There are 250 extras on set when I walk into Riverdale. There’s glitter everywhere, and scores of actors in matching drag. Even though I spend most of my day in the Andrews’ modest family home, outside, there’s a musical going on.
This is Riverdale’s third musical episode, but it’s unlike those that have come before it in that there’s no musical, at least, in the traditional sense. This year, Kevin is heading a variety show, and all are encouraged to take the stage with an act of their choosing. But when Principal Honey bans Kevin from performing his planned number from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, all the students come together to exclusively perform songs from the iconic musical. The way it plays out in the episode is less of a variety show, and more Glee-like, with the songs woven into the storyline.
But this hour still feels like a true occasion. “Normal episodes, every character has their own storyline: Betty's doing her detective stuff, and Jughead is off at Stonewall, and Archie's boxing, and Veronica is doing her many businesses and dealing with her family stuff,” Camila Mendes says. “But this episode always allows for the whole cast to get together and you get to see people just having fun on set constantly.”
“I truly believe in my heart of hearts the reason why Season 1 was so beloved was because we all worked together all the time. So I think that's why we cherish these moments so much is because we all get to be together,” Madelaine Petsch tells me later in the afternoon, Vanessa Morgan by her side. “That's why I truly love them, and I love watching them, so I imagine that's why the fans love them. Because you get to see Cheryl and Betty interact, and Toni and Kevin interact, and those are such important moments.”
Charles Melton arrives in the Andrews’ living room dressed in full Hedwig attire, straight from shooting a scene at Riverdale High in which the hallway is full of students in the matching drag look. “My feet are very sore walking around in, what is this, eight inch heels?” he says. Still, he loves his heels, as well as the jeweled details on his sleeves.
Good thing too, because it took him an hour and a half to get ready this morning, which is a lot longer than the usual 15 minutes it takes to tweak his hair and perfect his pout. He passed the time in the trailer finishing Netflix’s Cheer on his phone while Petsch and Vanessa Morgan were sat next to him, applying their own makeup. It was business-as-usual for the ladies, who had figured out their coloring during a makeup test a week ago. “The makeup test was a little horrific for me because I made my eyebrows black at first. It just did not work on my face,” Petsch says. “So then, today, I went a little bit more tame.”
Casey Cott was also in the room, sitting “very, very, very still” as a team pampered him nearby for a whopping two-and-a-half hours. Unlike the others, this wasn’t his first day in drag. “I’ve been doing it all week,” he tells me during a brief break he has later in the day. He’s grown accustomed to his “gnarly” glitter lipstick, but today, it’s his wig that he loves the most. “This wig is super bad ass because this is the actual wig that John Cameron Mitchell wore in the movie Hedwig. This is his wig,” he says. “So, Victoria, head of our hair department knows someone connected and got us this wig. So, while it is the most uncomfortable, it's my favorite thing.”
Not everyone gets to dress in drag. It causes some envy on set — “I don't know why I wasn't included in that to be honest,” Mendes says. “I would have loved to wear those wigs and do that makeup.” — but no one seems too hurt. (She still has some upcoming fun donning a glam-rock look for a sleepover number in Betty’s room alongside Lili Reinhart, Petsch, Morgan, and Cott.)
Even still, everyone is going all-out. It’s easy, given the rock-and-roll feel of Hedwig, and on day seven of filming out of eight total, plus weekends spent rehearsing, not to mention those recording sessions prior, Reinhart is feeling it. “I’m tired today,” she says, sitting next to me on the Andrews’ back patio. “Musical episodes are always a large undertaking.” She’s on the verge of losing her voice from all the singing she’s been doing over her voice tracks; it’s something the cast does to make the performances look real, she explains. But she’ll slip in a daily nap during her lunch break to keep her energy up — and then will crash as soon as she gets home at night.
Separately, Mendes says that she needed to get a massage after aggressively thrashing around during a mosh-like scene that was filmed a few days prior. She and Reinhart were trying to make each other laugh during rehearsals. (The director politely told her she could tone it down for the real take.) “I think everyone's trying to make each other laugh constantly,” she says. “I don't think it's about being cool. It's about who can be the funniest.” (That would be, hands down, KJ Apa. “Maybe it's the accent, but also it's just KJ being KJ. He just makes everything funny,” Mendes says.)
It’s not all fun and games, though. Sometimes, there’s real work to get done on a tight timeline. In this episode, there’s a massive fight scene between Betty and Jughead, and concurrently Veronica and Archie. But since it’s a musical episode, rather than screaming at each other, they’re scream-singing. On top of that, it’s a punk-influenced number, something way outside of both Mendes and Veronica’s comfort zones. And in case that wasn’t enough, they only had one hour to get it right. “Singing it was very vulnerable,” Mendes says. “But something about the rush of it all just gave us that kick of energy that we were just like, ‘All right, let's just fully commit to it, give it everything we've got,’ and ended up being one of my favorite numbers so far because it was just so raw and full of rage and I don't think we get to see that a lot in Riverdale.”
That’s right: Jughead belts it out in this episode, in more than one number. It is not Cole Sprouse’s favorite activity, but, he contends, “it seems to make sense for the character,” particularly given that the songs are now intended to drive the narrative. "I don't think Jughead's necessarily the kind of kid that gets up on stage in front of the entire town and dances like a Jellicle cat,” Sprouse says. “So if he's singing, going about his normal narrative, then that seems to make more sense.”
Plus, he feels connected to this particular music. Hedwig was the first musical he watched as a child. “I thought for certain it was going to be Cats [for this year’s musical],” he says. “But I'm overjoyed that it's Hedwig. I have a very fond connection to that music since I was a child. I really, really love that musical." Besides, Sprouse adds, he’s not terribly uncomfortable in the recording booth — when he’s in there singing as Jughead, at least.
Meanwhile, Morgan and Petsch, loaded up on caffeine, are still high off filming their duet, which sees them jumping on the counters at Pop’s. “It was all girls just…” Morgan begins, “Killing it. Crushing it. Intimidating our principal,” Petsch finishes. Ganging up on Principal Honey has been a consistent theme for Petsch’s Cheryl this season, but actor Kerr Smith is used to it. “I guess I'm the Scrooge in this episode,” he says. “Every scene they're dancing around, and it's just me in the corner with my arms crossed.”
The bright side, Smith adds, is that he gets a front-row seat to all of the excellent performances — particularly when Cott takes the stage. It is, after all, Kevin’s annual masterpiece. “He's done a phenomenal job at all these dance numbers he has to do. It's really been cool to watch,” Smith says. He’s not alone in that assessment. Every single cast member throughout the day has been singing Cott’s praises. “I’ve just been in awe at what he’s doing,” Melton says. “He looks really, really buff right now,” Sprouse marvels. “That’s my favorite moment of this episode is watching Casey just live it,” Petsch says, while Morgan hones in on his “Tear Me Down” song-and-dance. “That’s the highlight,” she says.
“Tear Me Down” was one of the more nerve-racking scenes for Cott, he says. “It’s just something that I’ve never done before, something like this, on TV,” he says. In the scene, the whole town shows up to watch Kevin do his thing, and he does it. “I haven't felt that much energy or excitement from a room of people since I've probably done a play or something. And I think K.J. and Cole and Lili and Cami and Charles and Mads, all really rallied the group to do that.” It was a really special moment for Cott. “It almost felt like Season 1 again,” he says, honing in on the sentiment Petsch mentioned earlier.
After speaking with the cast members, I poke around the set, walking through the wide halls of Riverdale High, checking out Archie’s room (which is not connected to the rest of the Andrews’ home), and popping in to Le Bonne Nuit, all the while walking by class president campaign posters and flyers with the bolded words ‘Missing: Jason Blossom.’ This is all to kill time before the night’s big performance: The Archies are getting ready to storm Pop’s.
Even though the current temperature is a chilly 39 degrees and mist falls from the sky, eventually, Sprouse, Reinhart, Apa, Mendes, and Cott come onto the roof of the iconic diner. Safely harnessed in place, Mendes yells down for someone to please take a photo of her. Apa calls out saying his guitar isn’t plugged in. “How am I even playing?!” And Sprouse jokes that his character is too socially awkward to justify his presence. Then, the music track plays and they snap into character as Jughead, Betty, Archie, Veronica, and Kevin, forming the band Archie Comics fans have been waiting for.
I go backstage, if you will, in between some takes. “I’m feeling pretty amped,” Apa says. His feet are cold from the rain, but he calls this “probably the coolest moment” of the episode so far. “The music was playing. There's two cameras operating right now on a crane and we just, yeah, we went for it. It's great.” It was his first time ever on the roof of Pop’s.
Sprouse comes up and affectionately strokes Apa’s eyebrows. He doesn’t flinch. “Cole likes to touch me on my face every time he walks past,” he says. “We have a very intimate relationship.” Apa starts telling me how much he was loving seeing Sprouse on the roof next to him — “I love watching him since in the musical episodes because I can see the un-confidence in his face” — but he’s quickly pulled away. The band is needed back on set for one more encore.