10:00am PT by Alyse Whitney
'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt': Inside Season Two's Biggest Musical Moments
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the first five episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's second season.]
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt isn’t trying to top “Pinot Noir,” but that didn't stop the Netflix comedy from kicking off a new season with a show-stopping musical number for Titus (Tituss Burgess) in the first episode.
Season one's cliffhanger was resolved when Titus makes amends with his estranged wife Vonda (Pernell Walker) and finally gives her their first wedding dance: a choreographed number to Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” in the middle of Penn Station. The song choice fits perfectly, but Burgess reveals it wasn’t their first pick.
“The first choice was a song by Mariah Carey, but they couldn't get it cleared in time, so we used ‘Forever Your Girl,'" he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The energy of that song marks the energy of the scene better than the original one.”
Choreographer Tanisha Scott put together the routine, but Burgess notes that there was a bit of improvisation when it came to the “nuances and then the little Titus moves." Subsequently, the “uniquely New York moment" was originally much longer than what ended up in the final cut.
Ultimately, the dance had more of a message than just a makeup between Vonda and Titus. “The dance was equally for Kimmy as much as it was for Vonda, to answer the question of, ‘Will you bail on me?’ and proves he’s at least making an effort,” showrunner Robert Carlock explains. “Doesn't mean he still won't perhaps just do so at some point — you never know with him — but I think he's trying.”
The scene was just the first hint of musicality in season two. By episode five, Titus sang in almost every scene with a slew of made up hilarious rejected songs from the Great American Songbook, ranging ambitiously from Sondheim’s Pinocchio musical to a knockoff Annie called Gangly Orphan Jeff.
Unlike with “Pinot Noir,” which was mostly written by the writers with light assistance from composer Jeff Richmond, the songbook tracks were written almost entirely by Richmond, Carlock explains.
“Jeff wrote a couple of them and re-worked the ideas that we had done,” Carlock says. “There's the joyful opening number, the heartbroken number and the victorious ending number. We not only wanted to have those apply to the story as if the story were a musical and help sell the story, but we also wanted to touch on different kinds of composers and different eras of American musical theater. Each one had to be the right kind of song at this moment in the quote-unquote-musical of Titus’ journey.”
Titus and Lillian (Carol Kane) duet on the final song, “Just Go On,” which has become one of Burgess' favorites. “It's such a beautiful mantra, and actually has assisted me in my own personal life outside of the show,” he says.
Kane admits she was “pretty nervous” about singing onscreen “because Tituss has the voice of an angel,” but the two hid away in his dressing room with a piano between scenes to perfect the tune.
Surprisingly, Jane Krakowski does not sing in the songbook episode, even though her impressive pipes were employed frequently on 30 Rock when she played Jenna Maroney. Krakowski, who is currently starring in the Broadway musical She Loves Me, says there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.
“I have had discussions with Robert Carlock and Tina Fey and they have sadly made the decision that Jacqueline can't sing,” she says. “I did get one singing moment, during the private wardrobe fitting which they turned into a Busby Berkeley moment. We did one [take] where I sang it just off, like I really couldn't sing the whole time … but they didn't end up using that one. I don't know if that's to leave the door open for future possibility for singing, but I did really enjoy the story that Jacqueline would be just slightly off the whole time.”
With many great musical moments this season, could it all be leading up to a full musical episode like Carlock and Fey did on 30 Rock? Maybe.
“It’s tricky. We bend our reality in terms of dreams — and there’s a fantasy sequence this season that is animated when you’re seeing inside someone's brain — but ... we did feel like we had to justify the singing in our world,” Carlock explains. “I think it might be hard to have everybody singing for no reason. In 30 Rock, we thought it was kind of excused in many ways because we're in the world of entertainment. ... This show, we try to cue a lot more to the real world, so we would have to somehow justify having everyone sing. But maybe everyone gets hit on the head and just starts singing.”
Considering Burgess was at the center of his own music-centric episode this season and he comes from the Broadway world, he is on board for a musical — as long as they do it right.
“Just because we can doesn't necessarily mean we should. I think there's something special about borrowing from the musical world versus being fully immersed in it,” Burgess says. “No doubt, it would be funny and poignant. No doubt that they could pull it off. I wonder, will it have the same efficacy as it does when we get glimpses of it?”
Krakowski, on the other hand, is rallying for a musical so she can sing. “Through the days of 30 Rock and with Kimmy, I have always wanted to do a Bugsy Malone type of episode,” Krakowski pitches. “I would hope maybe one day that that can happen and then as they are singing within their characters like a musical of heightened reality, that they have to burst into song. ... I think it would only be the ultimate fantasy musical episode for all of us to get to do.”
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season two is streaming now on Netflix.