Reviews NYCOff-Broadway Published 14 September 2023

Review: Death, Let Me Do My Show at the Lucille Lortel

Lucille Lortel Theatre ⋄ September 6-30, 2023

Rachel Bloom planned to tour a show in spring 2020. Life, and death, got in the way. Three years later, does her brand of musical comedy still speak to us? Loren Noveck reviews.

Loren Noveck

Rachel Bloom in Death, Let Me Do My Show. Photo: Emilio Madrid

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.

Loren Noveck

Loren Noveck is a writer, editor, dramaturg, and recovering Off-Off-Broadway producer, who was for many years the literary manager of Six Figures Theatre Company. She has written for The Brooklyn Rail, The Brooklyn Paper, and NYTheater now, and currently writes occasionally for HowlRound and WIT Online. In her non-theatrical life, she works in book publishing.

Review: Death, Let Me Do My Show at the Lucille Lortel Show Info

Produced by Mike Lavoie and Carlee Briglia

Directed by Seth Barrish

Written by Rachel Bloom

Scenic Design Beowulf Boritt; COSTUME DESIGN: Kristin Isola; PROJECTION DESIGN: Hana S. Kim

Lighting Design Aaron Copp

Sound Design Alex Neumann & Beth Lake

Cast includes Rachel Bloom

Original Music Rachel Bloom, Eli Bolin, Alden Derck, Jack Dolgen, Shaina Taub

Show Details & Tickets

Running Time 75 minutes


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