Kathryn Burns spent four years choreographing the musical numbers on the CW comedy series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (and won an Emmy in 2016 for her efforts), but before the show signed off for good, she also had the opportunity to choreograph a live concert — variety-show style.
Titled “Yes, It’s Really Us Singing: The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Concert Special!,” the hourlong program will air after the April 5 series finale. Burns had only a couple of weeks after the final scripted episode wrapped to get the cast into dancing shape for reimagined versions of songs that ranged from first-season to final-season numbers.
“Normally a music video has one star and I can hire backup dancers, or I can spend eight hours just working on the lead actor’s performance,” she says. “With this, all of the co-stars, guest stars or regulars — they’re all the ensemble.”
Burns was aided by the fact that between seasons many cast members took part in a tour that saw stage versions of quintessential numbers such as “West Covina” and “Let’s Generalize About Men,” so the choreography wasn’t completely gone from their minds. What became tricky, though, was that Burns had only a few hours to re-teach each number. She sent the cast members links to previous versions, from original rehearsals to final performances. She also worked out who would be in each staged version partly based on the individual’s unique skill set and partly on their availability for rehearsals. (A few actors were already working on other projects, which makes it into the special as a joke explaining why one of the thesps is not in many numbers.)
“The first time we had the entire cast together was the day of the special,” Burns admits.
Since the core audience of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” “really appreciates the original choreography,” Burns notes, she wanted to keep most numbers as close to what had been on-screen as possible, even though they were often significantly cut-down versions. Several of the show’s most memorable songs about sex — from “Let’s Have Intercourse” to “Strip Away My Conscience” to “Period Sex” — were combined into a medley in the special, featuring a central set-piece of a red bed.
“The only specific live choreography for the special in the whole show was ‘Period Sex,’” Burns says. “It was a lot of eccentric high-kicking to show off that women were dancing with giant maxi pads hanging out of their sexy lingerie. I was so on the fence about whether S&P would flag [that], but for me that was the most fun little gift.”
Another musical change that informed different choreography was the final act’s “A Diagnosis” leading into “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal.” In the TV version of “Anti-Depressants,” Michael Hyatt and Rachel Bloom sing with an ensemble of backup dancers performing around them in an homage to “La La Land,” but in the live version, Burns had to teach that choreography to the “Crazy Ex” cast as well as think in more proscenium-based terms for the staging.
“That was originally a 360 for camera and choreographed to be a Steadicam oner, but we couldn’t have people in a circle facing Rebecca and Michael because then the audience wouldn’t see anything,” Burns says. “So I kept the base of the choreography, but then I brought people on for an eight count and then had them leave. That’s not really something you do in scripted TV — it’s more of a theatrical medium. It was about making it fun for the audience.”
Overall, Burns notes that the biggest difference about choreographing for a live special was not the size of the stage or the timeline she had for rehearsal but rather the scope of the production. “There were nine cameras and I had to be conscious of where they were,” she explains. While usually in a scripted show the director tells her what camera angle he or she wants and Burns may have to adjust choreography on the fly to accommodate that, in the live show, she could just focus on “the most interesting proscenium picture, [knowing] the camera will find the pretty shots.”