all lip-syncing the whole time, but he was so complimentary to everybody. He just buttered all of us up and made us feel so much better about our voices than we had any right to, but the thing is he comes on and everybody's like, "Oh, right, that's what singing actually sounds like."
The Psych cast has showcased impressive singing abilities throughout the years. Did you have to approach Shawn singing differently this time around?
It's interesting. One conversation that Dule and I had going into this was, how do we sing? We've always sang goofy on the show or for effect of some kind, or sending up a song or another artist, so it's like, what are we actually supposed to sound like? Are we supposed to sound good and do our best vocals that we're capable of, or do we just kind of sound like what Shawn and Gus would sound like if they spontaneously burst into song, and that's what we ended up going with. Just trying to make this character as appropriate as possible, and we still didn't really know what that meant, but let's just try to sing like Shawn and Gus and see what happens with that.
Did you have that moment, though, when you thought 'We can do this'?
Yeah, it was after the opening number ["Santa Barbara Skies"] on the pier that incorporated all of us, dancers and the choreography. We walked all the way down, walked over to the steps; we did all of it in the time allotted and we made our day. We were like, "Huh. If this looks good, I think we're good." That was easily the most challenging number in the piece because it involved the most number of people, the timing, all that kind of stuff. Once we got that under our belts, it felt like, "All right, everything is going to get easier from here on out. Let's do it. Let's go for it."
Is there a genre you still hope to tackle on Psych?
I always kinda wanted to take one more crack at a horror episode, where we could hit some of the franchises that we had never hit, like Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and specifically George Romero's Living Dead films, and I got to do that in season eight. For me, my list is essentially complete.
Were there songs that didn't make it to air?
In the musical? I think we used everything. I don't think there's a song [that wasn't used]. "Jamaican Inspector Man" is the one track that didn't make it into the body of the show, but then we tagged it at the very end as kind of like a Psych-out, so it's that one.
How many Psych-outs did you guys film?
The entire thing is basically a Psych-out. It's the most epic Psych-out of all time. It's really a huge testament to Steve Franks and everything he threw into this one. It's definitely his labor of love, and I'm very, very happy for him and very proud, and he's going to be in a kid in a candy store come the 15th.
Psych: The Musical airs Dec. 15 at 9 p.m. on USA Network.