Playing just one character in a Broadway show is a challenge. Add two more characters, and you have Sara Chase of the new hit musical comedy First Date. In Sara’s Broadway debut, opposite Zachary Levi (Aaron) and Krysta Rodriguez (Casey), she plays Grandma Ida, Lauren, and Aaron’s mother — three roles hilariously and genuinely played by the Connecticut native.
As a date between Aaron (Levi) and Casey (Rodriguez) unfolds in real time, we meet a know-it-all sister, an emotionally crippling ex, and an array of family, friends, and cheeky strangers.
During this in-depth interview, Chase dishes on the perfect way to get out of an awkward date, her love for the 80’s classic film Troop Beverly Hills, and the fact that without her wig and get-up she might as well leave that sharpie at home.
So put that iPhone on silent and that sick cocker spaniel line to rest, because this is one date with Broadway you can’t miss.
McKenzie Morrell: For starters, congrats on your Broadway debut, I saw the show last month and it was phenomenal. How has your experience been since the show opened?
Sara Chase: I’ve dreamed about making my Broadway debut since I was seven, which is when I first learned what Broadway was. And this was so much better than what I expected. And I understand the circumstances are so unusual because who in their Broadway debut gets a photo of themselves outside the theater? There are seven of us, I get to do an original Broadway cast recording, I get my own dressing room, which is super unusual if it’s your first Broadway show. Just really neat stuff like that and all the individual attention we each have been getting. I understand that this is very unusual and I am very spoiled, and it exceeded my expectations.
MM: Where were you when you found out First Date was number one on iTunes in the soundtrack category? Congrats on that, by the way!
SC: Thanks! I don’t know, [laughs] I don’t know. It’s not like a “where were you when Kennedy was shot” kind of situation. I was probably checking Twitter like I do every five seconds.
MM: Obviously you were excited to see it was #1, but were you surprised that the show was really taking off?
SC: It’s so amazing. We really tapped into our core audience and they use social media and they use iTunes and Twitter and we had a focus group a couple weeks ago and the overwhelming majority of people find out about our show through the Internet. So it wasn’t as surprising as it was flattering, if that makes any sense.
MM: Do you have a favorite song off the album?
SC: Well I have to be biased; I love singing that duet with Zac [Levi]. That’s my favorite, I think. But we have another name for it, which I’m not allowed to call it. Well, whatever, we like to call it “Dead Mom Song.” [Laughs.]
MM: How do you think college prepared you for your career?
SC: College… OK, this is my spiel on college. I think if you want to be an actor, that’s great. I wouldn’t prescribe a conservatory program necessarily, even though that’s sort of what I went through at BU [Boston University]. Ultimately when you are out in the real world: One, you end up taking classes anyway. And two, you have to end up drawing on your own life experience and knowledge. And you can only get that if you’re living the true college experience, like meeting people, and taking a class about art history. I thankfully — even though I was in the conservatory like program — I still had one foot straddled in regular college world. I was in an a capella group. I made sure I really used college for life’s experience… not in a crazy way [laughs]. Because if you ever decide you don’t want to be in this business, you’ll have another skill or degree to fall back on.
MM: You play three characters in First Date: Grandma Ida, Lauren (Casey’s sometimes overbearing sister), and Aaron’s mother. Which character out of those three do you enjoy playing the most? And is one more challenging than the others to play?
SC: I think I enjoy Grandma Ida the most because that’s what people seem to respond the most to. And I like doing crazy, big, sketch characters. But definitely the most challenging is Lauren, because like you said it has to strike that balance between being funny and also being the one that sort of brings Casey back to Earth and it can sometimes sort of be thankless to be that Lifetime, made for TV movie character in the middle there… when everyone gets to have so much fun, [laughs] with their bailouts, and their Gabe scenes and their Allison scenes and then there’s like Lauren Debby Downer in the middle there. So that’s definitely a challenge.
MM: Yeah, but I heard that you get to have some fun on stage, while sitting at table three, having inappropriate and secret words with your co-star Kristoffer Cusick.
SC: That is the most fun part of our show, behind the scenes, even though it’s happening in front of everyone. We want to have our own spinoff web series called Don’t Trust the Bs at Table 3, because man, that’s a whole other show!
MM: How did landing a role in First Date come about? What drew you to the musical in the first place?
SC: Three or four years ago, they did a reading of it in New York and Megan Hilty was prepared to do the reading and she had to drop out at the last second and I have the same manager as Megan. So my manager was like, “Well you can’t have Megan but here’s this girl Sara Chase.” And they’re like, “who is she? We’ve never heard of her.” And I came in and sang for them and they’re like, “OK, fine.” They used me for the reading and they’ve been using me ever since. I actually was doing Casey, which is weird, and then when it finally announced it was coming to Broadway I knew – I’m very business savvy — that they were going to be looking for somebody with Marquis value or at least a ton of Broadway experience so I just started gunning for the sister, or like craft services or stage manager. [Laughs.] I just wanted to be a part of it. I love the material and the creators so much that I just wanted to have some part of it, and I think this is a much better fit. So it all worked out.
MM: Before the interview, we established that we’re both Connecticut natives! Are there any major differences between New York City and Connecticut that make you favor one over the other?
SC: Oh, this is so funny. I’ve been talking about this to my parents every day. As much as I adore New York City, [laughs] I don’t think I was ultimately made to be a city dweller permanently. On my days off I, drive to Connecticut just to relax and take myself out of the city. I always, on the drive to and from, I’m like picking out towns I could maybe see myself commuting from in the future. I love Connecticut! I think it has everything. It has seasons, which I think seasons are very important to defining people’s character (under my breath: L.A., L.A.). And we have everything. We’ve got the countryside. We’ve got farms. We’re close to cities. We have Whole Foods. I love it! It’s cleaner air, and my whole family is there, so what’s not to like?
MM: First dates can be a drag sometimes, what’s your best “bailout” line when a date isn’t going so well?
SC: I’m pretty lame. I usually say that I have something really early in the morning [laughs] and that I really have to go. Or I’m open to suggestion, so if I can convince myself that I really don’t feel well then I can actually probably make my body not feel well. Because bad dates are uncomfortable and they really do make you feel physically ill sometimes, so it’s not a lie after all.
MM: In true interview fashion, I Internet stalked you a bit, and come to find you have this talent where you can quote lines from the movie Troop Beverly Hills. Since I’m a fan as well, I’m going to have to cash in on that, and ask you your favorite line from the movie.
SC: Yes! Oh, my God. I’m so excited! There’s so many. Well the first thing that comes to mind is obviously, “Now daddy, shake the man’s hand and let’s be on our way!” But that’s such an obvious one. I like … I like all of them! “If you love our home couture, you’ll love our home cuisine. So buy some cookies!” Oh, my God. I love everything! The whole movie is this like gem, and I don’t think anyone will ever make it into a musical. Believe me; I’ve tried. I’ve had people in legit positions to get the rights be just flat out told that it’s not a strong enough story or they don’t see an audience for it. And I have to — as much as I don’t want to agree — I have to agree because I can’t see it playing commercial Broadway theater.
MM: Unfortunately it’s one of those gems we have to keep to ourselves
SC: That’s right.
MM: Can you see yourself in any of the characters in First Date?
SC: I definitely have the sarcasm and the cutting wit of Lauren, but not the meanness, I guess. That’s it. I’m not as guarded as Casey. I definitely just let everyone know my whole story in the first 30 seconds of meeting me.
MM: No edginess to you?
SC: No, I’m dull as a butter knife [laughs]. No, but, Lauren is from Connecticut too, and I’m wearing my own clothes on stage so yeah, I have to say Lauren.
MM: This part was really made for you!
SC: Pretty much. I had a different costume and it just wasn’t working for some reason and then they were literally like can someone just buy a duplicate of Sara’s outfits that she wears every day and that’s how my costume came to be.
MM: Doing so many performances a week must be tiring. Do you have any tips on how to stay healthy and upbeat for each show?
SC: It definitely is exhausting, but I think we all tell ourselves no matter how tired we are or what we feel like, it is 90 minutes and usually we can get through the 90 minutes. Making sure you sleep a lot and you don’t scream is very important because if you don’t have your voice, then you can’t be on stage. But everyone has their own routines. I know that Blake [Hammond] and Krysta [Rodriguez] nap in between shows on the weekend. For me it’s more mental. If I don’t even think about it, it’s 90 minutes. Literally, an episode of Project Runway is longer than that. That’s how I think of it. I do errands that take longer than the show, so you just don’t think about it.
MM: Let’s talk about the stage door. How has the experience been? Do you ever get overwhelmed?
SC: I have a very different stage door experience than the rest of the entire cast. Because I wear a wig and I carry myself so differently in real life, when I step out the stage door, or even onstage when we have private guests, no one knows that I was in the show.
MM: Oh no!
SC: People have 20-minute conversations with me and not know I’m in the show. Even if I come out the stage door and I have a Sharpie in my hand and people let me sign their playbills, I can hear them. It’s so weird. They think there’s like this fourth wall that I can’t hear them. They’re like, “Who was she? Was she in the show? Maybe she was an understudy.” I’m just not instantly recognizable like the rest of the cast.
MM: I can see how it can be overwhelming or disappointing if people don’t recognize you or question if you were in the show. But when I went, I totally knew who you were. So score!
SC: Overall the stage door is wonderful. They are overwhelming, and honestly, truly the response is so wonderful. It’s a party every night. Zac brings his boombox out, they painted our door calling it the “Date Gate,” so now it’s like a thing.
MM: The experience is so different and unlike any other show, and I think that’s what sets First Date apart and puts you on the radar.
SC: It’s so true. I said this to Zac before, him taking an hour after every show and taking a picture with everyone and signing it, and the whole cast too, it completes the whole experience of going to First Date. The stage door contributes to why people leave happy. They get a souvenir at the end. It’s good stuff. And again, because it’s 90 minutes, we consider the stage door part of our job; we will stay there as long as people want or need us to.
MM: The cast is great, individually and as a whole. Do you think since you guys get along so well outside of the show it makes for a better onstage dynamic?
SC: 100 percent yes. There are seven of us and you can really feel how we all lean on each other. And if one of us is away or off our game, the whole Jenga tower collapses. We love each other, we really do. Even when we’re not on stage, we’re all group texting and sending emails and planning pranks and jokes and hanging out. It’s a lovely, lovely group of people and we all have the same sense of humor and it definitely shows on stage and that’s a great observation.
MM: Random question round.
SC: I’m ready!
MM: Zombie apocalypse or alien invasion?
SC: Alien Invasion because I’ve never seen any of those zombie shows but I did have an alien fear for many years as a child. So I’m ready for it.
MM: Donuts or cupcakes?
SC: Cupcakes! It’s just cake, but little.
MM: If you could travel in a time machine, would you go back to the past or into the future?
SC: The past, because then you’re so much smarter than everyone else and you know what’s going on. In the future, you’re the dumb one because you don’t have the iPhone 8,000.
MM: Coffee or tea?
SC: Coffee! Love coffee! Dunkin Donuts, heyyy!
MM: If you were a superhero, what would your name be?
SC: Stealth Sara, because I’m good at blending in and people never know I’m there. And they don’t remember meeting me. [Laughs.]
MM: And lastly, why should people go see this musical?
SC: People should see this musical because it’s unlike any theatrical experience they’ve ever had before. It is not a traditional musical; it is especially made for the theater-phobic. I’m talking to you, husbands and men who get typically dragged by their wives or girlfriends. It’s very different. It’s easily digestible for people who just want to laugh and have a good time. We’re not changing the world. We’re just making you laugh for 90 minutes!
And laugh for 90 minutes you shall, FIRST DATE is now playing at the Longacre Theatre, 220W 48th Street, New York, New York.
For more information about the show and to buy tickets visit FirstDateTheMusical.com.
To stay in touch with Sara, gently stalk her on Twitter.