Who knew that a shy young Kristoffer Cusick would go from private singing and dancing lessons to Broadway’s “bailout” king? Now for those who haven’t seen First Date, Cusick plays Reggie, Casey’s (played by Krysta Rodriguez) caring but overly dramatic BFF in this season’s hottest new musical comedy. His “Bailout Song,” a tune that pops up repeatedly throughout the show, is one of the most talked about songs off the album, not to mention everyone and their mother wants it as their ringtone. (You know for when you’re on a date and just need to be rescued!)
This innovative new show tells the story of Aaron (Zachary Levi) and Casey (Krysta Rodriguez), who while on a blind date give the audience a glimpse, in real-time, into the awkward and sometimes rewarding moments while on a first date. Hilarious, fun, and comically amazing, the musical brings together people of all ages who have ever experienced a first date.
Cusick is no stranger to the limelight and started performing at a very young age, inspired by his famous mom, Linda Larkin who was a recording artist on Capitol Records and took the 60’s by storm touring with the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, The Jacksons, and appearing on magazines such as Teen Screen. He eventually broke out of his shell (thank goodness for us) and held roles in Broadway shows such as Hands on a Hardbody, Wicked and Saturday Night Fever. He also toured with the 1st National Rent Company and the original Los Angeles and Chicago companies of Wicked as our beloved Fiyero!
This down-to-earth actor chatted with me about his love of Broadway, his cast members and the occasional over zealous theater-goer.
McKenzie Morrell: What were you doing right before First Date? How did landing the roles of Reggie/Aaron’s Future Son/Edgy Rocker Guy come about?
Kristoffer Cusick: I auditioned and booked Hands on a Hardbody, so I was standing by for Hunter Foster and didn’t go on because it was quick, as you know, open and close in two seconds. Which is kind of a bummer. So when I knew that was closing, my agent called me in and said, “Did you hear there’s this new show? It’s called First Date. You should go in and sing for it.” And I was like, “Sure I’ll do it,” but nobody books two shows back to back, so I was sure there was going to be a million people up for it. And luck was on my side! So I booked this and went straight, literally I closed in April Hands on a Hardbody and went back to the west coast for the month of May and came back June 1 to start First Date, which was pretty amazing.
MM: You’ve really been around the Broadway block, lots of great things under your belt. So now, how has the experience been since First Date opened?
KC: Incredible. It was… I’m not going to lie, it was a little tumultuous in the beginning — tumultuous is the wrong word, I guess. It was pressure. I’ve been a part of a few different Broadway shows — three, now four original Broadway shows — and there’s always a level of stress in creating a new Broadway show. You can tell that the creative team has an incredible stress on them, the actors, the principle actors have stress on them because you’re carrying the show. There’s a lot there, right? But I’ve never carried a Broadway show as a principle; I’ve always gone into the original Broadway company in the ensemble understudying the principle roles. So even though there was stress involved, it was sort of peripheral for me. I wasn’t ever the focus and so I could just enjoy the process and sit back and relax. I can’t believe I’m on Broadway. This is so amazing, and [I] never felt that kind of pressure. Even with Hands on a Hardbody, going in as a principle, I was on a principle contract but I was still standing by for people. So I wasn’t having to worry about: What is the press going to think of me? What are the reviews gonna be? What’s going to happen? First Date was the first time I’ve done this. And it was a little scary, I’m not going to lie. You’re creating something from the very, very, very, very beginning, and no one is really sure what that’s going to be, and it sort of is in your hands. You know the director … is definitely shaping and molding and guiding [us], but every day I would kind of go to work with this sort of weight on my shoulders that I want to do something that’s great and I don’t want to be like everybody else. I want to make them proud. I want to make the creative team [proud]; I want to make my director [proud]; I want to be great for my cast members. So like I said it was scary, but it has also been very very rewarding. I can’t tell you how great this cast is. They are some of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with on Broadway. Our producers are literally hands down the nicest people I have ever worked for. Put that in bold caps, because it’s amazing. This producing team should have — I don’t know what kind of award they would get for that — but they literally are like family. It’s been absolutely wonderful.
MM: So would you say that’s the most notable difference working on First Date versus shows that you’ve been in, in the past, the pressure but the ultimate reward?
KC: Yeah. I would say that First Date versus my other shows, the difference being: A) the show in itself is so different from any other show I’ve done. It’s 90 minutes, which I’ve never done a show with no intermission. So it’s a one-act. And it’s a comedy. You can argue that Wicked and some of those other shows are musical comedies, but this is definitely more like a sitcom. The genre of a half-hour Will & Grace kind of a thing, with music, so it’s completely different from any show I’ve done, just in style and content. I would agree with you though, that would definitely be the difference there.
MM: I see that First Date auctioned off fun things to benefit Operation Smile, including the coveted lunch in New York City with you and Sara Chase.
MM: Now are you excited to share the inner workings of the B’s at Table 3 with one lucky fan?
KC: Absolutely! It’s one of my favorite things to do, in fact I don’t want to minimize the auction because I want everyone to bid and bid as much money as they possibly can shell out because it’s for such a good cause. But I will tell you one of my favorite things to do is to get to talk to the fans. Get to talk to, not even just fans of the show, but kids or people that are interested in the theater, kids who want to get involved in musical theater or involved in the arts in some way. If they’ve got questions or even from the simplest and silliest things of the inner workings of backstage: How does your dressing room work? What happens? All that kind of stuff that shows a different side when you know they’re excited about it. Of course, to sit down to lunch with somebody and actually have a little bubble, or capsule of time with them and one-on-one with Sara and I, I think it’s going to be incredible.
MM: Pending you don’t get any crazy people, as Sara stated in her tweet a while back.
KC: [Laughs.] I saw that she tweeted that, it’s funny you know. I think she’s trying to be… that’s just her brand of humor but I definitely have some stories of some crazy fans for sure, crazy people but I think we’re going to be fine.
MM: I saw the show, obviously, and as a side note I loved it.
KC: Thank you!
MM: You had mentioned in passing that Reggie’s songs were going to be made into ringtones. Is that still becoming a reality?
KC: Yeah, you know I don’t want to speak to the reasons why it hasn’t come out yet because I’m not entirely understanding of it. Basically, it is coming. In short, it’s definitely coming! They’re done; they’re ready. It’s not so easy, like with a cast album you’re going directly to the union that deals with knowing how to pay the actors and deal with the public and how that gets charted and everything. Ringtones and a lot of the new things with downloads and things like that are sort of somewhat new to the Broadway community. They’re not exactly sure which union is going to have to deal with that. The hold up has basically been on that. But they’re ready to go. We want them out! They’re going to come out. We’re just waiting for everybody to get the green light, that okay this has been dealt with and we understand how to track it in a certain way that makes everybody happy, I guess.
MM: Well when it does come out, I’m sure people will be on dates, and that ringtone will go off, and it’ll be hilarious!
KC: I know. It’s so weird, and it’s kind of exciting too.
MM: Since it’s such a small cast, you play multiple characters in the show, so now which character do you enjoy playing the most and are any of them close to your personality in real life?
KC: You know what? Honest and truly, not to sound cliché, but I feel, like… Well so first question: which character do I like to play the most? I have to say, obviously Reggie is my favorite character. Probably my favorite character just because he is the largest of the characters I play, so I have more to do with him. I have more to present to the audience with him. He’s just a more fully fleshed out character for people to latch on to, you know? But that said, the hip-hop, rappy kid that is the future son of Casey and Aaron, you know I only have that little bit of a rap that I get to do with him, which is one of my favorite parts of the show. Honestly, I love doing that. I think it’s so much fun. I grew up on ’80s and ’90s R&B, rap, hip-hop, and I was that little, white boy on the corner rapping to Vanilla Ice, and Eminem, and anyone else I could possibly get my hands on and emulate. So I love him, and if he had a bigger presence in the show and scenes and stuff, I could see myself picking him has my favorite character for sure. The funny part is, that kind of answers the second part to the question is that they really are all kind of me. I definitely am very dramatic and expressive and can be hyper and I have so many qualities of Reggie. The only thing I don’t have, and I don’t use on a regular basis, is the voice I use for Reggie. Reggie’s voice is something that came to me in the audition process, and I really have to credit that to several friends of mine that have kind of the nuances of that voice. No one talks exactly like him, but I have a couple friends that do different pieces of that or has a higher pitched voice. I kind of melded those people together and came up with that version of the voice for me. So I would say that’s not me per sé, but you know how I deal with my best friend sometimes, and her love life and dating life is just dramatic. You know, my mom, when she saw opening night, she was like, “It’s funny because you’re not that over the top. But the dramatic parts of Reggie, you definitely have in you.” So I definitely see myself in him. I bring myself in him, and I didn’t have to really dig deep down into my toolbox of acting things to figure out Reggie. I could find myself doing a lot of those things, so it was kind of easy. Growing up and loving to rap and doing that style for Aaron’s future son came to me kind of easy because I love doing that stuff, and the bad boys I would say that’s the furthest from me. I’m not much of a metal, drummer, musician rocker kind of jerk. That’s not who I really am. But my other characters, I definitely see myself in, a lot.
MM: I really liked the idea of you guys being able to live-tweet during the show. Do you think it would be too distracting to do that on a regular basis?
KC: You know, it was a challenge. It was a huge challenge the first — well, we’ve only done it once. And it was definitely a challenge. You would think that it would be simple, and maybe now it would be easier that we’ve been in the show a lot longer. We have a better grasp of when things are coming up in the show and what we need to do to make sure that our next bit is happening, and therefore, managing our time better with tweeting. I don’t think it would be impossible to do, but I also think that it’s kind of a fun, special unique thing that if we said we were going to do it every Thursday, it might not be as unique and interesting anymore. And I think that there’s more to be found that we haven’t even discovered yet on how to make this live-tweeting event just really something cool and unique. Whether that’s literally fielding live questions, I don’t know. We still haven’t figured it out, but I definitely don’t think you’ve heard the last of the live-tweeting. I think it’ll come back at some point and hopefully even better than last time.
MM: That’s awesome! Now can you describe each cast member in one word?
KC: In one word, Sara Chase: Zany. Kate Loprest: Beautiful. Bryce Ryness: Intense. Blake Hammond: Adorable. Krysta Rodriguez: Focused. Zac Levi: Charmer.
MM: So now, what is your cheesiest pick up line?
KC: Gosh, my cheesiest pick up line was probably — like, that I’ve used? It’s been years. I’ve been in a long relationship, so it’s been a long time since I’ve used one of these, but I probably see myself using something like “Have we met before?” Probably not the best one in the world.
MM: So let’s chat about the almighty stage door and how it’s been meeting fans, and this is the part where you tell me the weirdest or most awkward things fans have said to you.
KC: Honestly, it’s going back to what I’ve said about talking to people that are interested in the theater. I love to meet the fans at the stage door; I love to talk with them. There have been so many, and they’ve been so excited. I’ve had a lot of requests to sing a ringtone, to sing in people’s phones, and give them like a personal ringtone, or do this or do that. So I really do enjoy it. I love how expressive fans are with how much fun they had, and trying to tell that to us is always fun to watch, because they’re still so excited, and it’s just… how could you not smile? I tell people constantly when I’m out there signing autographs, I’m like, “You have no idea how this makes me feel.” If everyone could leave work and have people cheering for them after your job is done for the day, it would just… I think we would have a lot happier of a planet. It’s impossible to leave your job and have that kind of response and not just be on cloud nine every, single time you leave the theater. So that’s been great.
MM: Well that’s great!
KC: There’s been a couple crazy incidents. With this story in particular — I’ve got stories galore from other shows in my pocket in the past that crazy people have done or said or sent, but you know the list goes on and on — but with this show, I think the craziest thing that has happened so far is right when we started performances. I think we may have still been in previews. I’m pretty sure we were still in previews. We were doing our final bow, and I noticed these three young people, probably in their twenties, come running down the aisle near the front of the stage, and I thought, “OK, they probably just want to take pictures” or “They’re going to give flowers” or something. We hadn’t really had a lot of that happen, but no big deal. And we turned off stage, and were getting presented to the conductor, and turned back, and as we were getting ready for our final bow, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the gentleman. He was with two girls. [He] starts to put his foot up on the seat of the front row of seats. And I just knew, he’s about to rush the stage and jump on stage with us. And I’ve only ever had that happen once before, where an audience member got on stage with us. When I was on tour with Rent, we had an audience member decide that it would be appropriate to jump on stage and dance with the cast as though it was an open invitation dance party. Which, it wasn’t. So that was a little awkward. So I’m sort of thinking to myself, “What’s going to happen?” And literally all I could think of was “He wants to get to Krysta and he’s gonna” — I mean, she’s tiny and I’m sure she could handle herself just fine. I’m absolutely positive she can, but in that moment, it was the weirdest thing. I don’t know what it was just instinctual that took over, he jumped up on the stage and I literally just rushed forward into his stage and blocked him. And he said, “Come on, man, you know I just want to come up here.” I said, “You can’t be up here. This is dangerous. What are you doing? Get off the stage.” We had what seemed like a two-minute conversation, which was probably all of maybe 10 seconds, where he tried to get past me. I still wouldn’t let him get past me. I made him get off the stage. [He jumped] back down off the stage and left. And then he actually had the audacity to show up at the stage door for autographs.
MM: Oh, boy!
KC: Yeah. So I’m not going to lie, we — listen, it’s New York City — we’re in a time and an age where crazy stuff happens, and I’d love to say it was just a fan who wants to give someone a hug, and it’s not a big deal, but you just never know anymore, and I just thought for the safety of us. Well, for the safety of this guy. He doesn’t know [that] when curtains are coming down, we’ve got a lot of moving sets and pieces and it was just not safe and it wasn’t smart. I don’t know what he was thinking. But he was at the stage door, and we had a little bit of a talk with him asking him why he would do that, and it turns out he was like, “Listen man, it’s no offense to you. This is all about Zac Levi. I just wanted to see Zac Levi.” And I thought to myself, it’s just so odd to me that I actually assumed that he was going to try to run to Krysta because she’s gorgeous, and he’s obviously a young guy, and I put that two and two together, which probably speaks volumes about what I was thinking, but all he really wanted to do was just have a dance party with Zac on stage. And Zac and Krysta were very nice to him afterwards, and explained that you can’t do that, and gave autographs, and took pictures. It all ended up being fine. But I’m not going to lie, it was a little disconcerting and nerve-wracking at the time.
MM: No kidding. That seems super alarming! People really don’t have boundaries these days. [They’re] bot actually thinking that you guys are people and might be fearful of your safety.
KC: Yeah, and it’s so funny, you know, most people, most broadway stars — actually, I would say most celebrities in general really, the majority of celebrities, not that we’re celebrities, but the majority of celebrities — are people who are in a position of giving autographs or pictures to those that want them, [and] are so willing to do that, and so open and giving at the time. So it’s funny to me when there are people that don’t respect that, or want more. You know Zac is very clear at the stage door he will sign from the show, and he will also sign one piece of paraphernalia from Tangled or Chuck or whatever, and you get people who are still very, very angry because they want eight things signed, or they want nine pictures. They want this. And they do forget that sometimes it’s like we don’t have to do this, and we love to do this because we love to meet people, but there’s only so much time we have, and there’s a lot of fans. It’s not fair to begrudge them of their time either, you know. I will say that it’s nice to know that it’s a rarity and that most people are respectful and grateful. Once in a while, you do get those crazy fans who jump on the stage or do something weird, but it’s only once in a while, thank goodness.
MM: We are entering the random question round, enter if you dare!
MM: What is your favorite Disney movie? Assuming you watch Disney movies, but I would hope so.
KC: I do. I do. I would say, gosh I’m going to say Pete’s Dragon.
MM: Now if you were an alcoholic beverage, what would you be?
KC: A manhattan.
MM: If you could guest star on any TV show, what would it be?
KC: Does it have to be something that’s playing now?
MM: Nope, it could be past, present, future. [Laughs.]
KC: Will & Grace.
MM: One item you can’t live without.
KC: One item I can’t live without, there are so many. My coffee maker.
MM: If you could swap bodies with one of your cast mates for a day, who would it be?
KC: I’d swap bodies with Krysta.
MM: Now, can you sum up First Date in one short paragraph?
KC: First Date is a show that everybody can relate to. We’ve all been on a first date before, and we all know how awkward and weird it can be. This show is so amazing in how it captures those awkward feelings and those excited feelings. It’s great how it can relay these funny moments and awkward moments to the audience. The cast is incredible. Come out to see it; it’s amazing!
MM: I couldn’t have said it better myself…
FIRST DATE is now playing at the Longacre Theatre, 220W 48th Street, New York, New York.
Chat with Kristoffer on Twitter.
For more information about the show (and to buy tickets) visit FirstDateTheMusical.com.