Tish Monaghan (‘Schmigadoon!’ costume designer) on designing a ‘joyous atmosphere’ for musical [Exclusive Video Interview]

“Once I found out it was a musical and a dance thing, I was all in,” reveals Tish Monaghan or her involvement in “Schmigadoon!” The costume designer was essential in bringing the fantastical town to life in the Apple TV+ series. The show was filmed while the pandemic was still raging, and as such, Monaghan had made herself unavailable for work. Nevertheless she was quickly talked into lending her talents, “specifically because it was such a joyous thing to be doing.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.

“Joy” is a sentiment that Monaghan invokes often when discussing “Schmigadoon!” Her costumes are perhaps the first glimpse of joy the viewers see. As Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong cross the threshold into the titular town, they are greeted by a group of dancers clad in flourishes of bright pastels. “My goal was ultimately to create a joyous atmosphere, with joyous colors,” says Monaghan, her work paying homage to classic golden age musicals like “The Music Man” and “Oklahoma!”

SEE Cecily Strong could pull off double Emmy nominations for ‘SNL’ and ‘Schmigadoon!’

The designer worked closely with production design to ensure the dancers would “leap forward” from the set. “We did a lot of careful selection of patterns,” explains Monaghan. The mix of patterns helps give each ensemble member a distinct personality in their clothing. The outfits were then dyed extensively “to get them to relate to one another in a cohesive color world,” describes Monaghan.

Following a standard trope of classic musicals, the main characters in “Schmigadoon!” generally stick to one costume for most of the series. Designing these garments was a detailed process since each costume would need to define the character for the audience. “It takes a lot of careful thought and careful research,” admits Monaghan. This difficult process was made more intense because production took place while the pandemic was still raging. “Covid presented a real problem,” as Monaghan bluntly puts it. She was forced to craft the outfits before she could meet the actors. And once actors arrived in Vancouver for filming, they immediately had to quarantine. No meetings to discuss characterization, no costume fittings, took place until just a couple days before the camera test. Monaghan simply had to trust in the strength of her designs.

SEE Jaime Camil interview: ‘Schmigadoon!’

Viewers may be surprised to learn that despite getting her start in theater, Monaghan had never designed a musical before “Schmigadoon!” “Every year I want to retire,” she jokes, but then an opportunity to tackle something she’s never done before inevitably comes along. The chance to take her first stab at musical theater was irresistible, both in terms of the challenge the job presented and also in the joy that surrounds this particular art form. “The timing of it couldn’t have been better,” she explains, “because everyone was just feeling so dark and dismayed with Covid happening. And it was such an uplifting project.”

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