If you’re a fan of the CW’s offbeat musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, you are probably aware that they wrapped up the airing of their 3rd season with a live tour this spring. Its cult popularity meant it sold out in minutes and you had to be incredibly lucky to get a ticket. I got to be one of those lucky few and, as I walked out of the theater with my face in pain from grinning, I can confirm that it was worth every penny.
You might wonder how the cast of a tv show, not filmed in front of a live audience, would translate the show’s material to a live stage show. In the case of this very special show, the answer is very well indeed, largely thanks to the theatrical background of the cast. It was a great show with a great selection of songs from all seasons. They really worked hard to play to and entertain the crowd (given that I saw it in Philly, there were a lot of Founding Fathers jokes and even a few about the Eagles). They also really knew their audience, playing heavily on the “we’re all just a bunch of musical theater kids, let’s put on a show” aspect. Everyone on stage was happy to be there, having a good time, and singing and dancing their hearts out (Rachel Bloom danced so enthusiastically she actually full-on wiped out during an early number).
The band, comprised of two of the show’s songwriters Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne Fame) and Jack Dolgen, and drummer Ethan Eubanks, were all in on the game as well. Eubanks provided appropriate rimshots for all Gabrielle Ruiz’s impromptu high kicks and Dolgen and Schlesinger bantered with and teased Bloom, at one point asking “What is this, a podcast?” in response to her lengthy riffs between songs.
So, what exactly did I get to see? In essence, it was a musical revue of some of my favorite songs from my favorite show. No plot, no one in character, just songs, jokes, and real people having a really good time. The cast members along for the ride were Rachel Bloom (Rebecca), Donna Lynn Champlin (Paula), Gabrielle Ruiz (Valencia), Pete Gardner (Darryl), Vince Rodriguez III (Josh), and Scott Michael Foster (Nathaniel). The show opened up with an extended bit incorporating the spectacular season 3 opening song “Where’s Rebecca Bunch?” and the show’s anthem “West Covina.” During the latter, where the song’s lyrics lead to a fakeout making you think Rebecca’s admitting to being “hopelessly, desperately in love with…” Josh, Rodriguez got an extended applause break which he comically soaked up, before Bloom continued singing “…Philadelphia,” because she’s no fool.
Aside from Bloom, all the cast got to sing a couple of their best-known numbers, and there were some duets and group numbers as well. For solos/duets, we got to see stripped down, but still choreographed and fully sung versions of:
- “I’ve Got My Head in the Clouds” “We Should Definitely Not Have Sex Right Now” (Rodriguez and Bloom)
- “Let’s Have Intercourse” “Horny Angry Tango” (Foster and Bloom)
- “Women Gotta Stick Together” “I’m So Good at Yoga” (Ruiz)
- “I Love My Daughter (But Not In a Creepy Way)” “Gettin’ Bi” (Gardner)
- “Let’s Generalize About Men” (group number featuring Bloom, Champlin, & Ruiz)
We also got treated to a few numbers from characters who weren’t represented by their TV counterparts at the live show. My dearly-departed fave Greg always had the best songs, so I was pleased to hear two of his best, “What’ll It Be” and “I Could If I Wanted To” taken on by Schlesinger and Dolgen respectively. The show’s editor, Kabir Akhtar, hails from Philly so Bloom invited him out to sing his favorite song from the show, “Where’s the Bathroom,” (normally sung by Rebecca’s mother Naomi, as played by the incomparable Tovah Feldshuh in a guest starring role), and allowed the hometown hero to lead the crowd in an “E-A-G-L-E-S” chant.
I’ve purposely saved the best for last, the true rockstars of the show. Donna Lynne Champlin, you guys. If you don’t know who she is (and sadly, I didn’t before this show), do yourselves a favor and go check her out. Girlfriend can SANG. Where I say Greg always has my favorite songs, her character Paula has some of the best songs on the show. If you didn’t watch the show, you still might have heard of her from it; the over-the-top video of her song “The Miracle of Birth” from the season 3 finale went somewhat viral in internet mom circles. At the live show, she treated us to “Maybe This Dream” and “The First Penis I Saw” (the latter of which I haven’t been able to extract from my brain in the 3 days since), and closed the show with a rousing version of “Face Your Fears.” She’s just an incredible performer and I feel lucky to have gotten to see her live.
As great as Champlin was, the star of the show was never going to be anyone other than its lead, Rachel Bloom. She left every single drop of herself on the stage, working the crowd and singing more than twice as many solo songs as any other cast member, including “Sex with a Stranger,” “I’m a Good Person,” “Fuckton of Cats,” “The Math of Love Triangles,” and “Strip Away My Conscience,” as well as the duets and group number mentioned above. She single-handedly kept the show going, peppering her stage banter with bathroom humor, one-liners, segues both clever and not-so-much, and even some helpful sex tips.
Prior to the closing number, Bloom helpfully explained for the audience of musical theater fans who might not be aware, that at rock shows the performers do something called an “encore” and we could expect the same if we could generate as much enthusiasm as the fans of her example band: Smashmouth. In what she dubbed afterward as the greatest mashup of improv and flash mob she’d ever seen, when the lights went down, the crowd spontaneously broke into a repeated chant of “Smash! Mouth!” to encourage the performers back on stage.
The encore contained some of the most special moments of the show. It began with season 3’s dancey hit “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too.” On TV, the song is performed by the characters of Nathaniel and White Josh, both of whom have come to White Josh’s favorite gay club to dance out their sorrows about having been dumped. David Hull, who plays White Josh, did not make the East Coast leg of the live tour, so Rodriguez ably filled in for him. At the moment in the song where, on TV, both guys rip open their shirts to reveal chiseled abs, on stage, Foster and Rodriguez revealed t-shirts approximating cut pecs and six-packs underneath their top layers. And where, on TV, Josh Chan (Rodriguez) has a cameo where he is outed as a firefighting-themed stripper at the gay club, on stage this role was taken over by an enthusiastic, shirtless, regular-bodied, Pam-sprayed Gardner, who, cued by the lyric “We’re expressing our pain through the art of dance/But we’ll express so much better without these pants,” whipped off his firefighter pants to reveal American flag boxer shorts. Priceless.
Bloom closed out the encore. First, while solo on stage, she led the crowd in a singalong of “You Stupid Bitch,” a ballad that exemplifies the main character’s highly relatable internal struggle with self esteem. Then, thanking the crowd for being such a good audience, she whipped off her t-shirt and treated us to “Heavy Boobs,” sung in a bra and leggings. She was joined for curtain call by the rest of the cast, all wearing bras over their shirts.
This show gave an opportunity, not just for fans to see their favorite performers and songs live, but for the cast to have fun and experiment to create a unique live experience. Everyone in the room took something new away from the live show. My hope is some of that energy can be translated and captured in some of the songs of their next (sadly, last) season. Hopefully, they can make the rounds with another tour next year, the demand is certainly there. But for now, we’ll all have to hold on until next year when we can visit our favorite cast of kooks in West Covina.