How Rachel Bloom Made a Musical Comedy the Best TV Show of 2016 | Playbill

Special Features How Rachel Bloom Made a Musical Comedy the Best TV Show of 2016 …and how it led to Emmy nominations for her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Rachel Bloom in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Eddy Chen/The CW -- © 2015 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

On July 13, Rachel Bloom, Adam Schlesinger, and Jack Dolgen earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Original Musical and Lyrics. Take a look at Playbill’s 2016 interview with Bloom:

Vulture named Crazy Ex-Girlfriend the Best Television Show of 2016—and it’s hard to argue with the choice. A full-out musical comedy, created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada) with songs by Bloom, Jack Dolgen and EGOT nominee Adam Schlesinger, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend follows Rebecca Bunch, a depressed New York attorney who impulsively moves to California after bumping into her So-Cal summer camp ex-boyfriend, Josh Chan. As Rebecca and Josh (played by Anything Goes alum Vincent Rodriguez III) carry on a blurry friendship built on lies, she finds complications in Josh’s sardonic best friend Greg (Tony nominee Santino Fontana) and invaluable friendship (and a co-conspirator) in new co-worker Paula (Drama Desk winner Donna Lynne Champlin).

While the honest writing, spot-on performances, and original musical numbers have captured critical acclaim, most distinctive, however, is the show’s unprecedented tone.

“We’re just trying to present a nuanced portrayal of people and what it takes to be happy,” says Bloom. The show and its songs ease between blunt social commentary, oddball cynicism, situational comedy, and emotional vulnerability without conforming to any one box. The score oscillates from hip-hop and R&B (“The Sexy Getting Ready Song”) to MGM dance musicals (“Settle for Me”), from grunge rock (“Textmergency”) to show tune (“After Everything I Have Done For You”). Still, Bloom describes the musical genre of her show as more classical musical theatre. “When we write the songs, we look at the emotional high and low points of the episode—the same as writing a musical,” she says.

Every episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is its own mini-musical. In Bloom’s writing, the old-school Sondheim philosophy (when the emotion is too strong to speak, you sing) meets the audacity of new-school Parker and Stone.

Bloom likes to find “our twist on musicals,” and that is reflected in the references she sprinkles in for her audience. Her “Flooded with Justice” anthem, when the plaintiffs in a country water dispute case gather on the steps of the courthouse, distinctly nods to “Do You Hear the People Sing”; and the aforementioned “After Everything I Have Done for You” could be named “Paula’s Turn.”

But what Bloom and company create with references remains specific to Rebecca and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

“There are very few songs we do on the show where it’s like, ‘Well, this is going to be a musical theatre song,’ [but] we usually have to have some sort of target, right?” Bloom explains. “Rather than ‘Rebecca’s going to sing some sort of musical theatre song to rally the troops,’ it’s, ‘Well, it’s The Music Man, and what’s our take on The Music Man?’”

The hybrid feel of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reflects the convergence of these ideas, Bloom and McKenna’s improvisational and collaborative writing process, and Bloom’s mixed bag of influences.

When it comes to her performance icons, musical theatre broads rule the roost. “I only listened to show tunes until I was 20- or 21-years-old, so Carol Burnett, Ethel Merman, Vivian Blaine, Faith Prince, Mary Testa…” she rattles off, “Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters. Each of these women approach performance [in a way that] is so unique to them. The way that Bernadette Peters attacks a song is completely different from Audra McDonald—but they’re both amazing. Looking at these extremely talented women and how there are so many ways to approach performing and so many ways to express your talent [is inspiring].”

Bloom’s appreciation of theatre icons shines through her portrayal (a Golden Globe-winning one at that) of Rebecca. But when asked about her writing influences, the list quickly veers from musical comedy. While Mel Brooks makes the list, Weird Al Yankovic, Flight of the Conchords, and The Lonely Island are at the top.

“As a comedy songwriter, most of my influences up until recently were men because that seemed like that was what was available,” says Bloom.

That is, until Bloom discovered Julie Brown (“Cause I’m a Blonde,” “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”). “That was the first time I saw a woman doing comedy music videos,” she says.

Bloom has joined a small, but important, club. When it comes to cable television, Bloom, who earned Emmy nominations for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music and for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics, is one of the first of her kind.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is not just another example of musical theatre at its apex in popular culture. Bloom, in particular, marks the forward movement in building a legacy of comedic women songwriters.

But she’s not done flipping tables yet. That theme song she was nominated for? It’s getting the axe for Season 2. “The first theme song doesn’t apply,” says Bloom. “We like each season having a different overall emotional thesis statement.”

In its premiere season, Rebecca was in denial over her motivations for moving to California, while yo-yoing between feelings for Josh and Greg. But [SPOILER ALERT] in the final moments of the season finale, Rebecca confesses her love to Josh, telling him that she moved to West Covina for him. This season, “Rebecca’s more outwardly in love, and she is more outwardly pursuing her goals, and there is less subtext to her interactions,” explains Bloom. So Bloom and her co-writers have written a theme to match.

Come the October 21 premiere, it’s a whole new song, a whole new Rebecca, and, hopefully, a whole new world for musical comedy and its female writers.

This article was originally published October 19, 2016 prior to the Season 2 premiere. Season 3 will premiere October 13 on The CW.

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