The cast and crew of the CW series, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," is holed up in an old hotel-turned-studio space in the MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.
On this day, actors Rachel Bloom and Scott Michael Foster are mastering the choreography for a ballroom dance number called, ahem, “Let’s Have Intercourse.”
The show stars Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch, a high-powered New York attorney who follows her adolescent crush to the L.A. suburb of West Covina in search of a new life. It’s a genre all its own: a romantic musical comedy-drama, punctuated by elaborate and fully choreographed musical numbers.
The woman behind these often hilarious dance numbers is choreographer Kat Burns.
"OK ready, Rach, think very sensual on this opening," Burns instructs Bloom during a rehearsal. "Your core’s engaged, your lines are long. And you’re sexy, yet pathetic."
"I love working with comedians," Burns says. "It's a blessing with actors who are comedic, they're going to make it way more funny and interesting than you could have ever dreamed. Just like you bounce jokes off each other, it's the same with movement ... Comedy and dance, people are somehow shocked with the niche I've created, but to me it's very obvious, because the variety show, burlesque even, is a comedic take on sexy dancing."
Burns has made a name for herself as the go-to choreographer for comedians, especially those who come out of the Upright Citizens Brigade improv scene. She’s worked on everything from "Key & Peele" to the "Wet Hot American Summer" reboot.
"There's like a bunch of musical theater nerds in the comedy community that find each other because some people hate musicals and some love them," Burns says. "The ones that love them flock to each other."
While Burns has loved dance since she was a child, first falling in love with Shirley Temple movies as a kid, she didn’t grow up thinking it was something she could do for a living:
"I went to college to be a nurse and then nobody in my family was like, You're terrible at science, ya dumb dumb. So I took anatomy and I'm like, I’m not grossed out by the cadaver, but I don't really want to know why it's dead or help it not be dead."
After graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in communications, she eventually moved to L.A. and worked a series of odd jobs in post production, among other gigs:
"I had so many side jobs — I dog walked, I house sat, I baby sat, I waitressed at a steakhouse. A bunch of waitressing jobs — Katsuya, The Bazaar. A bunch of random dance jobs, too ... I remember one Christmas they hired 20 girls to be dressed as Nutcrackers and to stand in the stairs as guests entered Tori Spelling's house ... So for two hours I stood there as a toy soliders."
Plenty of weird side jobs and years of doing comedy shows at UCB later, Burns found herself in the right place at the right time for the chance of a lifetime. A friend she worked with on "Key & Peele" talked her up to "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" creators Aline Brosh-Mckenna and Rachel Bloom.
Here’s Rachel Bloom:
I’ve been working with Kat for a couple years because she and I were on a group together at UCB called Quick and Funny Musicals. And I just know that she’s going to be serving the joke. We wanted someone who had a specialty in comedy for the series, and she’s the only specifically comedy choreographer I know of.
Burns recalls: "When I had the interview I was like, Holy smoke! It would be so amazing to be a proper department head of a show that I could work on every week for months? That never happens! And it's televised? And I get to do a bunch of styles of dance, from tap to anything goes."
She’s not kidding — anything goes when it comes to "Crazy Ex"’s musical numbers. On this day she was working on two distinctly different sequences: inside, a ballroom dance duet; outside, the crew is setting up a dance number for the song, "Santa Ana Winds," complete with gigantic wind machines and a street full of parked cars to mimic L.A. traffic.
"This song that we're doing today, 'Let's Have Intercourse,' has a very Ed Sheeren vibe to it," Burns says. "Typically, there's references, so like this one it's the Ed Sheeren music video ... Honestly, until that happens, I put it out of my head, so even this, we're rehearsing this Ed Sheeren thing then outside is a 'Jersey Boys'-ish, Frankie Valli moment, and so I have to run back and forth and I'm prepping for the next one. So I'm focused on whatever the task is directly ahead. If I go too far ahead then too many balls to juggle."
Perhaps it’s this constant motion and variety that makes Burns the go-to choreographer for comedians — and what snagged her an Emmy for choreography last year, an honor that usually goes to a reality competition show like "Dancing with the Stars" or "So You Think You Can Dance."
"I'm very thankful that work's been coming and the comedy community and UCB has been so supportive and it's such a great group of creative people that are championing each other," Burns says. "I'm very thankful for them helping me to get to where I am, friends writing funny shows and asking me to be a part of it."
Check out some of Kat's other work!