News Column

Show is Their Broadway Dream Come True

July 28, 2013


When Alan Zachary left Englewood Cliffs for Los Angeles, little did he know he would return to the East Coast 35 years later for what he calls "a magical experience."

Of course, when his family moved west, he was only 4 years old.

In any case, his long-nurtured dream to come back, to make it to Broadway, is being realized with "First Date," a show for which he and writing partner - and former high school classmate - Michael Weiner created the songs.

The musical is in previews at the Longacre Theatre for an Aug. 8 opening.

Zachary, who has relatives in Closter, said his mother and father, a film and TV producer and studio executive, were theater fans who introduced him to musicals at an early age.

"It's very special," he said, "to have my parents walk into a theater to see a show with my name on it."

"First Date" grew out of a casual get-together that Zachary, 39, and Weiner, 38, had with Austin Winsberg, a writer-producer for the TV series "Gossip Girl."

"We've all been close friends for many years," said Weiner, who joined Zachary for a three-way phone interview late last week. "We were just talking about our dating lives, sharing our experiences. And we sort of realized that we had the makings of a musical -- having an audience watch a first date, with its highs and lows, in real time."

"It's a situation that might be a gateway in life; the stakes could be very high."

(The three men's dating travails are behind them now; they're all married.)

With Winsberg writing the book, and Zachary and Weiner, who've been collaborating on songs for more than half their lives, doing the score, they started out with a reading.

A producer saw it and liked it, arranged for a full-scale presentation in Seattle in the spring of 2012, and then told the show's creators Broadway would be the next stop.

In the show, two veterans of the dating wars, Casey (Krysta Rodriguez, daughter Wednesday in "The Addams Family") and Aaron (Zachary Levi, the title character on TV's "Chuck") meet in a bistro.

She's skeptical, having been burned by previous bad-boy suitors, and gentile. He's more open, and nerdy, and Jewish.

Their budding acquaintance is shadowed by the baggage each brings, in the form of parents, friends and exes who pop up during the evening.

For Zachary, who participated in his high school's shows, the creative light went on when he saw the Disney film "Beauty and the Beast."

"I decided I wanted to write a Broadway-style animated musical," he said.

He found a kindred spirit in Weiner, a schoolmate who was a year behind him and, having also been initiated by his family's passion, shared a love of old Broadway musicals.

Both having studied piano, they could each write music as well as lyrics.

"We wrote a script and six songs, and made primitive demos in my living room," recalled Weiner. They sent them out to studios with a note: "Please meet with us. We're 17, and we're cheap." Nothing happened - until the following year, when they were contacted and then hired by Hanna-Barbera Productions to write songs for animated TV shorts.

College separated them - Zachary went to Amherst, Weiner to UCLA - but they worked together long distance and, after graduating, got jobs with Disney, writing shows for the company's theme parks and cruise ships and songs for programs on the Disney Channel.

They kept on with theatrical ambitions, though, and for both of them reaching Broadway is a milestone.

"When I was 13," said Weiner, "my family visited New York, and as soon as we landed at JFK, I asked if we could drive past the Broadway theaters before going to our hotel. It sounds cheesy, but this is a dream come true."

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