First Date is a new Broadway musical about a blind date between Aaron (Zachary Levi from Chuck fame) and Casey (Krysta Rodriguez from Smash) and feeds into the fears, anxieties and other emotional traps that go along with dating.
The other actors play multiple characters throughout the musical, but Casey’s gay BFF, Reggie (played by Kristoffer Cusick) stands out not just for the burst of energy he brings to every moment he has in the show, but also by the fact that he’s someone we can probably all relate to.
I spoke with Cusick recently about landing the First Date role just as another Broadway gig was ending. He also shared his thought about being out professionally and being comfortable with who he is.
TheBacklot: How did First Date first come along?
Kristoffer Cusick: It was sort of clandestine because I was actually in another show on Broadway called Hands On A Hardbody. And I was doing that show a block away on 47th Street. And, as you know, that show didn’t really quite pick up with the crowds the way we had hoped [and] once we [knew] Hardbody was going to probably close, my agent put out feelers for auditions to see what was coming up. And this was the first audition I went out on after having closed Hardbody… I closed on a Sunday, and I found out the following Tuesday that I had booked First Date. So, it was a nice surprise. Very nice to know I had a show to go right into.
TBL: Most of the cast plays several characters in the show, but one of yours is Reggie, the gay BFF to Krysta Rodriguez who leaves her voicemails throughout the show. He’s definitely very uber-gay and over the top. How did you find that tone?
KC: We did a lot of different things. I will say that how the character is now is pretty much dead on with how I came into the room for my audition. I sort of based him off of a couple of friends that I know that are literally just that big, that broad, that out there.
There’s been a lot of people that have said, ’Oh, this seems to be such a broad character. And although he’s funny, he’s such a stereotype…’ And I laugh because I feel like it absolutely could not be further from the truth. I feel like I know so many. I mean, two of my closest friends this is based on and I love them to death. And they just are that dramatic, that out there, that flamboyant and crazy and wild and they embrace it and they’re not ashamed of it. They’re so proud of who they are and what they are. I didn’t come into the process of the audition thinking ‘I want to do a stereotype, or I want to do something broad.’ I just wanted to be really fun and uber-confident.
I don’t really have any other interaction with any other people on stage. It’s all voice-mail and monologues. And so I felt sort of challenged to have an impact, to engage the audience in some sort of a way that made [Reggie] likeable, identifiable. You know, just to leave a voice-mail, it’s sort of, it felt sort of like flashback to Maureen in Rent when she’s just popping up and leaving these voice-mails for Joanne. And you don’t really ever care about Maureen until she finally comes in and does her big number. And that’s sort of how I felt with Reggie. I just felt like I didn’t want him to get lost in the shuffle by just being the kind of fun, gay friend who calls once in a while and leaves messages. I wanted something more from him.
TBL: Is it a challenge at all to keep your energy up for the show? Reggie really does pop whenever he appears.
KC: I would say, it’s definitely, definitely challenging. I think the hardest part of the show is that it’s kind of like you’re shot out of a cannon. You’re like balls-out, and then we’re sitting down at table at the end and we’re supposed to [have been] sitting at a restaurant in the middle of a date supposedly for thirty minutes. You need to have this sort of air of calm and relaxed. Really inside, you’re panting for breath…and then just when you’ve settled down and you finally catch your breath, he’s back out jumping around, and I’m doing the Jewish Christian rap kid or I’m jumping around as somebody else.
It’s definitely a work out physically. And it’s a work out mentally because since you can’t leave the stage, you’re constantly having to stay engaged with what’s going on that you’re not involved with, yet still maintaining a sort of an air of your own world at this table. And it’s been very challenging to not miss cues and not forget to jump up and do something you’re supposed to do at any given moment.
TBL: I looked on your website and I saw a picture of you with Megan Hilty…
KC: Megan and I go back with the original Wicked cast. And we did Wicked in LA and we share the same birthday. So, we’re both Aries. So, we’re like brother and sister.
TBL: From reading your website, it sounds like performing was kind of your destiny. It just sounds like it was laid into your life pretty early. Is that how you see it?
KC: It’s kind of was a little bit of a push and pull for me. I’m such a ham…I grew up kind of dancing, ice skating, singing. But at the same time, as much as I loved doing that kind of stuff, I was really introverted and shy. And there was that and knowing that I was gay and not really wanting to admit to that and cop to that. And getting teased and harassed through school for dancing and for being a little bit effeminate and emotional and dramatic, all those things. It sort of put me off and to shy away from being in the spotlight. I definitely had a love-hate relationship with it. It was like definitely something I wanted to do and yet I was really pushing myself to do well in school and get good grades and do that whole thing. And I thought, ‘maybe I could grow up and be a doctor and do something responsible and kind of kiss this whole performing thing goodbye.’
And then you know, I just kind of got over myself. I came to the realization after a short lived marriage to my high school sweetheart – to a woman – I realized that I just couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t live the lie of that life and live with myself. And I just needed to be accepting and happy and proud of who I was. And then a great group of friends that were very supportive of just living the life and being who you were gave me the strength and support to come out to my family and my friends. And I think in that I found the ability to be very comfortable with who I am and then to not worry about how others perceive me and so then, therefore, being very comfortable with performing.