Jane Krakowski had one musical number in Season 1 of Apple TV+’s “Schmigadoon!” and she performed it from behind the wheel of a cramped convertible. It wasn’t much of a stage, but the Emmy nominee and musical theater veteran used every inch of the leather interior to sell her wistful yet seductive song, eventually wedging her high heel into the steering wheel to steady herself for the climatic high note.
The performance is proof that no number is too small for Krakowski. But series creator and Emmy-winning songwriter Cinco Paul wanted to give her more to do in Season 2, which puts the series’ central couple Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) on the seedy streets of Schmicago, inspired by 1960s and ’70s musicals like ”Chicago” and “Cabaret.”
It is Krakowski’s favorite musical era, but she was in the dark as to who she’d play in Paul’s mashup world of sin and showmanship. “Could I still do Sally Bowles, or maybe Roxie Hart?” she pondered. “You go through all these dream scenarios. Would I finally get to play Miss Lovett from ‘Sweeney Todd,’ which is a role I’ve always wanted to do?”
Fortunately, Paul was greedy in creating her role as Bobby Flanagan, the show-off lawyer representing Josh in his trial for the murder of a cabaret singer.
“The minute I saw there was a vamp written under me explaining who I am as a lawyer, I knew I had waited my whole career for this,” Krakowski says. “Just reading the script, I didn’t want to be anybody
else in this.”
Bobby has shades of Roxie and others, but she’s primarily a gender-flipped homage to “Chicago’s” grandiose lawyer Billy Flynn, whose courtroom prowess is on full display in Bobby’s big Episode 3 number, “Belles and Whistles.”
“She needed a ‘Razzle Dazzle’ courtroom number like Billy,” Paul says. “But that is a slow-paced song. Thematically it can be ‘Razzle Dazzle,’ but musically I went with ‘Dance: Ten, Looks: Three,’ which is jazzy and just moves a lot more.”
The equally show-offy number from 1975’s “A Chorus Line” features a young performer’s musings on how her surgically enhanced features help her land parts. Her confident physicality and frankness suits Bobby’s unflappable presentation as a lawyer and the song’s double-entendre title.
But choreographer Christopher Gattelli wanted to tease out Bobby’s eye-catching brand of persuasion, lacing her early scenes with the Bob Fosse-inspired footwork she will deploy during Josh’s trial.
“We had to build to this moment,” he says of “Belles and Whistles.” “The vamp in her office. The walk into the jail. When we get to her number, it isn’t a surprise that she can move like this because we laid the groundwork. Then it is an explosion of all that Jane can do.”
Weeks before filming, Krakowski started daily dance warmups to condition her body, giving special consideration to the move that seals the deal on Bobby’s closing argument. “I started doing the splits every day so nothing would rip!” she says.
While Paul’s vision for “Belles and Whistles” relied heavily on what Krakowski wanted to do with it, the number always began with Bobby descending into the courtroom on a trapeze, a nod to Billy Flynn’s philosophy that juries are swayed by a little razzle dazzle.
But Krakowski went bigger, asking if she could attend trapeze school to do more than just a grand entrance.
“Whenever someone gives you the chance to fly, you should take the opportunity,” she says.
On her off days, she sent the producers videos of her progress. After four sessions, she had convinced them to build a bigger set and open the ceiling to accommodate her high-flying new talent.
Meanwhile, Gattelli focused on her earthbound footwork, drawing influences from Fosse’s choreography in “Chicago,” specifically Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon’s “Hot Honey Rag” from the show’s 1975 Broadway debut. They also added the signature outstretched arms and arched pose of “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” to accentuate her, ahem, belles and whistles.
“My favorite part of the number are those simple Fosse walks she does coming toward the camera and the judge,” Gattelli says. “The thing about Jane, she is a workaholic. She did not stop until it was perfect. You can see it in her eyes, it’s like a shark coming after you.”
Lyrically, Paul infuses “Belles and Whistles” with enough legal jargon to give Bobby’s argument a sly cheekiness. His favorite line? “I start blowin’, I start clangin’, one more Joe avoids the hanging.”
But no matter how theatrical she gets, Bobby stays true to the law. So Paul switches up the pacing for her summation, which is delivered with the lightning-fast patter of “Getting Married Today” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.”
“She keeps repeating the line ‘a comprehensive knowledge of the law,’ and in that moment, she proves she has it,” Krakowski says. “Even though she flew down from the ceiling, laid down on the jury box and everything else, that moment gives her the confidence she is a good enough lawyer to pull off the rest.”
Although he questioned if the transition from sultry to swift would be jarring for the audience, he ultimately knew — like the entire number — Krakowski could make it work.
“Narratively, I worried it’s too easy for Josh to just get off,” he says. “But if the number was a showstopper then the audience will be on board. And with Jane, it was.”
After months of prep, “Belles and Whistles” was shot in a single day. “And you better hope it’s one of your good days,” Krakowski laughs.
They began with a full run-through so the cast and crew knew what to expect. Krakowski was nervous to finally show it off, especially with co-stars Strong, Key and Dove Cameron in the audience.
“But this feeling kind of came over the room, which I still get moved by because it doesn’t happen all the time,” she says. “It felt like everybody saw how ambitious a number we were trying to capture in one day and everybody brought their A game to get every shot.”
Just like her convertible in Season 1, Krakowski uses every nook and cranny of her courtroom. When she isn’t showering the jury with confetti from the trapeze, she tap dances, roller skates blindfolded, playfully tampers with evidence and ends it all in a well-practiced split on the jury box ledge with sparklers in each hand. No stunt double was used.
“Jaws were on the floor after every take,” Paul recalls.
Fifteen minutes before wrapping, Krakowski climbed back on the trapeze one more time to ensure they got every angle.
At that moment, her inner theater kid was behind the wheel, the same one who wore her original 1979 “A Chorus Line” sweatshirt to the first Season 2 table read.
“I will never forget ‘Belles and Whistles,’” she says. “I think that at my age, the numbers where I get to fly and do splits are going to get fewer and farther between. It meant a lot to me that Cinco wrote it for me, and I want it to live forever for him too because these numbers come along once in a lifetime.”
Though, who knows what ceilings her new trapeze talents have flung open.
She quips, “If they reboot ‘Circus of the Stars,’ I’m ready.”