Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom on her musical theatre roots, her version of 42nd Street, and why she would take Hamilton to an alien planet

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As the co-creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rachel Bloom is changing the landscape for musical theatre. Bloom has combined her dark, smart sense of humor with a love for musical theatre in the hit CW series about a neurotic and unhappy New York City attorney who decides to follow an ex-boyfriend to West Covina, California, in hopes of finding fulfillment.

Bloom first appeared on the radar for many Broadway fans with the 2014 video “Nobody Will Watch The Fucking Tony Awards With Me” but she has been an Internet sensation since 2010 when she released the sketch song “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury”.

The original concept for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend came from acclaimed screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses) who approached Bloom with the idea after seeing some of her YouTube videos.

In addition to being a co-creator and executive producer, Bloom picked up a Golden Globe in January for her performance as the titular Rebecca Bunch. During her acceptance speech, Bloom said Crazy Ex-Girlfriend almost didn’t happen because the pilot was rejected by several networks; luckily, the CW saw the potential in the groundbreaking comedy.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is incorporating musical theatre into primetime with humor and originality, its feminist narrative about Rebecca’s dive off the deep end stays rooted in reality and deviates from farce, and the series’ approach to challenging social stereotypes makes it one of the most thematically interesting and relevant programs on television.

Bloom recently spoke with Stage Door Dish about her musical theatre roots, the songwriting process for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and her dreams of bringing her own ‘fucked up 42nd Street‘ musical to the stage someday soon.

The show is so real and relatable, but it’s also challenging social norms. Did you have these ideas when you started or did you come up with them as you went along?

We knew Josh was going to be an Asian bro from day one. That was always set in stone. The major way Josh has changed is by becoming a very viable love interest for Rebecca in a way that we didn’t foresee, partially because Vincent Rodriguez III is just the warmest, most wonderful person. Gradually, as the season went on, the stories of him and Rebecca shifted towards our natural chemistry. He’s more than just a symbol and a dream, he’s someone who could be good for her.

As far as Darryl, we based him off of anyone in a small town who thinks they’re super sophisticated. He talks in that first episode about ‘I’ve been in New York one time’ and doesn’t really listen to what other people are saying. He’s kind of a Michael Scott [The Office] based character. With anyone who’s that oblivious, there’s a deep sadness that they haven’t let themselves acknowledge. We wondered what his deep sadness was and sexual orientation is a huge thing that people are in denial about in themselves. As we started to go through the series with Pete [Gardner], the idea of Darryl being an insensitive blowhard kind of went out the window. Pete is just a wonderful human being and it’s more fun to play with characters who are fundamentally nice and look at the quirks in that. That just feels more original and harder to do. The idea that Darryl was a nice, sweet person and just bottling something up was something we had in mind when we were writing the pilot. That has evolved with Pete and his portrayal of Darryl.

You’ve said you weren’t specifically looking to cast musical theatre actors, but you ended up with Donna Lynne Champlin and Santino Fontana, who are so respected in the Broadway community. Does working with them give you the bug to do a musical on stage?

Totally. My roots are musical theatre. I went to school for musical theatre, and I would absolutely love to do theatre. Actually, before the show got picked up, I finished writing a full-length musical that I would star in and I was about to try to workshop it in New York. That’s still very much on the table.

With everyone on the show, the most important part was getting the best actors. The show is a true musical, in that we wanted the songs to come from the characters’ point of views and feel grounded. The character of Paula was the only one who we said, ‘This character must sing.’ Aline and I always said we could do an entire show starring the people who auditioned for Paula. There are so many unbelievably talented women in their 40s and 50s who just need to be stars. It was really hard to narrow it down and pick someone. Michael Hyatt, who played the therapist in the last episode, originally auditioned for Paula. The amount of talent we saw for that role was unbelievable. That was a high demand, that we need someone to play a strong, maternal, sister/friend who can also belt their face off. We literally saw hundreds of people who could do that.

For everyone else, especially for Greg, we were ready to write the musical elements around their voice. We were really fine writing the show around the best actor we could find, and in the case of Santino, he was by far our favorite Greg. He was just the best. Had he not been able to sing a note, he still would have gotten the role. Then he started singing, and he actually played the piano at his audition, so we knew was very talented.

It’s the same with Josh. If Vincent could not dance or sing or do anything but act, he would have been Josh regardless. In addition to being an amazing actor, he’s also acrobat, and a dancer, and a singer, and he plays guitar. He is so talented in so many ways and that’s so fun to write for. These people were the best for the characters, but because of all their other skills, they’ve expanded what we can do for their characters.

Can you talk about the musical you worked on?

It’s like a fucked up 42nd Street. I started working on it way before Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which was actually Aline’s idea. It’s a musical called Broadway Crazy and it’s a twist on the young ingenue coming to New York in the 1920’s to be a star but she’s escaped from a mental institution in Iowa. The whole show is her trying to be star but also keeping this secret that she doesn’t want anyone to find out. She has amnesia and doesn’t really remember herself. It’s actually finished, so the second I get a chance, I’d love to put it up somewhere. I’m really proud of it. I co-wrote the music with Jerome Kurtenbach, who co-wrote the ‘West Covina’ song with me.

Do you only write songs based on the episodes, or do you ever choose to incorporate themes and homages and work the episode around that?

It mostly comes from plot. There has been one or two songs where we had a song idea and built an episode around that because the song does something interesting thematically. In episode four, we loved that ‘Sex with a Stranger’ song and the idea that she [Rebecca] is trying to hook up with someone and really paranoid about it. That really informed the plot of the episode, because you start with her singing the song, and the episode ends with her fucking a stranger.

In the rare times that we do put a song before the plot, you then have to build the plot around the song. For the Music Man homage, we had the plot of an episode where she’s [Rebecca] trying to get Josh involved in a case and she has to rally everyone in his building. We realized, ‘That’s a musical number right there. Oh, that’s so Music Man. That’s literally conning small town people into doing something for someone’s personal gain.’ Most of the time, it has to come from plot.

What has been your favorite song of the series so far?

Right now, the two songs in episode 14; ‘I’m a Villain in My Own Story’ and ‘Getting Bi’. I’m really personally proud of ‘I’m a Villain in My Own Story’ because it’s what we’ve been wanting to say with this show. It’s meta in all the right ways, and it was so fun to play.

I really love ‘Getting Bi’. Adam Schlesinger wrote that song. It’s fantastic, and it’s already started to touch people’s lives. I’ve gotten a lot of messages of bisexual people saying ‘Oh my gosh, thank you for that song.’ A girl in Australia did a really beautiful acoustic cover of it and that was her way of coming out.

Both of the songs in that episode have a really special place in my heart.

Did you ever think the show would become what it is now and mean so much to so many people?

I hoped. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s scary. You create this thing in somewhat of a vacuum. By the time this got on the air we had been working on it for two years. You think what you’re doing is good, everyone working on it says it’s good, but you don’t know. To have people respond to the show in the way we intended them to respond to it is really gratifying.

Where does your love of musical theatre come from?

I would say I was born with it. My mom was a pianist and we was always playing show tunes. My grandfather was an amateur theatre director and stand-up comic. It was just something that was in my subconscious from day one. It’s always been a no-brainer.

Can you talk about Lea Salonga‘s upcoming cameo on the show?

We knew we wanted to get Lea Salonga on the show and it was just a matter of whether it would work on this season. The part she plays is just so perfect. It was the synthesis of the writers’ room coming up with a brilliant story idea and the only person who could play it was Lea Salonga. You’ll get it when you see it. If you’re going to write a character for someone, it really has to be built into an episode. There are a lot of people who have reached out that want to do the show. The problem is that the show is so specific and plot driven. If we’re going to have a big appearance, it has to be a character who is going to really affect the plot and we have to know about it beforehand. For season two, we’re keeping some people in mind.

Ricki Lake and Amber Riley were just in the last episode because they both wanted to do it and I wish we could have had them in more than one musical number and more than two scenes. But the show is so tight plot-wise, we try to fit special guests in whatever nooks and crannies that we can.

Some of the actors on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are doing theatre and musical projects during the hiatus. If you could step into any Broadway role, which would you choose?

I want to play Hamilton. I memorized the cast album before I saw it and, because of Gabrielle Ruiz [who plays Valencia], I got to go backstage and meet Lin-Manuel Miranda. I was sobbing. It was a week after I won the Golden Globe and I was at Hamilton surrounded by people treating a historical musical like it was Star Wars and it was overwhelming. It was the hardest I’ve cried in years.

What’s on your must-see list of Broadway shows?

I saw Fun Home at the Public, but I would see it again, it’s so good. I really wanted to see Spring Awakening, because I had a friend in it, but it closed before I could get there. I also know Alex Brightman in School of Rock so I really want to make time to see him in that.

If you could go to an alien planet with one play or musical, which one would you take?

One that pops out is Hamilton, because it’s on my mind. I just think it’s a good representation of pop and hip-hop, and what theatre can do. The other one that sticks out is August: Osage County because it’s so compelling. People I know who aren’t huge theatre people saw it and loved it and I think it’s a good representation of what theatre can be.

What would you say to people who are totally into theatre but haven’t watched Crazy Ex-Girlfriend yet?

This is the TV show you’ve been waiting for. It’s literally everything you’ve ever wanted in a television show, and every second you’re not watching it, you’re missing out on the opportunity to be inspired. That’s the most braggy thing I’ve ever said about the show but it’s 100% true. When you watch it, you’ll be like ‘Why didn’t I watch this earlier?’

 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs Monday nights at 8pm on The CW. 

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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