After interviewing Rachel Bloom about her new Off-Broadway musical Death, Let Me Do My Show, I immediately started telling her about my dead boyfriend. Well, not about him, really, but about things I did immediately following his death. The weird parts of my grief. Then Playbill Photo Editor Heather Gershonowitz started talking about her dead father and how people around her were uncomfortable with her grief, even saying things like, “Shouldn’t you be over that by now?”
Which is one of the reasons Bloom wrote this show in the first place.
“What have I not seen that I know to be true?” Bloom asks herself when she’s writing. For her television series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (which ran for four seasons on The CW), it was mental health issues. In this new stage musical, built like a stand-up solo show, she delves into grief. “This is a thing that I've experienced, and I don't see anything about this,” she says of her hole-in-the-market approach. “How can I communicate this?”
And she communicates it with a few songs and a lot of laughs.
In Death, Let Me Do My Show, Bloom runs on stage in a spangly pantsuit, dribbling a basketball and singing along to “Space Jam.” She announces that we will pretend that 2020 didn’t happen and she will be performing this show that she wrote in 2019 as if everything is as it was then.
Of course, it’s not. And she can’t do that show. The show the audience gets is one in which she must confront the events of the last three years, particularly March 2020. At the very beginning of the pandemic, she gave birth to a daughter, who had to stay in the NICU. Meanwhile, the maternity ward was readied for the overflow of COVID-19 patients. During those same fraught few days, Bloom also lost her songwriting partner of five years, Adam Schlesinger, who died of complications from the virus after being hospitalized and placed on a ventilator. Schlesinger collaborated with Bloom on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
For Bloom, Death, Let Me Do My Show is a way of processing what happened in 2020. “This show really helped me,” she says. “By working on this and intellectualizing it, there’s a scabbing over of wounds that has happened. It’s part of my narrative now. I find it cathartic to talk about things out in the open. It helps me heal.”
And as Heather and I did, people can’t help but share their own stories after they hear hers. She’s tapped into something, and that catharsis drifts from her into the audience. “I'm so new to talking about grief and how people process grief. But there’s a shame people feel with grief, is a sense I’m starting to get,” she says. “Anything that’s messy and makes you depressed—people feel shame about not being perfect.”
She says that some people have thanked her for her vulnerability, but those thanks aren’t necessary. She wasn’t feeling vulnerable or ashamed. “I grieved. This happened. This is how I felt. There’s no fear in expressing that,” she says.
Of course, she’s Rachel Bloom, so her version of expression is little off kilter. She did half of her college studies at New York University in musical theatre and the other half in experimental theatre—she spent a summer in Amsterdam studying mime, clowning, and commedia. After school, she began writing sketch comedy and comedy songs.
“This show,” she says, “is in many ways the deconstruction of a form.” It’s part stand-up, part confessional monologue, and part musical. After the explanation that the audience will be seeing the 2019 show, Bloom sings a sort of Victorian dance hall number about the coital scent of the Bradford pear tree. The show is interrupted, the set falls down around her, and she gets into the real story with Death as her costar.
The songs initially seem silly, but they pack a punch. In one, she wishes for a haunting from her dead friend. A ghost would prove there is an afterlife. And that would sooth the gnawing of the unknown, an idea scarier than a simple spook. Without Schlesinger, Bloom has partnered with several different songwriters to create the tunes for Death, Let Me Do My Show, including Shaina Taub; Jack Dolgen, who had written with Bloom and Schlesinger on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; Jerome Kurtenbach, who also serves as music director for Death; and Eli Bolin.
The production is directed by Seth Barrish, who helmed both of Mike Birbiglia’s Broadway outings. And Bloom herself is ready for a bigger stage. Death, Let Me Do My Show runs through September 30 only at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. And though she’s been consistently selling out, an extension there isn’t possible as the revival of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (starring Aubrey Plaza) is slotted immediately next.
“I’d love to do this show on Broadway,” she says. “I don’t think that’s crazy to say. I’d love to, if they’ll have me.”
In the meantime, while waiting on Broadway producers to call, she’ll be giving her sold-out Off-Broadway audiences fits of giggles while also giving them permission to grieve. “I hope they think about the role death plays in their own lives,” Bloom says. “I hope that it makes them realize we shouldn't push down what happened in 2020. We shouldn’t forget.”