All Rachel Bloom wants is to do the one-woman show she planned to tour in 2020. The one where she wears a sparkly pantsuit, enters to the theme song from Space Jam, and opens with a riff and a dirty little ditty about the tree on her street that smells like cum. (The parasol in the photo, if you were wondering, is for protection from both sun and the cum tree.) Sure, a lot of things have happened since fall 2019, when she was pregnant and writing this show. Do the math: a fall 2019 pregnancy means an early pandemic baby; Bloom’s daughter was born in late March 2020. But still: Bloom does a bit about the college essays that will grow out of a pandemic early childhood, and then tries to move on. Move back.
But the title Death, Let Me Do My Show contains a lot of truth in advertising. Because no matter how hard she tries, Bloom keeps being plagued by the omnipresence of death. (One could say, who wasn’t, in the spring of 2020, but—spoiler alert—it all gets literal here, with death actually intruding into the show in a very physical way that will delight fans of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and, because this is a Rachel Bloom show, will culminate a riff on the underdog musical theater power ballad.) Bloom’s newborn daughter was in the NICU for 5 days during peak COVID, and then a friend died, and then another friend died, and also, her financial advisor kind of faked her dog’s death to get a better deal on pet insurance—long story; very funny song about the Rainbow Bridge—which makes her think about how in the foreseeable future, her beloved dog will die. And even if, as she says, America raises us to forget the bad, to not think about death, well, there it is. All around.
So the show is, essentially, Bloom’s argument with death, and Death’s argument with Rachel Bloom—a death that won’t get out of her way, won’t let her just do a one-woman comedy show that lets her work a little more blue than she could on network television. And that argument will, of course, be packed with songs (written by Bloom with Eli Bolin, Alden Derck, Jack Dolgen, and Shaina Taub) that hit a sweet spot between sentiment, raunch, sheer silliness, and an actual emotional punch. (“Is a Civil War soldier whose face has been destroyed / really as scary as an unfeeling void?” You tell me.)
And within the comedy, Bloom also brings back very clear memories of that terrifying early-pandemic moment, when things were careening so swiftly that every day brought a new disaster—the NICU where her newborn daughter was being treated reconfigured into a COVID unit over the course of the few days the baby spent there; Bloom’s OB sliding from sanguine and confident in the face of disaster to bursting into tears; Bloom’s friend Adam (her writing partner, musician Adam Schlesinger) going from making bad puns about her pregnancy to dying on a ventilator in the space of mere days. I’m not sure I was ready to go back there even in comedy; neither is Bloom, but she’s doing it anyway.
The more-narratively-integrated-than-standup-but-still-comic solo show is having a bit of a moment—Alex Edelman, Liz Kingsman, Mike Birbiglia—and director Seth Barrish (who’s done a lot of work with Birbiglia) and Bloom know how it’s done: Clever, witty production elements, like Beowulf Boritt’s simple, vaudeville-referencing set; just a little bit of intentional cheese in Aaron Copp’s lighting cues and the sound design by Alex Neumann and Beth Lake; visual gags in Hana S. Kim’s projections (which could perhaps stand to be pared back just a little); that sparkly pantsuit designed by Kristin Isola. A solid live band, occasionally glimpsed upstage. And letting Bloom do what she’s best at: self-deprecating humor plus a solid songbook, full of compassion and honesty toward herself and us, with no fear of true silliness. (And if you were dying to see Rachel Bloom’s birthing videos, well, you will go home satisfied.)
When you walk in, the environment leads you to expect razzmatazz—the sequins, Boritt’s swanky swagged red curtain, with Bloom’s name in colored cartoon lights—and instead you get a sometimes uncomfortable grappling with mortality that is still funny and sweet. It’s not like we all didn’t learn this lesson in 2020, not like we haven’t all been dancing, fighting, and screaming in the face of death a lot lately. So it’s not like Bloom is taking us to new emotional territory (well, except for that cum tree thing)—but she’s holding space for us to work through it with humor and heart. Sometimes that’s good enough.