Theater
2:53 pm
Sun July 7, 2013

Broadway's 'First Date': A Greek Chorus Of Emotional Baggage

Originally published on Tue July 9, 2013 10:37 am

Many fans of the TV show Chuck fell in love with the nerd-turned-unwitting spy at the heart of the show, but most probably didn't know that he could sing.

Zachary Levi is now rehearsing for his first role on Broadway — a new musical comedy called First Date — which also features Krysta Rodriguez, the star of another NBC program, Smash.

The musical is based on a simple concept: two people on a blind date that goes cringingly wrong. But it's not just about the couple; each character brings along all the baggage from the past relationships — and those voices in their heads provide the musical with its "Greek chorus."

Weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rebecca Sheir met with Zach Levi and Krysta Rodriguez in New York after one of their rehearsals and talked to them about the show.


Interview Highlights

About the musical

Zachary Levi: "It's very relatable. It's this thing that you know, that anybody — well, almost anybody — can look at and go, 'Oh, I understand what's going on there.' All the things we talk about in the date, from past experiences and exes, to you know, politics and religion."

"[It's about] two people in this crazy world that may or may not click, but maybe they do, but maybe they don't, but maybe they do and will they end up together or not — I won't ruin it for you, you have to see the play."

Krysta Rodriguez: "In a real-life first date, there's so much more going on than just the two people at the table ... your past experiences, and your fears and all of your weird habits. And so that's sort of what these people in the show represent. They come out of the scene as patrons, and then they become voices in our heads or the complications and baggage that we bring along, and the things that keep people from getting together."

On how Zachary Levi ended up doing a musical

Zachary Levi: "Dumb luck. They thought, 'Hey, that guy kind of sings! Let's see if he wants to do a musical.' I'm joking, but that was kind of how it happened. There had been some names kicked around when they knew they were bringing it to Broadway, and somebody had brought up my name. And I was almost in [the musical] Young Frankenstein, but Chuck, the pilot, got picked up, and I went and had to do the show, so those that knew ... knew, 'Oh, that guy who's never done Broadway, almost did Broadway, and wants to do Broadway.' "

On deciding to take the role

Zachary Levi: "I'm a spiritual guy and I believe that you know that things kind of come at you in certain ways and you should take note of it. And so I took note of [being offered the role] and, you know, meditating on that, and thinking about it really hard, and talking to God and being like, 'Hey man,' and being like, 'Is this it? Is this what I'm supposed to do?'

"I always wanted to live in New York. I always wanted to do Broadway. And I just had an overwhelming peace, like 'Yeah, yeah, this is it, I'm going to do this, I'm going to move to New York, I'm going to go live in a city I've never lived in that's 3,000 miles away — after living my entire life in Southern California and perfect weather.' "

On living in New York

Zachary Levi: "I don't own enough linen, I don't know how to get through the humidity, this is crazy! What is going on?"

Krysta Rodriguez: "He's very jealous of my sundresses."

Zachary Levi: "I'm very jealous. Men need a version of the sundress. I don't know what that is, just something that's breathable, and also has many applications, it could be casual and also at a dinner party, whatever."

On chemistry

Krysta Rodriguez: "People will always talk about how our chemistry is really great, and we're sort of like, 'Well, maybe we should temper that a little bit, because we're not actually supposed to like each other that much for a while.' "

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

REBECCA SHEIR, HOST:

If you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Sheir.

Fans of the television show "Chuck" fell in love with the title character: an average computer whiz next door who had the CIA's greatest spy secrets encoded in his brain. But these days, "Chuck" star Zachary Levi is up to something a little bit different.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADWAY PLAY, "FIRST DATE)

ZACHARY LEVI: (as Aaron) (Singing) She's a little artsy, she is hip and cool. She's just like all those girls (unintelligible) all through school...

SHEIR: Zach Levi is rehearsing for his first role on Broadway in a new musical comedy called "First Date." And who is Zach dating, at least on stage? That would be Broadway veteran Krysta Rodriguez who also appeared on TV in the musical drama series "Smash."

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADWAY PLAY, "FIRST DATE")

KRYSTA RODRIGUEZ: (as Casey) (Singing) He's a bit annoying and overdressed. He's got the kind of eye that says look at me I'm stressed.

SHEIR: Nutshelled, "First Date" is about a blind date that seems to go cringingly wrong. But there aren't just two people up there on stage and during all those awkward pauses, they bring with them all sorts of baggage from past relationships. And those voices in their heads make up a kind of Greek chorus. I joined Zach Levi and Krysta Rodriguez in New York just after a rehearsal, and I asked them why the concept of a first date makes such great fodder for a musical theater.

LEVI: We joke about certain keywords, but it is very relatable. It's this thing that you know, that anybody in - well, almost anybody - can look at and go: Oh, I understand what's going on there. Yeah.

RODRIGUEZ: Because if you've been on a first date, that's it. And when - you know, my first date, I was 12. You were what? And my mom came with me.

(LAUGHTER)

RODRIGUEZ: You know what I'm saying.

(LAUGHTER)

LEVI: I'm like, what?

SHEIR: The look on his face.

LEVI: Yeah, no, about that or whatever. Yeah. It's like when you're going out, but you're not going out.

RODRIGUEZ: You're not going out.

LEVI: Whatever that middle school thing is. Like, you want to go out with me? Yeah.

RODRIGUEZ: But you know what I mean? That first little thing when you're like, like someone. If you've done that moment, the - this show is relatable.

LEVI: Sure. It's relatable. All the things that we talk about in a date, from past experiences and exes to, you know, politics and religion, and the things - although, I guess maybe not everybody gets to that on a first date.

RODRIGUEZ: I know.

LEVI: I've tried to.

(LAUGHTER)

LEVI: I tried to rip the Band-Aid off. That's...

RODRIGUEZ: Better get that out of the way.

LEVI: That's how I do things.

(LAUGHTER)

LEVI: Excuse me, but...

RODRIGUEZ: Two questions for you.

LEVI: Two questions for you. And - but it's a really fun evening.

RODRIGUEZ: It's a madcap evening.

LEVI: It's a madcap evening that has mostly funny but a lot of heart, as well, and hope. And, you know, like, two people in this crazy world that may or may not click, but maybe they do, but maybe they don't, but maybe they do. And will they end up together? I don't know. I won't ruin it for you. You have to see the play.

(LAUGHTER)

SHEIR: And so many of the songs are so apropos to this crazy dating world today. We have the song about Google searching someone and doing a little Google research before the date, a song called "Awkward Pause."

LEVI: Yeah.

SHEIR: Which is pretty much perfect.

RODRIGUEZ: It is.

LEVI: Yeah. Yeah, totally.

SHEIR: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AWKWARD PAUSE")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Better to bump into an ex.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) Or catch a mild STD.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) See your parents having sex.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) Or watch an episode of "Glee."

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Things that normally are paralyzing compared to this day all seem appetizing 'cause you're stuck in the agonizing claws of the awkward, the awkward pause.

(APPLAUSE)

SHEIR: So the musical takes place on a first date, but it's so much more than just two people sitting at a table. We have this sort of Greek chorus aspect going on. Can you talk about that?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I guess in a real-life first date, there's so much more than just the two people at the table. You have all of the things that you come to the table with, which are your past experiences and your fears and all of your weird habits. And so that's sort of what these people in the show represent.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADWAY PLAY, "FIRST DATE")

RODRIGUEZ: (As Casey) Oh, come on, guys. You have no right to get in the middle of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Character) We have every right to get in the middle of this, Casey. We're your past...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as Character) And your future love.

RODRIGUEZ: (As Casey) You guys satisfied a very specific need at a very specific time in my life. But fortunately, those days are over.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Character) You only think that they're over.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as Character) You like bad boys, Casey, not this.

RODRIGUEZ: They become the voices in our heads or the things that keep people from getting together.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADWAY PLAY, "FIRST DATE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as Character) (Singing) I never open up your door, I never showered you with praise. Or when you call and text my phone, I don't reply to you for days...

LEVI: Though we have the lineature of the dialogue, they have the hard job...

RODRIGUEZ: They have the hardest jobs. But let's...

LEVI: ...because they're doing quick change.

RODRIGUEZ: Let's not sell ourselves short. I mean, we're working pretty hard.

LEVI: Are we? No, we are. We are. We are.

(LAUGHTER)

LEVI: It's hard. I was like, I told you, it's hard...

RODRIGUEZ: Broadway is hard.

LEVI: Broadway is hard.

RODRIGUEZ: I told - I tried to warn him.

LEVI: It's going to get hard when we have eight shows a week, and which is something I know nothing about. And...

SHEIR: Yeah, Zach, let's talk about that. This is your Broadway debut.

LEVI: Yeah.

SHEIR: How did you even get involved with the production?

LEVI: There had been some names kicked around when they knew they were bringing it to Broadway. And somebody had brought up my name. And I had - I was almost in "Young Frankenstein," but then "Chuck" got picked up as a - or the pilot got picked up, and I went and had to do the show. So those that knew - kind in the Broadway circles - knew: Oh, that guy who's never done Broadway almost did Broadway...

RODRIGUEZ: And wants to do Broadway.

LEVI: ...and wants to do Broadway. And part of that was getting our...

RODRIGUEZ: They made the mistake of telling me that they had thought that he might want to do it. And I emailed him and told him he should do it. So...

LEVI: Yeah. This girl who I had met very briefly, like, she had tested for a pilot I was doing like a year prior.

SHEIR: I was going to say, did you have a long history together?

LEVI: Not at all.

RODRIGUEZ: No. No history at all. About two hours of history.

LEVI: Yeah.

RODRIGUEZ: And then a year later, they said: We're thinking about offering it to - or we have offered it to this guy. And I was like, well, let me do the work.

(LAUGHTER)

RODRIGUEZ: So I found his email, and I sent him an email and said: I don't know if you remember me, but I think you should do this, and didn't hear from him for two weeks.

LEVI: It was 10 days.

RODRIGUEZ: Thirteen days. We looked it up.

LEVI: I think it was nine days.

RODRIGUEZ: It was 13 days.

LEVI: And it was a week.

RODRIGUEZ: We looked it up.

(LAUGHTER)

LEVI: And - but she did. And that, you know, and I don't know, you kind of take note of things that happen. I'm a spiritual guy, and I believe that, you know, that things kind of come at you in certain ways, and you should take note of it. And so I took note of that and, you know, meditating on that and thinking about it really hard and talking to God and being like, hey, man. Is this it? Is this what I'm supposed to do?

I've always wanted to live in New York. I always wanted to do Broadway. And I just had an overwhelming peace. And I was like, yeah. Yeah, this is it. I'm going to do that. I'm going to move to New York. I'm going to go live in a city I've never lived in that's 3,000 miles away after living my entire life in Southern California and perfect weather.

(LAUGHTER)

RODRIGUEZ: And it was like two weeks too. You're like, I'm doing it, and two weeks later, you're here.

LEVI: And now I don't own enough linen. I don't know how to get through the humidity. This is crazy. What is going on?

(LAUGHTER)

RODRIGUEZ: He's so jealous of my sundresses.

LEVI: I'm very - men need a version of the sundress. I don't know what that is, just something that's breathable and also has many applications, like it could be casual but also at a dinner party, whatever.

RODRIGUEZ: He was jealous of all the guys at the pride weekend. He was like, they have it so easy. They can wear whatever they want.

(LAUGHTER)

SHEIR: I love that the two of you didn't know each other well before you started this process, because as with the characters, they're meeting for the first time...

RODRIGUEZ: Yeah.

SHEIR: ...and have to sort of build up this chemistry, see what it's like. So what has that been like, getting to know each other personally but also Aaron and Casey undergoing this, you know, hour-and-a-half-long date?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, that was always, you know, everyone - people will talk about how our chemistry is really great. And then we're sort of like, well, maybe we should temper that a little bit, because we're not actually supposed to...

(LAUGHTER)

LEVI: Yeah, we're not supposed to actually...

RODRIGUEZ: ...like each other that much...

LEVI: Yeah.

RODRIGUEZ: ...for awhile, at least. And - but...

LEVI: No, I'm supposed to like you. Really, you're the one who's screwing it up.

RODRIGUEZ: You say I'm hostile and...

LEVI: Yeah, that's true.

(LAUGHTER)

RODRIGUEZ: ...you know, a little uncool.

LEVI: But Aaron's - yeah, but Aaron could pretty much deal with whatever. He's like, you're hot. I'm fine. Let's go. Let's go now.

RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, that's true. Guys are generally like that.

(LAUGHTER)

RODRIGUEZ: I always joke that women are always like, oh, he's talking to me. And guys are always like, is this going to happen?

(LAUGHTER)

RODRIGUEZ: Like, all the time.

SHEIR: Krysta Rodriguez and Zachary Levi are the stars of the new Broadway musical "First Date." So when does the show open, and where can we see it?

RODRIGUEZ: We start previews July 9, and then we open August 8 at the Longacre Theater on 48th Street.

SHEIR: Thank you.

LEVI: Thank you.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

SHEIR: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADWAY PLAY, "FIRST DATE")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) (as Casey) When you once on a parade wore your heart on your sleeve and the ones that you love chose to just turn and leave...

SHEIR: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Sheir. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Just click on Programs and scroll down. We're back on the radio next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADWAY PLAY, "FIRST DATE")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) (as Casey) ...to hold every card. I feel... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.