Inside the Music with Schmigadoon Creator, Cinco Paul

Interview with Cinco Paul

Cinco Paul is an accomplished screenwriter whose work includes Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who, The Secret Life of Pets and Despicable Me (and its sequels), alongside Ken Daurio.

Apple TV+ musical comedy series Schmigadoon! is Paul's latest project, for which he is creator, executive producer and songwriter. We caught up him to discuss his musical journey, the writing process behind Schmigadoon!, his musical influences, and more.

Download Schmigadoon! sheet music

Interview with screenwriter and composer Cinco Paul

Sheet Music Direct ("S"): You are obviously best-known for your screenwriting work but you're clearly also a very talented musician. Can you tell us a little about your musical background?

Cinco Paul ("C"): So, the music actually came first in my life. I studied piano, my mom was a piano teacher, and so I started off learning piano from her. And I even wrote some songs when I was really young. But at the same time I always really loved musical theater. I had some aspirations there, and becoming a singer-songwriter was a goal of mine at some point too. But, you know, life is crazy! And so then I got pulled in the screenwriting direction. And then finally, when I was ready to get out, and I was really interested in TV, I sort of had this idea. Well, it's an idea that had been germinating for years, but it was like, "oh, now's the time for Schmigadoon!". I really wanted to do something that I could write songs for - that's been something I've wanted to do for ever. And finally I got the chance.

   I really wanted to do something that I could write songs for – that's been something I've wanted to do for ever. And finally I got the chance."

S: That's awesome. So Schmigadoon! obviously pays homage to the Golden Age musicals of the 40s & 50s. Was musical theatre specifically always a passion of yours?

C: Yeah, I mean, my mom would play South Pacific, Camelot and Guys and Dolls and I sort of fell in love with those cast recordings from a pretty early age. But you know, as I said, I wanted to be a singer-songwriter initially. And so I'd write these songs and whenever anyone said, "ooh, that sounds like it should be in a musical" I was really offended! Clearly, that's more where my instincts were headed, but I wanted to be Elvis Costello, I didn't want to be Richard Rodgers or Stephen Sondheim at that point. But that had always been germinating in me, you know, and I love those old musicals and movies so much. And so this was finally a chance to pay homage to them and see what a fun challenge it is to try to write an undiscovered Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.

S: Yeah, absolutely. So, you mention Elvis Costello? Were there any other particular musical inspirations you had growing up?

C: Well first and foremost The Beatles, who I think I discovered when I was 11 or 12. I really became an insane Beatles fan. Then that spread to Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, Todd Rundgren, and a bunch of different pop music artists. And then also I do have a deep love for Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Frank Loesser too - Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and so on. And then of course, Sondheim, being the best of the best.

S: And can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Is it always the same?

C: Typically I go in with a title or a concept in mind. Certainly when writing for a musical or something like Schmigadoon! where hopefully the songs are moving the story forward, or at least participating in the narrative or the development of character. So, I mapped out the outline for what I wanted the show to be, and then sort of went through and thought "well, here's an opportunity for this kind of song. And here's an opportunity for this kind of song." And so then with that in my head, I'd be like: "I want to write a song about corn puddin'" you know? And I would sit down at the piano and think "what should that sound like?" And often I had a corollary in mind. There are some songs that are very obvious parodies. "Corn Puddin'" is an example of something that I think evokes the sound of one of those songs, but it doesn't have a specific corollary so much.

S: That song is a particular highlight for me!

C: That was actually the first song I wrote for the show. And it came out of thinking, "what is the song that is going to annoy Keegan-Michael Key's character the most? What would be the most obnoxious song?” And it's sort of in the vein of "Shipoopi" and "A Real Nice Clambake" and the sort of songs that really don't seem to accomplish much in their shows. And so that's where that came from.

S: Well it's certainly infectious, which is always a good thing with any song, I guess! Do you have a favorite musical moment in Schmigadoon!? Or is that like asking you to choose a favorite child?

C: I mean, I was so happy with the series overall. Everyone did an incredible job all across the board. But "With All of Your Heart"—the song that Ariana DeBose sings as the schoolmarm (Emma Tate) with the tap dancing kids—is maybe my favorite moment in the show. It's just so joyous, and to me it evokes the spirit of those old movie musicals. Early on when I realized I was going to get to do this show, I was like "there will be tap dancing children somewhere!"

   Early on when I realized I was going to get to do this show, I was like "there will be tap dancing children somewhere!"

S: Haha! Let's talk about the sheet music that's now available for Schmigadoon!. How well do you think the songs adapted to a piano and vocal arrangement?

C: So, David Chase and Doug Besterman did an incredible job with the arrangement and orchestration on the show itself, so it was really important to me that it not be a really basic accompaniment with the melody in the right hand of the piano. I wanted it to sound as close to the original as it could. So we really worked hard on that and I think the accompaniments are really beautiful and really well done. And so I'm hoping that the songs appear in auditions for Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals. You don't have to sing a Rodgers & Hammerstein song, you can sing one of these instead!

S: You were behind a stage adaptation of the movie Bubble Boy several years ago. If you could take any other movie and adapt it for the stage, what would it be?

C: Well first I would say I'm against turning movies into musicals. So if I had my choice not to do it, that would be my choice! But, you know, I would be lying if I didn't say I occasionally see a movie and think, "ooh, that would make a great musical." I think the most recent one I saw was Moonrise Kingdom – the Wes Anderson movie. When I saw it I thought it could be really nicely musicalized. But generally I'm opposed to it, because if the movie's really good, then it doesn't need to be turned into a musical. And if it's not a good movie, are people going to care? But that was sort of the plan with Bubble Boy, because I don't think that turned into a very good movie. And so it was kind of my way to redeem the script that we wrote and say, "Okay, here's what it should have been like. And by the way, now there are songs too."

S: Okay, interesting. Now I imagine you spend a lot of time nowadays writing music. Do you ever sit down and play music by other artists or composers? And do you have any favorites to play that you haven't written yourself?

   One of the things I did in preparation for Schmigadoon! is get the scores for some of the classic musicals and play them through start to finish on a piano, just so I could get them in my bones."

C: Oh, sure. You know, I'm classically trained and I abandoned it at some point in college and so I'm not very good anymore, but I love to sit down and try my hand at some of the Mozart and Beethoven Sonatas and things like that just to see if I can still do it. And usually the answer is no! But I love that music as well as Debussy and Rachmaninov – I love revisiting those pieces. But also, one of the things I did in preparation for Schmigadoon! is get the scores for some of the classic musicals and play them through start to finish on a piano, just so I could get them in my bones. I love having someone next to me to sing the songs, but I also kind of just enjoy playing through those scores. South Pacific is a favorite of mine, Guys and Dolls, Sweeney Todd – that's my favorite musical, but those Sondheim accompaniments are hard to play! And then ever since I was little, I've been pretty good at picking out things by ear. And so that's something that's really fun for me too. I'll hear a song and think "OK, let me figure it out," and I do quite a bit of that. Although not as much anymore now that I'm older and I've got all these other demands on me!

S: Well that's a great skill to have. Fantastic. And do you have any new projects that you're working on at the moment that we can look forward to in the near future?

C: Yeah, well, I have A.D. 16 which I'm really excited about. It's a musical about teenage Mary Magdalene getting a crush on teenage Jesus, and it has an 80s and 90s R&B score. And I love that time period, you know. TLC, Vogue, Prince, Tony! Toni! TonĂ©!, all that stuff. And then I recently completed this project called Winter Wonderland, which is a homage to the classic animated specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town for which I wrote, like, six or seven new songs. So hopefully that's gonna move forward. And then fingers crossed for Season 2 of Schmigadoon!, I would love for that to happen. But you know, I've had so much fun writing the songs for these things that I kind of only want to do musicals from now on! Or at least projects that have music as a part of them, because it's so much fun.

S: So is it fair to say Schmigadoon! has been a bit of a turning point in your career? And now musical projects are the way forward?

C: Well, you know, you get pigeonholed a lot in this industry. But I'm more than happy now that Schmigadoon! went so well for Apple and was so well-received. And so now people are looking to me to do things like that. And yeah, I'm like: "bring it!"

S: Brilliant. Well, those are all the questions I've got for now. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing those insights with us.

C: Thanks. So nice to meet you.

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