High school friends Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, the songwriting duo behind the Disney Cruise Line musical Twice Charmed — a Cinderella story with a twist — pack up their glass slippers and get down to the nitty-gritty in the new Broadway musical First Date, where they team up with book writer and former wingman Austin Winsberg to explore dating disasters, relationships and finding "The One."
Zachary and Weiner, who share credit for both music and lyrics on their projects, began collaborating while still students in high school in Los Angeles, shortly after the release of the 1991 Disney film "Beauty and the Beast" — a pivotal point for the pair.
"It was the confluence of everything the two of us loved," said Weiner. "'Beauty and the Beast' was a fusion of movies, musicals, animation, and Disney — not to mention a bad first date, seeing as how Belle's "Prince Charming" locked her inside of an enchanted castle. But the duo, frequent writers for the Walt Disney Company, had more in mind than princes and castles and gowns for their first project on Broadway.
"One of the reasons why Michael and Alan wanted to do [First Date] was to do something different from their Disney stuff, and I think that's when we started talking about it," said Winsberg, who met the two in their early 20s. "We wanted to do something that felt current, that felt contemporary, that had some edge to it, that wasn't soft, that wasn't grandly romantic and that dealt with the realities of today.
"They say write what you know," he continued with a laugh, "and as we collectively got together and started talking about what we know, it turned out we know that we're not such great daters." Through the years the trio — in the style of "Sex and the City" — got together over a series of lunches to complain about the hardships of dating. Cut to 2013 where, First Date, starring stage and television actress Krysta Rodriguez (NBC's "Smash") and Zachary Levi (NBC's "Chuck") — making his Broadway debut — officially opened Aug. 8 at the Longacre Theatre.
The musical sets up uptight Aaron (Levi) with super-chic Casey (Rodriguez) on a first date, where their baggage is unpacked, the skeletons come out of their closets and an ensemble of five make up the figures from their past.
"The main character of Aaron is very much an amalgam of the three of us," explained Winsberg, who added, "Aaron's ex-girlfriend, Allison, might be a composite of some of the nightmare exes in our lives."
"There's a moment where Aaron discovers on the date that Casey is not Jewish, and one of the big dilemmas that sometimes comes up [when] growing up Jewish is the issue of 'finding a nice Jewish girl,'" said Zachary, who grew up Jewish and would occasionally be faced with the same problem.
Aside from their own lives, Broadway's newest relationship gurus also pull from the people around them. "Truly the scariest thing about this show," admitted Weiner, "is probably [that] everything is taken from our own lives or our friends' lives in some way. We have friends who will see this show… and maybe they won't be friends with us afterward!"
"There's a whole section in the show now where [Aaron's] ex-girlfriend is giving reasons why she doesn't want to have sex with him. That is taken directly from my wife and I. She doesn't know that's in the show yet!" confided Winsberg. "I actually think that stuff makes [situations in the show] feel more real and makes it feel like we're dealing with contemporary, real people."
As for songwriter Weiner's personal contribution to First Date, he musicalized moments from the relationship with his recent wife (he and actress Wendi Bergamini were married about a month-and-a-half before his opening night on Broadway). "We met at a Broadway party," he began, "so we were introduced by mutual friends who were in shows, and we had this great connection — we totally hit it off. I actually got her phone number, called her a couple days later, she proceeded to call me back, and the first thing she said on my voicemail is, 'I just want you to know...I really want you to be my friend.' Literally, that moment is actually in the show."
Classic dating moments like the Friend Zone, the First Impression and the Awkward Pause provided the authors with a starting point for the original score and book.
Zachary admitted, "The dating scene is extremely complicated. I'm thrilled to have found my wife."
"I, too, am happy not to be in that dating scene anymore," added Weiner, "because I think it is incredibly complex, challenging, [and] difficult...but I will say — and I think what this show explores — if you, as a person, can work through your issues, [and] you find that match who is willing to work with you, it could be really great."
"I'm married with child," said Winsberg of his fairy tale ending. His dating advice: "Good luck. God bless."
(This feature appears in the August 2013 issue of Playbill. Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work also appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)