Our First Date with Krysta Rodriguez
by Jay S. Jacobs
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 Breakthrough Performance.
A couple of weeks after First Date premiered on Broadway, Rodriguez took the time to sit and discuss her latest play and her career.
I almost interviewed you last year. NBC wanted me to talk to you about 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 as hard.
Yes. It’s all about the timing. (laughs)
What was it about First 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.
The 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.
Your character 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)
Casey 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?