February 21, 2020

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ Cast Looks Back With Laughter, Affection

From left: The cast and crew of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”: Donna Lynne Champlin, Aline Brosh McKenna, Rachel Bloom, Jack Dolgen, Pete Gardner, Vella Lovell and Kathryn Burns. Photo by Emily Kneeter for the Paley Center for Media

Author’s note: Videos embedded within the story contain adult themes and may include explicit language. Viewer’s discretion is advised.

Hundreds of devoted fans gathered on March 20 inside the Dolby Theatre to honor and kvell over CW cult favorite “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” 

The raunchy and comedic cast got together for a panel discussion at PaleyFest LA — most of which was “not safe for parents” — where the show was referred to in the past tense because it’s fourth and final season has wrapped. 

“This is all making my heart kind of hurt,” actress Rachel Bloom, who plays ex-girlfriend Rebecca Bunch and executive produces, said after moderator Stacey Wilson Hunt asked cast members to name their favorite songs from the series from a lengthy list. “It’s the first time we’re saying it in the past tense. … It’s really interesting … we’ve now finished the concert, the show actually really is in this past tense. It’s really weird.”

Bloom was referring to the “Yes, It’s Really Us Singing: The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Concert Special!” show that will follow the series finale, in addition to the concert tour that the cast did in several cities around the country.

The number of F-bombs dropped during the event was in the spirit of the TV series, which addresses mature themes (sex, drugs, mental health, coming out, LGBTQ rights, sex again), but the amount of self-deprecation dispersed from the talented ensemble made the night of laughs heartfelt. 

For a TV show that tosses social tropes into the garbage (its song “Let’s Generalize About Men,” for example) and also plays like a musical fully recognizing it’s a musical, almost every actor needs to bring their comedic chops, dancing abilities and vocal performances to the forefront on top of acting. This cast and show’s cameo actors are quadruple threats.

Bloom kicked off the night with the show’s origin story, sharing her fears. Pitching “C.E.G.” in her mind wasn’t easy because “literally no one wanted” her other two shelved musical television shows. 

“Hot tip,” she told the crowd. “If you’re pitching a musical television show, don’t sing in the pitch.” 

Bloom was seated next to her show runner and “work wife,” Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “27 Dresses”), each of whom wore matching prescription-pill-bottle dresses. 

“She’s a fellow writer girl and I liked that,” McKenna said, remembering their first meeting almost six years ago.

The Jewish-female dynamic duo, along with their team of writers, created more than 150 original songs during four seasons. Their Jewish roots came into play on a handful of occasions including, “The J.A.P. Rap Battle,” and its reprise during Season 4, “Remember That We Suffered” and “The Math of Love Triangles,” which also is reprised in Season 4 — to name a few. 

Bloom said her favorite song, which she admitted changes frequently, is “The Villain of My Own Story” from Season 1. 

“That’s an emotional tentpole song for the character,” Bloom said. “It’s this f—ed-up Disney song, which is my jam. I have a weird fondness for that song because I won the Golden Globe [in 2016 for best actress in a comedy or musical TV series] and came back to set and I shot that song. So it was this weird thing of, like, being in a gown, and then you go to set and you get the prosthetic nose put on and you try to eat chili fries with the nose. And that’s what the job is.” 

One of the main musical writers on the show is Jack Dolgen, who has written songs with Bloom for almost a decade. 

As moderator Hunt put it, “He’s a man of many hats but only one outfit,” because Dolgen frequently appears in real life in his denim-on-denim look. 

He became a key player, who also ended up writing, directing, producing and performing throughout the series. 

“I think just bridging the gap between what we were doing in the writers room and story-wise and song-wise to make sure they work together and fed off each other properly, that was the main trick of the show,” he said. “I think that was a skill we all learned together.”

Dolgen also gave musical props to music producer Adam Schlesinger (“Music and Lyrics,” “That Thing You Do”), who played a big part in every song throughout the series. Although Schlesinger wasn’t at the panel, Dolgen stressed how crucial he was to the process. 

“We couldn’t have done the show without him, [without] Adam’s ability to produce in any genre and to write incredible songs in his own right, simply the quantity that we did,” Dolgen said. “We did over 150 comedy songs.”

McKenna added how nice it was to see the cast members show up on set to cheer on one another during the songs they might not be in. The show isn’t just musically hilarious; the panel revealed they were like a family. Their dynamic allowed for a great space for making the scripts come to life. 

Donna Lynne Champlin, who plays lawyer and Rebecca’s best friend, Paula, admitted her steepest learning curve was adjusting from live theater to single-camera television. She joked she didn’t fully feel comfortable until Season 3.

“I didn’t know how anything on a TV show came together,” Champlin said, holding for laughs. “My nickname, lovingly, was ‘Sabotage.’ … It was so overwhelming … for me. The weirdest [part] was coming from a live theatrical background, I didn’t realize how much I relied on the audience, most particularly, the laughter.” 

Vella Lovell, who plays the sarcastic and apathetic Heather, and studied acting at Juilliard, also weighed in on the TV-production process.

“I feel like you can train forever and not be prepared to be on set of a television show,” Lovell said. “I don’t think anything could have prepared us for this experience. Yeah, I mean, we were all saying it was kind of our senior year, like we all got into college. Now we are saying goodbye.” 

Although the show’s final episode will air soon, Bloom and McKenna aren’t done with Rebecca’s story. Bloom and McKenna hope they can continue to perform the series’ songs in concert and potentially condense the 60 hours of the show into a musical. 

“We are only starting to talk about that [stage musical],” Bloom said, “but for now, we have these live performances with the cast, and the coolest part for me is that we have begun to create a hybrid of a comedy show to a full-fledged musical revue, and the fun thing about it is that we are playing ourselves. … It allows for the freedom that we have when we are on set. … I am probably going to be bothering them to do these shows for the next 50 years.”

The final episode of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” airs April 5 on the CW.