Austin Winsberg's Best and Worst Blind Dates
First dates are always problematic. That’s especially true when it’s a blind date. The inherent tensions of the situation form the humorous backdrop for a new Broadway musical, “First Date.”
Aaron (Zachary Levi) is a little uptight; Casey (Krysta Rodriguez) is less so. It does not look like this is a match made in heaven. Or is it?
The play was written by Austin Winsberg with music and lyrics provided by his friends, Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. “The idea came from us, three Jewish boys who dated a lot of girls, and what we thought of the dating world,” Winsberg told The Arty Semite.
This is the first play for Winsberg, whose background is mostly in film and television (“Jake in Progress,” “Still Standing”). He spoke to the Forward about his blind date experiences, dealing with some “mean spirited” reviews and his own bar mitzvah — in Israel, at age 19.
Curt Schleier: Did you meet your wife on a blind date?
Austin Winsberg: I did, actually. My best friend growing up is her third cousin. They hadn’t seen each other for a long time and reconnected at a Mother’s Day reunion. He and I have the same taste, and he told me had this wonderful person for me he wanted to set me up with. I asked him if she’s so great why don’t you want her. He said it was because she was his cousin. So we went out to dinner.
How did it go?
It went really well. We’d already emailed back and forth, so we had a good banter going. It felt very easy, very comfortable. She felt like someone I already knew. In fact, after the date I emailed her with the subject line, “I wonder what…” The email read: “…what we are going to name our children.” It went that well.
But if your play is any indication, you must have had some bad blind dates, too.
I had my fair share. The most memorable one was where I drove 45 minutes for a date with a girl and in the middle of the date I had all kinds of breathing problems, hyperventilating. [My date] ended up driving me back to my parents’ house where there was an ambulance waiting. [The EMTs] sat me down and told me basically I was having a panic attack. They asked me if I was proposing that night. That night was one of my more memorable blind dates and on top of that my dad had to drive the girl home. Surprisingly we ended up going out again, and I had another panic attack. And she still ended up going out with me again.
Great story, but you told that already. Where is my exclusive?
I went out once with a girl who was on Xanax and Ambien and basically fell asleep on me. She actually put her head down on the table at dinner and closed her eyes.
This is your first musical. It’s your first Broadway show of any kind. How is this different from television and film writing?
In TV and movies you’re more isolated. Here we collaborated throughout the entire process. We came up with the whole structure together. What it is you do over the course of a first date. Where do you use dialogue to advance the story and where you use music. What’s the right balance. We were constantly moving things around to keep the pace of the show consistent. Even in the previews, we were taking notes and fine-tuning the humor to make the jokes land more.
I saw the show early on and loved it. It didn’t seem like the same show the New York Times’ critic reviewed. What was your reaction?
I made a decision I wasn’t going to look at reviews and just enjoy the [opening night] party. But that ended when I saw guests looking at their phones. We were getting live updates and I saw positive reviews before I saw The New York Times. This is a mainstream commercial show. We knew that not all of our reviews were going to be glowing. There are certain reviewers who may have issues because it is commercial and because of its mainstream appeal. It doesn’t feel the way they feel a Broadway show should feel, that it feels too sitcom-y. I think they underestimate how hard it is to keep people laughing for 90 minutes. Still, I don’t think we expected the vitriol of The New York Times review. I had a bad day or two, but then I let it go. But if you go to the website, there are a lot of comments defending the show.
Can you tell me a little about growing up in Los Angeles?
I grew up in a Reform Jewish family. We would go to temple on the High Holidays. I actually got bar mizvahed in Israel when I was 19. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, there was so much competition over who would throw the biggest bar mitzvah, who can have the fanciest party. At the time, we didn’t want to compete, but later when my dad, sister and I went to Israel we all got bar miztvahed.