Dating disasters on stage

Musical comedy celebrates the trials, tribulations and joys of dating in the 21st century.

Choreographer Brittany Shrimpton, center, looks on as Colleen Leeman and David Beukema rehearse a dance for upcoming show

Sam Harper

Choreographer Brittany Shrimpton, center, looks on as Colleen Leeman and David Beukema rehearse a dance for upcoming show “Right, Wrong or Bomb! A Dating Musical” at Sandbox Theatre on Saturday morning. The musical comedy celebrates the trials, tribulations and joys of online dating.

Brenda Tran

A custom-made Ryan Gosling body pillow, a fake giant fish and a deer head are just a few of the props that can be found scattered around the rehearsal space at Sandbox Theatre.
Saturday morning at the location usually consists of actors rehearsing jazzy musical numbers while writers and a director observe with careful precision. In Broadway fashion, women harmonize as they simultaneously wave giant feather fans in preparation for the debut of “Right, Wrong or Bomb! A Dating Musical.”
Told through witty dialogue and Broadway-style numbers, the musical addresses 21st-century dating in a humorous way and will debut at Illusion Theater on Thursday.
The musical comedy is written by Brittany Shrimpton, Rosie Sauvageau and Shannon McDonald and directed by Shanan Custer. 
“Right, Wrong or Bomb!” follows a woman’s quest for love via the Internet. Jill, a successful woman with less-than-average social skills, begins online dating in hopes of breaking her never-ending cycle of singlehood. 
She is supported by her best friends. One lives a bachelorette’s dream, and the other is content in a monogamous relationship. 
Inspiration for “Right, Wrong or Bomb!” was more than plentiful, given the growing popularity of online dating apps and websites like Tinder and OkCupid. Pulling from their own disastrous date anecdotes as well as those of their friends, the writers address scenarios online daters know well. 
“All of us have had friends or people we know, in our own age group and the younger generation, that have dated online. I thought there was a lot of ripe, rich material for a comedy because everything just seemed to be so funny,” Shrimpton said. 
McDonald recalled using her aunt as backup on numerous dates. Just as things would begin to go sour, her aunt would conveniently emerge from the bar and create a scene, allowing McDonald to make a run for it. 
While writing and producing a musical for the first time may seem like a daunting task, the writers had little doubt in mind. 
“The thought of us not doing it — I don’t think that’s ever crossed our minds. We always knew that we were gonna do it, we just had to figure out how,” McDonald said. 
The musical’s development took years of feedback sessions, readings and script changes. The creator fundraised close to $17,000 through a GiveMN crowd fundraising effort. While the process was long and rigorous, Shrimpton credited the wide range of resources in the Twin Cities, as well as Custer’s help, with making the process easier. 
As McDonald and Shrimpton observed and Sauvageau played keyboard, the actors worked hard to perfect the numbers. Even during their breaks, they practiced choreography and dialogue. 
“It’s fun — [Custer] is a riot,” Debbie Swanson, who plays Jill’s mother, said.
Even when work gets tough, actor Katherine Strom said work gets done and there is much laughter. 
A bulk of the musical’s charm comes from its relatability. Writers and cast members have had their fair share of online dating woes and successes. Strom knows all too well the cycle of downloading and deleting dating apps. 
“I’ve had Tinder, OkCupid and Bumble. I deleted them because it gets weird and overwhelming and then downloaded them a month later because a bunch of people got engaged on Facebook,” Strom said. 
On the other hand, actor Ryan Shipley has had success with online dating — he met his current partner via an online dating platform. 
While the show often skewers finding love on the web, it also works to de-stigmatize online dating.
“There’s a lot of stigma that follows online dating. People feel like they can’t tell you how they met their significant other or someone they went on dates with … but it’s okay to find love in different ways,” Sauvageau said.