Audiences have come to know Keegan-Michael Key as a funny man, with a legendary run on the Comedy Central sketch show Key & Peele. But much like his friend and former collaborator Jordan Peele, Key has been quietly tapping into another lane since the show’s end.
For Peele, it’s been the horror genre, with the Oscar winning Get Out, the critically acclaimed Us, and his newly announced project Nope. But Key’s shift has been in the more colorful and whimsical world of musicals. Crowd pleasing performances in Netflix films Jingle Jangle and The Prom were just the beginning. Now the actor stars alongside Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong in the Apple TV+ musical series Schmigadoon, and reawakens one of his long held passions.
“I was not expecting this to be a turn that my career was going to take,” said Key. “I am a firm believer of that great old joke. How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans. And this is it. This is kind of how this happened.”
Key’s exposure to acting came through musicals, performing in many productions through his high school years in Michigan. He tells EBONY his musical career ignited once his wife, Elle, overheard him singing while the two were dating. She was impressed to find out the man she loved could be a crooner. So she hatched up an idea: Key would sing at their wedding. He agreed, putting on a performance that surprised his closest friends and even his agents.
“Afterwards, they came up to me and my wife. ‘You didn't tell us you can sing! You can sing!?!’ And so they started looking for stuff in that lane for me to do.”
Schmigadoon is Key’s latest and most ambitious foray into the genre. The musical series follows a married couple on a backpacking trip to reinvigorate their rocky relationship. They get lost and stumble upon a lavish yet cartoonishly old-timey town, where the residents don’t let a moment go by without breaking into (charmingly catchy) song and dance.
“I was talking to somebody about the song ‘Corn Pudding.’ I can’t it out of my head,” said Key. “I can't stop singing that song it’s so catchy. And it's funny.”
As are most of the songs throughout the six episode run, with a new episode releasing weekly on Apple TV+. But behind the music lies a grave challenge: the couple can’t leave the 1940’s town unless they “find true love.” That’s where Key feels the show finds its heart, with a message about modern day romance.
“I really want people to leave with the idea and the understanding that love is something that takes effort,” said Key. “And the key to that effort is vulnerability. And that one opens themselves up to true love. Because the thing is you can like somebody, you can do stuff with friends, and go to parties and go to ball games. That's maybe friendship, but it's not love.”
“Love is giving selflessly of yourself and expecting nothing in return. Because you just want that other person to thrive. And I think it's something that my character Josh learns through the piece, and I hope it's something that people who watch Schmigadoon also get from it.”
New episodes of "Schmigadoon" drop Fridays on Apple TV +.