NEW YORK — The subject of bad dates comes up during an interview with Krysta Rodriguez, and she offers up a doozy.
A few years ago, she and her boyfriend spent a ton of money on an expensive meal to celebrate their one-year anniversary. Around the dessert course, a man at a nearby table had a seizure and collapsed.
An ambulance was called and the man was taken away. He turned out to be OK, but Rodriguez's romantic date was a casualty that night.
"My boyfriend was so upset by it that he vomited the whole dinner. He had to run outside in the flower bed out front of the restaurant and throw up," she says, laughing. "I ended up taking care of him all night long on our anniversary while he literally vomited $400 worth of food."
Rodriguez tells the story because romantic missteps are on her mind these days: The Broadway and "Smash" veteran is starring in a new musical about a blind date opposite Zachary Levi, who starred in the TV show "Chuck."
In "First Date," by "Gossip Girl" writer Austin Winsberg, Rodriguez plays Casey, an artsy-cool downtown hottie who is a little abrasive after years of serial dating. She meets the sweet but slightly nerdy Aaron, played by Levi, at a bar.
Over the course of 90 minutes (no intermission), the two try to get to know each other despite dreamlike interruptions from relatives, friends and old lovers. It's a seemingly doomed relationship – she likes bad boys and the only thing he's done wrong is download music illegally. But there's always hope.
Rodriguez, a California native who just turned 29, is single and can relate to some of Casey's frustrations with men in the city. But they don't see eye to eye when it comes to bad boys.
"While I've not always made the best decisions in my dating life, I wouldn't say I'm attracted to bad boys. I like men that love their mothers and follow rules," she says, laughing. Take that un-bad boy who threw up their anniversary dinner: They dated for almost three years more.
"Hey, I couldn't fault him for it," she says.
Rodriguez may be only a year shy of 30 but she's a stage veteran, having prepared for 20 roles since making her Broadway debut at age 19 in "Good Vibrations." In that show she was a swing who understudied no less than nine roles.
"I got thrown into the fire immediately," she says.
She was soon in the Broadway casts of "A Chorus Line," "In the Heights," "Spring Awakening" and "The Addams Family," originating the role of Wednesday Addams alongside Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth.
Rodriguez had actually been acting long before – she had starred in Francis Ford Coppola's musical "Gidget" in 2000 and, even earlier, the TV show "Colby's Clubhouse." She is the product of a "lovely, sun-filled, love-filled childhood" but admits she's a bit of a workaholic.
"A very strong theme in my life has been `Setback First, Success Second.' I usually don't get in the first time. So I try again and I get in the second time," she says. "It's made me who I am. I know that I'm more appreciative of every experience I have because of all those things."
It was that confidence and those experiences that impressed Bill Berry, who directs her in "First Date." The team was looking for an actress who had the singing chops and the ability to be both emotional and still a bit secretive.
"When we were going through the audition process, she was one of the first people that we saw that we said, `Aha! That's the first piece of the puzzle,'" he says.
"She's got ideas. She comes to the table with thoughts and that's always so much more interesting than with someone who's waiting to be told exactly what to do."
She was cast before Levi, even though he's arguably the bigger star, having been on TV for five years. But there's something about Rodriguez that signals a new star has arrived and is ready to headline for the first time.
"This is her time," says Berry.
She almost missed it.
Rodriguez sought new challenges in 2012 after six years of Broadway and went to Los Angeles to audition for TV. She tested for six pilots – one that even featured Levi as her brother-in-law – and then was forced to come back or lose her New York apartment.
Out of nowhere came her most famous part – a role on the second season of "Smash." She had gone across the country to land a TV show, only to come home and find one – about a Broadway musical.
Rodriguez played Katharine McPhee's roommate Ana Vargas and got to show the world a smart, sexy, funny beauty in a cool blunt cut who could belt out gorgeous versions of "Broadway, Here I Come!" and "If I Were a Boy."
Fans lining up outside the "First Date" theater have come to cheer Rodriguez because of "Smash," but the experience of the show is bittersweet. Sweet because of the exposure and the people she met. Bitter because she couldn't stop the show from cancellation.
She cites a number of reasons for its demise – internal problems, too many cooks in the kitchen and a time slot from hell, Saturday night. Many fans recorded the show on their DVRs – therefore not helping the ratings – and many critics were unwilling to give the show a second chance.
"We kind of didn't stand a chance. We were trying to please a group of people who didn't want to be pleased. They had already made up their minds," she says. "In its afterlife, it's so well received. But when we were doing it, we were in the crossfires of everybody's anger."
But she loved doing the show, and it inevitably led to "First Date." She's enjoying every minute of her return to Broadway, even if her co-star's dressing room is larger.
"He was on five years of television," she says, laughing. "I was only on one."
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits