There are three very charming New York love stories at the center of On the Town. But in the latest revival of the 1944 Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Betty Comden and Adolph Green musical, none of the wooing the three sailors do while on a 24-hour leave in Manhattan can top ensemble member Cody Williams' offstage moves. Williams had been planning to sweep costar Alysha Umphress, who plays the lascivious cab driver Hildy, off her feet since before he had even met her. After finally landing a first date with the powerhouse singer over the holidays, he set up a New Year's Eve surprise that could have easily been a scene in a Meg Ryan movie.
Now that they've been dating for 10 months and are starring in the same show, Playbill.com talked with the sweetly smitten couple, during a break in rehearsal, about their adventurous dates, stealing kisses backstage and Playbill.com's serendipitous part in their whirlwind romance.
You are both starring in On the Town, but you started dating before rehearsals began. Did you find out that you were cast in the show at the same time?
Cody Williams: It was a rolled out process. Alysha was in On the Town at Barrington [Stage Company] last summer and I was in Cinderella [on Broadway] at that time. When I auditioned for [this past December's] dance lab workshop of On the Town, I saw her name on the cast list. It really piqued my interest, because when I was a student [at the College-Conservatory of Music] in Cincinnati I had seen her photo on Playbill.com when American Idiot came out, and I just thought she was gorgeous. I was like, "When I get to New York and I meet this person, I'm going to be absolutely shameless and go after her." So after I got cast in this On the Town reading, I went to Alysha's good friend, Marla Mindelle, who was is in Cinderella, with me and I said, "Tell me about your friend, because I think she's as cute as they come." Well, Marla went and told Alysha that I had a crush on her, which was absolutely not what I wanted her to do! It was horrible. I showed up on the first day of rehearsal and she was like, "Hi I'm Alysha" and I just said, "What's up." I was trying to play it cool and not give her too much attention, but then I would do things like walk her a block after rehearsal was over. It paid off.
Alysha Umphress: He actually waited to ask me out until a couple of days after the workshop was over. Marla had told me he had a crush on me, and I was like, "He's actually been really nice, but respectful and not overly chatty." Then he said, "Hey let's go out sometime." I was staying in town for Christmas, so our first date was Dec. 23.
Cody, I can't believe your plan actually worked.
CW: It was great, but then it was hectic. We went on our date and things seemed to be pretty perfect. It turned Christmas Eve and we were together with a cozy Christmas record playing in the background. We had it made! But Jan. 10, she was going to Washington, D.C. to star in Beaches, so we had a really short window. I was thinking, "I gotta lock this down." We spent almost all of Christmas together; I call it my Christmas Vacation, because it was the most amazing, magical week. Then on New Year's Eve she went down to D.C. because her roommate had choreographed the Elf tour that was playing the Kennedy Center. I was like, "That kind of stinks that we aren't going to be together, but oh well." Then at 6 PM on New Year's Eve, I was walking from the gym to the subway, through the crowd of people going to Times Square, and daydreaming about how great it was going to be to kiss her at midnight, when I remembered that she was in D.C. At that moment I said, "Screw this." When I got home I saw there was one Amtrak train that would get me into D.C. at 11:45 PM. I bought my ticket on the phone, jumped in the shower, put on a suit, grabbed my toothbrush and phone charger and ran out the door. I made the last subway to Penn Station and literally ran on the train right as the doors were closing. I called her and asked if she would mind if I came to D.C. for the night. She was like, "What? That would be amazing!"
AU: He showed up at the Kennedy Center at a quarter 'til midnight in a suit with a toothbrush and a wallet. Then the next day he got up at six to go back to New York to do two shows at Cinderella. He didn't even bring a change of clothes. It was the most romantic thing ever.
That is definitely one of the sweetest things I've ever heard.
AU: He's a sweetie.
CW: There's only one Alysha Umphress.
So, back to your first date. What did you guys do?
CW: I could tell that she was hesitant to go out with me because we were going to work together, so it wasn't an outwardly majestic date.
AU: We went to see "Anchorman 2" at the movie theater on 84th Street, where there's assigned seating in those leather Lazy Boy-like chairs. It turned out that Caissie Levy and her husband [David Reiser] were in the seats right next to us.
CW: The date didn't really start until we got back to her place and she cooked me dinner. I started making these awkward references [to the show] like, "Wow you really can cook too!" Suddenly it was Christmas Eve and she put on this Dinah Washington Christmas record. That's where the magic came in.
AU: Ugh the "magic." You love that word.
CW: Well, it really was. I can't resist a good song reference, either. Alysha, can you cook too?
AU: I make a couple of things OK. I'm not a great cook.
CW: She could put Sarabeth out of business.
Aw. Well, since you ended up spending Christmas together, did you exchange gifts? That must have been a little weird!
AU: No, we just hung out. He had shows at Cinderella as well as a church gig. He got hired last minute to sing on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. The church was right by my apartment, so I said he could stay over. I think he conned me into it. I don't think there really was a church gig; he just made it up.
Do you live together now?
CW: We're still living apart, but she has a closet and two dressers at my house and I have a drawer and six hangers at hers. [laughs]
AU: He's a guy, and I live in Manhattan and he lives in Astoria, so that's the difference.
Either way, being in the same show is almost like living together. Has spending so much time together been challenging?
CW: That was one of the big questions for me: "Will [working together] muck up any potential relationship I have with her?" But it's been the best show experience of my life. The person that makes me the happiest is always a shoulder lean away.
AU: That was one of my main concerns too, even back when we were doing the dance lab. When we went on that first date, I didn't really have expectations of this being a relationship, because we were going to work together, but it's been totally lovely. It's awesome having your best friend there for every moment of it.
Had you seen a lot of showmances fall apart? Is that why you were a little bit hesitant?
AU: A little bit. I think "showmance" is a funny, but also accurate term. A lot of the times they happen — especially on tours — because you're living in a bubble, and you're not in your normal life with your normal friends. You're sort of forced to become a family with these people, so obviously showmances sprout. But with Broadway shows everybody is living their own lifestyle and they have their friends nearby, so I actually don't see as many showmances happen in Broadway shows.
CW: Something we talk about a lot is the fact that we met during the workshop, but we weren't dating then. We had this relationship that started in late December and bloomed the whole time she was in D.C. I'd come down every Monday and spend the day with her, and we got really close. We didn't do another On the Town-related event until late July, so it doesn't feel like the show was first and then us. It feels like it was us and then the show. Cody, you're in the ensemble and Alysha plays a principal role. Do you watch her sing her solos like, "I Can Cook Too" from the wings?
AU: It's really funny because in his next scene after my first number, "Come Up to My Place," he plays a caveman, so when I come off the stage he's in the wings dressed in a loin cloth, a saber tooth choker and a crazy caveman wig. He always gives me a high five.
Aside from seeing him in a caveman costume, is it hard to keep the romance alive at work?
AU: We have almost opposite tracks in the show. We have three little points in the show where we have a moment together. Two of them are sort of hidden and one is a directorial choice where I have to go offstage to make a phone call and he's the waiter. My line is, "Where can I make a phone call?" And he says, "Right this way, it's just going to cost you three kisses." Then we go offstage and laugh. If anything, we're probably really annoying because we're always sneaking kisses and hanging on each other and being "that couple."
CW: That's the thing, we don't need to work at the romance. It's more like working to make sure we don't offend the rest of the cast and company.
Was this your first opening night party together?
AU: He was my date for the opening of Beaches. And we went to the opening of The Cripple of Inishmaan together.
CW: That was our first step and repeat. [laughs]
An essential step in any relationship! Speaking of steps, have you taken each other back to your respective hometowns yet?
AU: I'm from San Francisco and Cody has been out for a long weekend. We went to a friend's wedding and he hung out with my dad and my mom. It was nice.
CW: I'm from Marietta, GA, right outside of Atlanta, but my sister works in guest relations at Disney World, so instead of going to Marietta, Alysha and I went to Disney World.
AU: It was our last little hurrah before we started rehearsal. We had the best time.
What else do you guys do for fun, outside of work?
AU: Like everyone else we love to go to dinner and a movie, but we also like to do adventures.
CW: I love adventures.
AU: We had a day off yesterday, and tomorrow is Cody's birthday, so I said, "Ok we'll go have a majestic fall blowout day." We went apple picking upstate at Masker Orchards with Cody's really good friend John [Walton] West and his girlfriend Leigh Ann Larkin. It was a double date day trip.
CW: We went apple picking and on a hay ride. Then we had an amazing dinner in Tarrytown and went to this incredible haunted house in Sleepy Hollow.
AU: It was a really lovely fall-themed birthday day, but we're always doing those kinds of things. He took me rowing in Central Park once. We like to do fun things that aren't just dinner and a movie.