Actor/singer Dove Cameron grew up on Bainbridge Island before moving to Los Angeles, where she landed the lead roles of identical twins on the Disney Channel sitcom “Liv and Maddie” and later Mal, daughter of Maleficent, in the Disney Channel “Descendants” movies. Now, she gets to showcase all her skills in this summer’s freshest, most joyful new series, “Schmigadoon!,” which starts streaming July 16 on Apple TV+.
Both a sendup of, and love letter to, MGM movie musicals and the best of Broadway, “Schmigadoon!” follows a couple (Cecily Strong, Keegan-Michael Key) on a backpacking trip who wander into a town that exists like a 1940s/’50s musical, complete with townsfolk singing and dancing in choreographed musical numbers. (Though the show’s title and premise bring to mind “Brigadoon,” the theme song is clearly a riff on the title tune from “Oklahoma!”)
Cameron plays Betsy, a Schmigadoonian farmer’s daughter who falls for Key’s character.
“I would describe Betsy as an idea, not a person,” Cameron said during a virtual interview late last month. “She’s sort of an amalgamation of all the nondescript, hyper-sexualized, male-gaze-influenced [characters in old musicals]. You project who you want her to be onto her like a scrim, which is how all of the women were in the early musicals. They were not complex. … She’s not self-aware but the show is. You get to — by playing into these classic tropes — make fun of these things that were once so harmful.”
Writer Cinco Paul (“Despicable Me”) praised Cameron’s turn as Betsy.
“She’s playing an actress playing that character,” Paul says. “It’s two levels of a performance. And she was smart and she got it and she knew where all the jokes were.”
Director Barry Sonnenfeld (“Pushing Daisies”) compared Cameron’s character to a ’60s-era TV siren.
“For me the perfect icon would be Elly May Clampett from ‘The Beverly Hillbillies,’” he says. “Beautiful and sweet and a little bit just not there, just in her own kind of world where she doesn’t realize how beautiful she is. And Dove actually auditioned and was just fantastic and looked so perfect for the part.”
The six-episode “Schmigadoon!” also stars Broadway veterans Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Ann Harada, Jane Krakowski and Aaron Tveit. Cameron says she was intrigued by the “Schmigadoon!” concept and the involvement of Sonnenfeld and executive producer Lorne Michaels (“Saturday Night Live”). Then she started to hear more about who else had been cast.
“What in the world is this secret Pentagon project filled with all of the people I’ve ever wanted to work with?” says Cameron, who doesn’t remember a time in her childhood that predates when she started performing. Her first stage role was in “The Nutcracker” at Bainbridge Performing Arts (“It was my Broadway,” she says).
“Before I was on a stage doing it with an audience, I was making everybody into my audience,” she says.
Cameron takes credit for most of her immediate family moving to L.A. but she returned to Washington in January on a road trip with her best friend.
“I think when you grow up there, you’re like, ‘Nothing happens, I need to get me to New York,’” Cameron says. “And then you go back and you’re like, ‘Oh, I really see why people come back.’”
Earlier this year, Cameron played Bubbles Utonium in a live-action pilot based on the 1998-2005 Cartoon Network series “The Powerpuff Girls” but The CW didn’t pick the show up to series, ordering reshoots. It’s a process past successful series have gone through, including “The Big Bang Theory” and “Game of Thrones.” Even the original pilot for Cameron’s “Liv and Maddie” (2013-17) was scrapped and the entire show reconceived before it made it to air.
“Because ‘Powerpuff’ had such a magnifying glass on it, everybody thinks this is something big and scandal has happened,” Cameron says, “when in fact it’s like, we just want to get the tone right.”