Making Great TV is A Walk in the Park for Josh Gad and Emmy-Raver Lampman
If you like either Broadway musicals or animation, you’ve probably heard of Josh Gad. The Tony-nominated, Grammy-winning star of The Book of Mormon gained even greater fame when voicing Olaf in Disney’s Frozen made him a movie star. The talented actor and singer decided to combine his love of musicals and animation in 2021 by co-creating and starring in Central Park, an animated musical sitcom that counts Gad and fellow Broadway favorite Emmy Raver-Lampman among its stellar voice cast, and the show is now entering its third season on AppleTV+.
“I’d been wanting to find a way to do a musical story on TV, “Gad says, and he turned to Loren Bouchard, the man behind one of the most popular animated sitcoms on television, Bob’s Burgers, for advice. “I went to him thinking maybe he’ll help us and just like, guide us,” Gad says. “Instead, he said ‘I wanna make this with you.’ So, it was just this perfect marriage.” Central Park follows the Tillerman family, who live in Edendale Castle in Central Park. Gad plays the narrator of the story, an endearing and fourth-wall-breaking busker named Birdie, meanwhile the Tillerman family are voiced by Leslie Odom, Jr and Kathryn Hahn as Owen and Paige, a Black man and a white woman with two children, Molly and Cole, voiced by Raver-Lampman and Tituss Burgess.
In season one, Molly, a spunky tween girl who draws her own comic books and serves as the primary protagonist of the series, was voiced by The Good Place star Kristen Bell, who appeared with Gad in Frozen as the voice of Anna. Gad, Bouchard, and co-creator Nora Smith decided to recast the role in the second season, listening to concerns that a young Black character and potential role model whose comic book alter ego, “Fistipuffs,” finds that her unruly curly hair is her superpower, ought to be voiced by a Black actress. Raver-Lampman, known for appearing in Hamilton! on Broadway and playing Allison Hargreaves on The Umbrella Academy, was asked to step into the role.
“I was honored and grateful and truly couldn’t believe that I was given this opportunity, and was so excited. But I immediately was filled with dread that I was going to let everybody down,” Raver-Lampman says. “Kristen Bell is the tiniest human with the biggest shoes that I had to fill.” Working closely with Bell to ensure a smooth transition, Raver-Lampman has decisively made the role her own. In season three, as Molly finds herself blossoming into a teenager, her storylines get more challenging, and more rewarding, both for viewers and the actress who provides her voice. “I’m really appreciative of Molly this season,” Raver-Lampman says. “In a weird way, I feel like I’m reliving my adolescence, but with way more perspective.”
Season three of Central Park brings in a new character, in the form of Abby, Paige’s younger sister, and Abby’s voice will be easy to recognize as Kristen Bell. “It was never a matter of if—it was just when and how she was going to resurface and what that dynamic would be,” Raver-Lampman says. “I think she found the perfect spot, playing Molly and Cole’s aunt, and I just love it so much. I just wish that we got to record in the same place.”
Central Park has become a popular destination for Broadway stars, as the impressive ensemble includes Hamilton! alumni Raver-Lampman, Odom, and Daveed Diggs, and guest stars have included such marquee names as Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Christopher Jackson, Andrew Rannells, Stephanie Beatriz, Keala Settle and Jenifer Lewis. The impressive pedigree isn’t confined merely to the cast, however. “I’ve gotten to work with some of the most incredible voices and actors,” Gad says, “and also some of the most insane composers. Not only that, but they keep some back People like Regina Spector and Sara Bareilles, are like, ‘We wanna write more, not less.’ It’s a real blessing to be able to be part of a show that seems to speak to so many people.” Gad has one name that is still on his wish list, however. “I’ve been trying to convince Lin-Manuel Miranda to come and write a song for us,” Gad says. “I think it would be incredible, especially because I stole half of his cast.”
The new season of Central Park begins Friday, September 9 on AppleTV+, bringing plenty of big laughs and showstopping musical numbers while also tackling serious subject matter, including a particularly groundbreaking episode where Owen must prepare his son for the harsh realities that face him as a young Black man in America. Central Park is without question the destination spot for great animated television this fall.