The words "musical episode" typically elicit one of two emotional responses from fans: complete enthusiasm or deep, impenetrable skepticism. There is no such thing as indifference when it comes to TV's most polarizing gimmick — you either love it, or you really kind of hate it.
It's not like I blame the nonbelievers. In the years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Once More, with Feeling" — by far the gold standard of musical episodes, thanks to Joss Whedon's cunning mix of whimsy and plot-driven wordplay — there have been some truly baffling attempts. I'm not trying to drag Grey's Anatomy here, but the best musical episodes are at least a bit self-aware about the whole thing. And that's what Riverdale's "A Night To Remember" gets right.
With Kevin Keller at the helm of Riverdale High's spring production of Carrie: The Musical, the result is an entertaining and downright shocking musical within a musical. If you can get past the bits of spontaneous singing outside of the auditorium — this is Riverdale at its most ridiculous — then you'll see that the standout episode delivers razzle-dazzle, sincere character moments, and all the horrors we've come to expect from the town with pep.
A monumental Broadway flop, based on the Stephen King novel, the musical found redemption in its well-received 2012 off-Broadway revival. On a purely superficial level, Carrie fits tonally within the Riverdale universe. It speaks to showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's more macabre sensibilities. But "A Night To Remember" digs even deeper, as Riverdale's finest express their inner turmoil seamlessly through the music of Carrie: The Musical. It's so good that songs like "You Shine" and "Stay Here Instead" sound like they were written for these characters.
For star Lili Reinhart (Betty), it wasn't a coincidence. "There are a lot of parallels between each character and the characters that our characters play," she told MTV News on the Vancouver set of Riverdale in January. "It's works very well in kind of a strange way." So it's no surprise that Betty is cast as Sue Snell, the "good girl"; Archie as Tommy Ross, the "boy next door"; and Veronica as Chris Hargensen, the "vindictive mean girl."
MTV News was there with Reinhart and her castmates while they filmed "the biggest musical episode TV has ever seen," as Casey Cott put it. They gave us all of the behind-the-scenes scoop. Here's what we learned:
B&V shineThe CW
Betty and Veronica's friendship has been tested throughout Riverdale's second season. First, the Black Hood forced Betty to rip into Veronica's insecurities at Nick Sinclair's party, breaking V's heart and their friendship (at least until the Black Hood was caught), and now the Lodges' shady dealings have created a major rift between the former best friends and, consequently, the core four. In "A Night To Remember," tensions reach a boiling point when Betty confronts Veronica about her part in the show as the central mean girl — a part that B believes isn't really all that hard for V to play.
Betty's harsh remarks not only lead to "tension between Archie and Betty," KJ Apa said, but also to a falling out between friends, which has "directly affected Betty's relationship with Archie [as well as] Jughead and Archie's relationship," added Reinhart. "The two couples are going against each other in a sense. Going into this episode, they are still very strained," she said. "But they're put into this environment where they have to work together."
Betty knowingly hits Veronica where she's most vulnerable — and it stings. "Veronica right now is dealing with her parents," Camila Mendes said. "And she's balancing that [and] separating her identity from who her parents are." But through the power of the musical — and the magic of a heartfelt duet — Betty and Veronica ultimately find their way back to being B&V. "They're not in a good place right now," Mendes said, but "the musical brings them together by the end."
Every ship gets a special momentThe CW
Carrie: The Musical only has one romantic ballad ("You Shine") in the show, but "A Night To Remember" still manages to give each couple something special — from Toni's unwavering support of Cheryl's ambitions to Betty and Jughead's Nancy Drew-ing. And when Betty lashes out at Veronica, it's Archie who steps in to defend his girl. (While Betty and Archie's roles as high school golden couple Sue and Tommy certainly bring them closer, it "doesn't stir the pot" for Bughead and Varchie as much as you may think, Reinhart said.) Even Alice Cooper and FP Jones share a moment of sizzling sexual tension.
The choreography was everyone's worst nightmare — well, almost everyone'sThe CW
"I love it," Mendes told MTV News between takes during one of the episode's big musical numbers ("Do Me A Favor"). "It's fun because it's really up my alley," she added. "I danced for 10 years growing up, so I feel like I've retained a little bit of movement." Mendes puts all that dance training to good use in her "fierce, sexy" show-stopping number, "The World According To Chris." (With a perfectly apt lyric like, "My daddy taught me you get nowhere being nice," you can see why Aguirre-Sacasa chose Carrie: The Musical.)
"It was so much fun doing it," Mendes said of her performance. "I had all of these backup dancers, and I got to have this Christina Aguilera/Britney Spears moment in the center. It was this amazing, iconic moment."
But the choreography didn't come as naturally to her co-stars — or so they say. From what I observed on set, everyone nailed their moves in spite of their reservations. "Choreography is kind of my worst nightmare," Reinhart said. "I suck at dancing, in my opinion. I danced for 10 years — I was on a dance team, and I did dance classes for most of my childhood, and somehow I'm still terrible at it."
As for Apa, he just wanted more time to rehearse — something a TV production schedule doesn't have an abundance of. "The choreography was pretty hard," he said of the "gnarly" experience. "I'm not much of a dancer. It can be tricky to pick it up with the little amount of time we have and to put it together with all of the words and the lines and the cues." Then again, maybe Apa's just being too hard on himself.
"KJ's an amazing dancer!" Mendes added. "He keeps making fun of himself for doing it, but he's actually doing a really good job... KJ surprised me the most with his abilities."
Kevin does a "tiny, teeny" bit of singing — but not a lot of flirtingThe CW
It feels somewhat criminal to do a musical episode and not give Cott his own solo. The musical theater vet — his older brother Corey also has multiple Broadway credits to his name — rarely gets to flex his vocal abilities on Riverdale, but he does have a couple of brief moments to shine in "A Night To Remember."
"I get to sing a tiny, teeny bit," Cott said. "But luckily, the other cast are the best singers in the world, so they sound amazing."
In fact, Kevin pretty much calls the shots in this episode, making decisions that impact the entire production — one in particular will have major consequences going forward this season. For Kevin, the theater is a sacred space. "He takes the theater very seriously, and that's fun to watch," Cott said. "He's quite passionate, which obviously creates a bit of humor."
But for those hoping for a spark to ignite between Kevin and his assistant director, Fangs Fogarty, Cott says things are strictly platonic for now. "I'm not sure if it's romantic chemistry, but they are definitely buds," he said, adding that Kevin and Fangs have a "fun little interaction going in this episode that I think people will find quite humorous."
Reinhart and Camila share the same theater creditThe CW
One of the reasons fans have been clamoring for a Riverdale musical episode since the early days of Season 1 is the fact that everyone in the cast can sing. (Yes, even Cole Sprouse, who chose not to partake in the singing and dancing, which Aguirre-Sacasa ultimately decided was a very Jughead thing to do, so he plays videographer instead.) So of course Reinhart, Mendes, and Cott grew up doing children's theater.
Although Reinhart doesn't consider herself a singer ("I'm more of an actor who likes to sing," she said), the experience of performing did bring her back to her own musical theater roots. "It was a little bit nostalgic for me," she said. Her early roles include Alice in Alice in Wonderland ("That was a big deal," she said of her first leading role at age 14); Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, an early credit she shares with Mendes ("We bonded over that one of the first times we met," she mused); and a von Trapp in The Sound of Music.
As for Mendes, she credits her high school theater experience with helping her get through Carrie: The Musical. Her drama club roles include playing a Lost Boy in Peter Pan and the aforementioned Veruca Salt, which she joked "prepared" her for the role of Veronica.
This could be the first — and last — time you see Veronica in jeansThe CW
The episode also gave Mendes a reprieve from Veronica's sophisticated wardrobe, trading in V's dresses, skirts, and classic pearls for something a little more casual to fit with the 1970s setting of the musical. But for Mendes, Chris's jeans were also a hell of a lot more comfortable. "This is the first time Veronica has worn jeans — and will ever wear jeans," Mendes said. "I don't think she'll wear jeans again!"