It's something we've all experienced: the awkward fix-up.
Two people who don't know each other making uncomfortable small
talk, trying to get to know each other, just because someone felt
they might be a good fit.
They say that the best art comes from the simplest places.
The new Broadway musical First Date takes the audience on one
of these blind dates, giving us a hysterical look at romance in the
age of Google search and other social mores.
Aaron is an uptight business exec who is still smarting
from an extremely bad breakup of a long-term relationship. Casey is
a serial first dater who has become so jaded to being set up with
the wrong guy that she tends to go in assuming it won't work out,
therefore she may as well have a little fun toying with the dude.
The musical takes a comical look at all the hazards of modern
courtship: friends, family, food choices, cell phones, religion,
bail-out calls, exes, gay friends, the "just friends" speech and the
internet outing all of your biggest secrets.
Aaron is the Broadway debut of TV star Zachary Levi of
Chuck fame. Casey is played by Krysta Rodriguez, who spent the
last year in the role of Ana on the second season of NBC's
Broadway-centric drama Smash.
However, Rodriguez doesn't just play a Broadway diva on
TV. She has been living the role for years, playing roles in such
acclaimed musicals as Spring Awakening, In the Heights and
The Boyfriend. She is best known for her 2010 Broadway run as
Wednesday Addams in the musical The Addams Family, a part
which won her a Broadway.com Audience Award for Favorite
A couple of weeks after First Date premiered on
Broadway, Rodriguez took the time to sit and discuss her latest play and
almost interviewed you last year. NBC wanted me to talk to you
Smash, but at the time I hadn't seen your character at all. By
the time I got to know you, unfortunately it was not getting pushed
Yes. It's all about the timing. (laughs)
What was it about
Date that intrigued you?
Having come off of Smash, I wasn't sure whether I
was going to try to do more television or do more theater. I was
sort of letting things come. To be honest, it was going to take a
lot to get me back to eight shows a week, because I had gotten
comfortable with the television schedule. I was just looking at
projects. Other Broadway shows had come along. I was looking at TV
stuff. This one came across my desk unassumingly. I had never
heard of it. It was already coming to Broadway, which was strange,
because I didn't know anything about it. I wasn't really thinking
about it that much. Then I read it.
Within the first two pages I thought this was something
different. I've read a lot of scripts for musicals. I've been in a
lot of musicals. It turns out, I think the thing that is really
different about it is that it was written by a television writer. I
really gravitated towards that. It was the combination of both of
my worlds at the moment. After reading it, I thought it was really
funny. I really related to the character, even though she's nothing
like me in a lot of ways. I related to her struggle for finding the
one. I thought this is actually really cute and it could be really
amazing. Auditioned for it and fell in love with the creative team.
Then they gave me the part. So it all worked out.
Having an awkward
first date is such an universal experience, are you surprised it
took so long to do a show that completely revolves around it?
Yeah, I am. It is such a simple concept. That's the thing
that people come away believing. It's just a simple thing. We take
one theme and ride it out for 90 minutes. It's very cinematic in
that way and not as much musical, but I think that we make it work
in a really interesting way. I had a friend come see the show. He
sat in the audience and he was, "I wonder where they are going to
go? Are we going to track their whole relationship?" He goes, "No,
it's called First Date. Oh my God, we're not leaving this
restaurant. How are they going to do that?" (laughs) I
think that's a thing for people, too. We just stay at the same
place. We literally just take you on a date and see where it goes.
play is Zachary Levi's first Broadway production. What has he been
like to work with?
Oh, he's amazing. He's so wonderful. They took a gamble
that we would have chemistry. I had done some chemistry auditions
with some other actors. But then they offered it to him. He and I
talked about it – whether he should do it or not. He decided to do
it, but in the nick of time, it was about two weeks before we
started rehearsals. There was really no opportunity to know if he
and I were going to work right together. They started rehearsals,
just the two of us, a few days before the rest of the cast came in.
To let us have our shot at it first. Within the first five
minutes, we were like: "Oh, this is great." This is more than
anyone could ask for as far as chemistry and the things that are
important to us about the work. Our work ethic is very similar. We
both just rolled up our sleeves and dug into the script and had a
blast making these characters ours. Now we spend all of our time
together. (laughs) It's very lucky that we get along as
well as we do.
was sort of a serial first dater. Have you had any really bad first
dates that helped you get into her mindset?
You know, this is always the question that people ask,
because, obviously, it's the theme of the show. I really don't have
any terrible first dates, because I don't really go on first dates.
If I were going to go on a date with someone, it's because I've
known them for a while and I've vetted them a little bit. Made sure
they're not going to be a disaster. I certainly can see how it can
go so awry. I've never done the Match.com scene, but I assume that
this date is based on what you would find if you were just walking
into an unknown situation. Trying to navigate all the awkwardness.
I don't really have those experiences, which I'm grateful for. I
tell you, if I had to go through what Casey is going through, I
don't know if I would survive. I'm not as strong as she is.
As pointed out in
the show, modern romance has so many new added complications,
bail-out calls, Google searches, etc. Do you find it amazing that
anyone really finds romance these days?
Yes. I mean one of the opening lines of our show in the
song is "It's a miracle two people get together." How? With all of
the stuff that's getting in the way, all of the stuff that's
seemingly helping us and giving us so many more options. I think
that's the problem with modern relationships these days. You don't
live in a small town where there's four people and you pick one of
them and you live there your whole life. You literally have the
world at your fingertips. Trying to get somebody to pick the one
person and settle down with them has become the greatest challenge
of our generation, I think. (laughs)
is obviously a lot more worldly than Aaron is. Do you think that
makes him more or less interesting to her?
It's more interesting to her in a way that is not
positive. She sees the weakness and preys on it immediately.
Because she enjoys messing with people. She enjoys being in
control. She sees any sign that she can manipulate and sabotage
this date, because that's what she does, her defense mechanism. She
relishes it. What's great is that about 60 minutes in, she has to
stop doing that, because he keeps passing all the tests. She has to
kind of: Okay, I've stuck it out long enough with this guy and he's
taken all of my bait and thrown it back at me. Now what?
Do you think in
the long run that Casey and Aaron have a shot at anything long term?
We didn't collectively decide on it. I have a joke that... you've
seen the show?
Yes, I did.
Okay. Publication-wise, I don't know if this is a good
idea, but I always have this joke that at the end of the show,
Grandma Ida comes back and is like, "She's still not Jewish!"
(laughs) That one thing hasn't quite changed. Maybe I'll
change my mind about structured stability and maybe he'll become a
little less uptight, but we're still going to have to have two
officiants at our wedding. (laughs again) I always think
about that. So, I don't know. I think in a modern society where
religion is less of a dividing factor, they could probably make it
work. But it's still an unresolved issue, in my mind.
When you were
growing up, what was the first musical that you saw and thought:
Wow, that's what I want to do with my life?
Oh, Annie. Yeah. It was Annie. I was
five. My mom took me to see it. We were in the second row. I was
just aghast at what was happening. (laughs) I couldn't
believe that there was a girl sort of my age singing with a dog. It
just seemed like the perfect life. Then I got into musicals. A few
years later I saw Phantom of the Opera, which was a huge
moment. We had a CD player in our car. Nobody had a CD
player in their car at that time. The only CD we had was Phantom
of the Opera. Still, to this day, every time I smell a new car
smell I think of Phantom of the Opera. That's how I was
introduced to it. (laughs again)
My mom and I used to play the CD over and over and over
again. Try to sing the high notes and hold out the long Michael
Crawford note. Which was so random, because my parents really had
no interest in theater at all. Neither of them are really musical
or creative in that way. They are both office job workers. It was
just a very surprising thing that my mom even wanted to introduce me
to that, and that I latched onto it so wholeheartedly. It really
wasn't until I was about twelve that I realized that it was a
career. I was like, Oh, my God, don't get in my way.
were some of the actors who also inspired you?
I had a trip to New York when I was like thirteen. We were
there for eight days. We saw eight shows. That was the pivotal
trip where I realized what it was that I'd be doing. It all
solidified as a career situation. The first show that I saw was
The Scarlet Pimpernel, which I loved. It was so fun and
so different to me, who had grown up with Beauty and the Beast
and all that. And here the Beast is – Terrence Mann – onstage
in Scarlet Pimpernel. I met him afterwards and we took a
picture. What was really interesting to me, and this is different I
think than most people, is that he was such an idol to me. He
signed autographs. He took pictures. Then he turned the corner and
nobody cared. I thought: That's what I want to do. The work is
important and not the person. Yes, the person is important, but
it's not a celebrity status thing. This is what they actually do
for a living. I really responded to that. What's great about that
story is that fifteen years later, Terrence and I were both in
Addams Family together. So I got to work with him.
Also I saw Bebe Neuwirth in Chicago that trip and
got a picture with her, too, then ended up working with her in
Addams Family musical as well. So that was a seminal
experience. That trip also I went and saw Miss Saigon. The
woman that played Kim, I asked her a question and she ended up
talking with me. We ended up talking for 20 minutes outside the
stage door. She was like, "I have to meet my friends, but I want to
keep talking with you. Want to walk with me?" I was like, okay!
So we walked down the street and she told me about stuff and gave me
advice and everything.
I thought these people are so great. These actors
are real. They are down to earth. They want to give back. They
are not ego based. Of course, I know a little bit more now
(laughs) but back then it just felt like your children's
theater, but on a bigger scale. That's what really drew me to it.
Really, the personal experiences with actors was what made me want
to do it, even more than the performance aspect of it. Although I
did really love Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie. I
saw Susan Egan in Cabaret and it blew my mind. Those
performances were also a big deal to me, but those personal
connections were what made me want to join the community, which is
even a bigger part of being on Broadway.
you just mentioned your breakout was playing Wednesday in
The Addams Family. How did that role come about?
I got the role the same way I get a lot of things in my
career. (chuckles) By not getting it the first time. I had
auditioned for the workshop of it and had gone through rigorous
auditions. Our directors were very experimental. They were very
different than the way you would think for a big blockbuster
musical. Put me through a lot of intense auditions. Singing six
different songs. They were like, "Sing something funny." I was
looking through my book and I said, "Well, I have 'Leaving on a Jet
Plane,' but that's not funny." The director said, "Yeah it is.
Come out here and sing it like you've just killed your lover and
you're still holding the bloody knife and you are in love with his
dead corpse." (laughs) So, I'm like, okay! Just rolling
with it. You just sort of go. He also didn't want me to blink the
whole time. He thought it would be interesting to see how long
Wednesday couldn't blink. Those sorts of things you don't usually
find those in an audition.
I went through the ringer and then found out that I didn't
get it. They wanted me to be in the ensemble. I did the ensemble
at the workshop and learned the show. Figured out what it all was.
A few months later they auditioned again. I went through another
six auditions and chemistry tests and all of that stuff. They
finally gave it to me for the two-week workshop. The two-week
workshop was essentially my two-week audition, because they were
deciding who they wanted to play the part. By the end of that, they
offered me the Chicago run and the Broadway run. That was really
exciting, to know that it wasn't a fluke. I really put the work in
for that. It was great.
I spent a lot of my career before that understudying. So
it was really nice and kind of freeing to have a part that wasn't
going away at the end of the week. That I could cut my teeth and
fail if necessary. I'm sort of a type-A perfectionist in a lot of
ways. When you play a part as many times as I played Wednesday, you
have to let that go. Because some days, it's just not going to be
as good as other days. (laughs again) Some days your voice
is tired and you're not going to hit that note as well. Some days
the audience is not going to be as responsive. You just have to
throw it up at the wall and see what happens. It's sort of freeing
and sort of terrifying at the same time. But knowing that no one is
taking it away from you, that you get more than three shots, is a
much more relaxing experience.
interesting, because while they are very different kinds of shows,
Addams Family and First Date share a strong comic streak.
Do you enjoy working in comedy?
Oh, yeah. Yes. I really do. It wasn't something that
came to me... I wouldn't say later in life... but early in my
career, where I was wanting to play the ingénues, because
that's what you see when you grow up. The Disney princesses and all
of that. Then I was in a kid's theater auditioning for Cinderella.
Of course I wanted to be Cinderella and out of nowhere, really, the
director cast me as a stepsister. I thought, that's weird.
(laughs) You know, you're sort of insulted in a way a little
bit. Like, really? I'm the ugly stepsister? Okay. All right.
Let's go with this. See where you're going with this. But I
really owe a lot to him, because he saw something in me that he
thought I could be funny.
I remember not being really sure what to do. Then having a
day where we all just try it on and play around with stuff and fail
and just having the best time. I thought: I'm a character actress.
This was the first time this had really dawned on me. I should be
really thinking about that. Those roles are so much more fun. It
just clicked for me in that way. That was early. I was probably
fifteen, sixteen, still doing shows in my hometown. When I moved to
New York, I had to convince everybody else too. Which is what I
always tell people who ask for advice. Look at who you are. Just
be you. Sometimes they want that. Sometimes they don't. There is
nothing else. You just have to show them what you do best and then
let the chips fall where they may.
I was really lucky to understand that was what I wanted to
do and that's where I wanted to go early on. So as much as people
tried to put me into the ingénue thing, it didn't work.
(laughs) I had to wait for the role to be written, which was
Wednesday. To get that chance to show where I lie comedically and
vocally and all that. Once that happened, it opened up doors for
other things. I think my role on Smash was very much where I
fit: kind of sidekick-y, kind of sassy. What's great about First
Date is that the sidekick is the lead. Normally you have some
really beautiful, very unflawed ingénue playing the lead
(laughs again) and then some sassy girl that jumps in every once
in a while. To their credit, they allowed a very flawed and very
complicated character to carry the whole show and trusted that the
audience would get on board with her. And I think they do.
did that role in
about? And what was it like to make the leap from stage to
It was insane. It should never be this uncomplicated.
Like I told you, my life is normally very like: I don't get it.
Then I try again. I get back in. I don't get this, but I get this
other thing that is better for me. But this thing was like, no
way. I was living in LA. I was auditioning for a lot of TV stuff.
I was testing for
pilots like crazy. I was really in that zone. Then I
ended up having to move back to New York for a personal reason. I
quickly had to move back to New York and I got there and maybe a
month later I got the part in script match. I thought okay, it says
actual series regular. Everyone else of my friends were playing
three-line roles because there are so many actors in New York that
can do this show. I'm thinking it's kind of a long shot.
I walk in and Josh Safran, who is the new show runner,
says, "Hey, I wrote your episode of Gossip Girl." Which was
like six years ago. (laughs) I was on an episode of
Gossip Girl. I was like: Oh my God, that's so creepy. Because,
you know, you don't really know the writers when you get a guest
spot. I believe actually he was probably even living in LA, so you
just don't even see them. I thought, well, that's great. I said
thanks for writing my make out scene, because I got to make out with
Chace Crawford. (laughs harder) He was like, "No problem."
We talked about that for a little bit and as I was setting up my
music he said, "You know, I know you from Joe Iconis." He's a
musical theater writer who I do a lot of concerts with. He ended up
writing a lot of songs for Smash. He wrote "Broadway, Here I
Come" on Smash, which was the over-arching theme of Hit
List (a fictional musical within the series). And
"Goodbye Song," which was another we did on the show.
[Safran] says, "Yeah, I've seen you." It was like: Why
does a TV guy know anything about me? As far as theater. I really
appreciated Josh, because he really knew the world. We had a great
conversation about that. I had an audition. I walked away and I
thought, well, I'm probably not going to get it, but at least the
show runner of Smash knows who I am. Three days later they
called and offered it to me. It was my only audition. It was
fourth of July morning, nobody was working, I woke up that morning
and thought: okay, well, my mortgage is due. That's a good thought
to think. Before I even opened my eyes, I rolled over and there
were twelve missed calls from my agent. (chuckles) I
thought this could either be really good or really bad. I thought
maybe they want me to test. Maybe I'll fly out to LA and meet all
the producers for Smash. They were like, "No, they're just
going to give it to you. You start work on Monday."
It was equally thrilling and nerve-wracking, because
normally for me you've gone through so many auditions that you know
that you've proven yourself. But I thought: Do they really want
[me]? Do they really know? Do they know what they are getting
themselves into with me? (laughs hard) Did I really show
them enough that they made that much of a decision this quickly?
Are they going to change their minds? I don't even know what's
happening. I'd never been on television before in this capacity.
They really took a gamble on me and Andy [Mientus, who played
Kyle]. We were new and I think that was the goal. It was really
fun for us.
was obviously very Broadway-centric, doing a TV show is a very
different beast than working on stage. What do you like best about
I really do like both formats. There are pros and cons to
each of them. You get the weekends off on television. (laughs)
That's like the biggest pro. On Broadway you work much harder on
the weekends. You get one day off. I love the idea of putting my
character through different situations, which you don't really get
to do on Broadway. I love the idea of testing them. You put them
under the fire and see how they react.
The role of Ana
had some big changes over the season.
She did. She did.
She went from
supportive roommate to possible competition to big star of the
production to being passed over for something that had nothing to do
getting whiplash towards the end of the season?
Yes! Yes, very much so. As much as Ana was surprised,
Krysta was also surprised. (chuckles) Things were not
mapped out to us. We just got the scripts and saw what happened.
Things changed, too. We were told some things sometimes and things
were changed as people gave their feedback or whatnot. We also shot
most of the season before we premiered. We were on our 15th episode
out of 17 by the time the premiere happened. So the whiplash really
came then. Once we got feedback and went, "Okay, wrapping
everything up..." And it was like, oh, okay. (laughs) We
don't know where we're going.
Another fun thing
about it was you performed much of the show within the show. Was it
fun to do the
do you think it could have made it off-Broadway?
You know, I don't know. Only because it was so huge. We'd
kind of joke about it. How would anybody be able to do these
costume changes and use my big aerial number? How would that work?
It can. If you've seen Pippin, they are doing it over
there. I think it could work. It could be great. I think actually
doing it would be a disservice. People are always asking me at the
stage door, "They should do Hit List: The Musical." Everyone
has seen fragments of a musical that they have already written in
their head. There is no way we could write one that would please
everybody. I think it exists perfectly as it is.
But, like I mentioned, Joe Iconis is one of my greatest
friends and somebody that I think is one of the most talented
musical theater writers that we have, who hasn't actually had a
produced Broadway musical. To be able to sing his songs... I sang
"Broadway, Here I Come" at a concert four years ago before I moved
to LA. Then four years later I was on a TV show singing it. It was
very emotional for me. So performing Hit List was really
The numbers that I got to do on Hit List as the Diva
were amazing. I always joke around that I ended up with them
because I'm the only one stupid enough to get in that harness.
(laughs) Just like: "No one else was going to do that." "Yeah,
right! Let's put the new girl up there." So I've gotten to do a
lot of cool stuff. I got a lot of beautiful footage. My parents
had the time of their lives hosting Smash parties. It just
did exactly what it was supposed to do. It was very fun.
disappointed that NBC just seemed to throw in the towel on
early into the season. Were you surprised that after the big push
they made at the beginning of the season that they didn't keep
promoting it and dumped it on Saturday night?
Yeah, I mean to be honest, I wouldn't say that NBC threw in
the towel. I know Bob Greenblatt was extraordinarily passionate
about our show. The fact that we didn't just get cancelled after
three episodes means that they didn't throw in the towel. They
actually worked very hard to keep us on the air that year. Shows
like Do No Harm and other things were getting pulled
immediately because it's just so expensive. Our show was very
expensive to make, so the fact that they even let us finish out the
season showed that they were passionate about the show. They had to
listen to the demand and the demand was low. So they had to do what
I wish we hadn't been moved to Saturdays, but truthfully
our first timeslot was Tuesday at 10, which wasn't good either.
This was a DVR show. People were DVRing it on Tuesday or it was
showing up on their DVR on Saturday. The people who were watching
it still watched it. They just thought we lost our niche market
after a while. We have a small following. You can't sustain such
an expensive show with such expensive marketing on such a small
been great about the aftermath of Smash [is] doing a show on
Broadway where people who are coming to see the show might be coming
because they watched Smash. The show lives posthumously as a
very positive thing in people's lives, which I really enjoy. While
the show was airing, there was a lot of nasty backlash. The term
"hate-watching" was sort of coined based on our show. Now [I] meet
people that are coming to see my show because they loved Smash.
They just absolutely loved it. It introduced them to
Broadway. They are only seeing our show because they never seen a
Broadway show and then watched Smash and thought, "Now I want
to see it." That, to me, is more important than anything. It's
been so lovely to meet all those people and know that we have a fan
base like that.
If you could play
any role ever on Broadway, what would be your fantasy role?
A role that already exists?
Yeah. Or even if
you had an idea of a certain story you'd like to do.
I would like to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
That's always been a huge dream role for me. Aside from that,
really, I always say that my dream role hasn't been created yet,
because I am super passionate about new musicals. Most of the
things I've done on Broadway have been new musicals, not based on
source material. Only two. Well, I guess Spring Awakening
was based on source material, but still.... But I'm really
intensely involved in working with new composers and trying to get
new work out there. So I think that's usually my answer. But
obviously like any girl in the world, Audrey Hepburn is my idol.
They already made the Breakfast at Tiffany's remake, so I
missed out on that one. Anything that has to do with her, if they
were going to do Gigi or Roman Holiday or Sabrina,
I would be all over that. I would love to do something like
What types of
things make you nostalgic?
Oh, my gosh. Just in general, that's hard. Let me think
about that. As much as I love my phone, I do sort of long for the
days where I wasn't attached to it. As we're doing this dating
thing, we talk a lot about Google and all of that stuff and the
phones getting in there, but you remember the days where you had to
hide under your bed on the land lines. When your mom got on the
phone and started dialing and you're like "Mom, I'm on the phone!"
Those kind of things were like very innocent and very fun.
I feel like when I was doing that at like 14-15, kids these days are
now Instagramming and sending naked pictures of themselves, which
just terrifies me. Children these days terrify me. And I'm sure
that I terrified my parents. And I'm sure my parents terrified
their parents. It's not a sign that the world is ending. I just do
kind of love the idea that there was a little more innocence in
human connections back then.
you weren't acting, singing and dancing, what do you think would you
I would definitely be doing real estate and development.
Which I actually do in my life. My parents and I like to fix up and
restore either historical properties or just regular properties. We
live in a historical neighborhood in California. That's where I
I live in a
historical house, too...
You do? Really?
Yeah. It's over
100 years old. Do you know the Wanamaker family?
It was one of
their summer guest homes.
Oh my goodness. Yeah, our home is 110 years old. It's a
Craftsman. We live in a Craftsman neighborhood. So we fix those
up. My apartment now, it is just a small, little New York
apartment, but there is a courtyard and it faces very expensive
townhouses. Massive, expensive townhouses. For the last like year
and a half they have been renovating this townhouse, top to bottom.
I literally wake up every morning and put my head out the window and
see what they did. What they did yesterday. How it's changing. I
call it my vision board, because I will have a townhouse one day
(laughs) that I will be able to renovate from top to bottom.
But yeah, it would either be something [like that or] in interior
design or in fashion design. I generally enjoy things that require
beautification. That's where I like to make my hobbies.
What would people
be surprised to know about you?
I'm a very well-behaved girl. I think that the parts that
I play – because of my look and because I'm outgoing, and I enjoy
playing them – I relish getting to be that girl, but I am so not
that girl. I go home every night after the show and I don't
speak, because I take my job very seriously. I'm a workaholic.
This [interview] is about the only thing that I'm going to do today
that requires talking before I go do the show. (laughs) I
don't drink. I love my family. I'm just a very focused, very
well-behaved girl. So I get my kicks by playing these outgoing
people, but that's as far as I really have to experiment with it in
my real life.
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