One of the standout new musicals of 2012 was First Date, a romatic comedy coproduced by 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT that imagined a blind date in the age of Facebook stalking and Google background checks. Thanks to the inventiveness of Austin Winsberg (book) and Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary (music and lyrics), the show was 95 minutes of awkwardness and irreverence, with the couple's pesky inner voices—the ghosts of partners past and overzealous matchmakers—making appearances as a sort-of Greek chorus.Under the guidance of Junkyard Dog Productions (who produced Memphis) and 5th Ave producing director Bill Berry, the musical has its own date with Broadway this summer. Previews started July 9 at Longacre Theatre, with Zachary Levi (Chuck, Tangled) and Krysta Rodriguez (Smash) starring, and the show officially opens August 8.
I chatted this morning with composers Weiner and Zachary—who've been collaborating since high school and are prone to finishing each other's sentences—to see how their Broadway debut was going. "Apparently there are a lot of people buying tickets?" Weiner said with a laugh. "We can’t complain."
How much has First Date changed since it was in Seattle?
Michael Weiner: It’s changed quite a bit.
Alan Zachary: Its fundamental structure is basically the same, but we’ve actually written four new songs for it, which—
M: —in a 95-minute show is pretty significant.
Alan: We’ve finessed a lot of little pieces throughout, refined characters.
M: We’ve worked to ground the show more in reality.
A: Make sure the characters all feel grounded and relatable.
M: It seems to have really helped people connect with the characters and invest in their journeys.
Can you tell me about one of the new songs?
M: We’ll tell you about two news songs. One significant new song is for Casey, the girl on the date. We’ve replaced “Build Another Wall” with a song called “Safer.” It’s more of a pop-rock song, but it’s more, I would say…
A: Stylistically, I think it’s more consistent with the pop rock vein of a lot of the score, probably has more of a Kelly Clarkson vibe to it. We wanted to make sure her sound was contemporary.
M: We thought there was something about the other song that was a little pat, a little on the nose, almost like singing the subtext. This is an attempt to do something that was more real.
A: And dig a little bit…
M: We also had a song called “The Awkward Pause” in Seattle. It was kind of a tango that we always felt weird—we felt like the tango didn’t play. The tango’s supposed to be a sexy dance but this was a situation where people weren’t connecting. It was one level too many. So we turned “The Awkward Pause” into something more akin to “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. It really seems to work for the moment. It’s more a folky rock song that makes you think of “The Sounds of Silence” and it really feels very uncomfortable in the moment—in a good way.
Has the staging stayed the same?
M: The staging is completely reinvented. The set design is brand new. We have all new designers.
A: The bones of the show all are fundamentally the same, but I think we deepened it.
M: We kept what was good about Seattle and what was working there. We learned so much from Seattle, from both the audiences and how they responded—
A: Great feedback.
M: —and really smart. I’d say the reactions in New York are almost identical to Seattle. It’s incredible what a good indicator it is of what you do here. We really learned a lot about the show and all the changes we’ve made seem to have been for the better.
Updated 7/16/13. Zachary Levi has to make a Comic-Con appearance in San Diego (he's signed on to Marvel's Thor sequel), so Seattle's own Eric Ankrim, who originated the role of Aaron in First Date, will fill in on Broadway this week. Another big debut! Ankrim's gone viral.