Theater Review: ‘First Date’
A mostly pleasant surprise
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NEW YORK—Catching the awkwardness of a first encounter between two people supposedly looking to hook up with that special someone, “First Date,” now at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre, is appealing.
With a book by Austin Winsberg, and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, the musical touches on themes of loneliness, the need for companionship, and the unwillingness to let go of the past.
Helping the show tremendously is the fact that Krysta Rodriguez is the female lead.
In a New York City restaurant, 20-somethings Aaron (Zachary Levi), a financial analyst, and Casey (Rodriquez), a dabbler in photography, are meeting for the first time. That they seem mismatched is a huge understatement.
This is Aaron’s first time dating since his ex dumped him, and he feels rather uncomfortable. His lame attempts at small talk give the scene a bit of a sitcom feel.
As for Casey, she’s more attracted to the “bad boy” type and is highly combative with a habit of putting walls up so that no one can get in.
Yet Aaron and Casey soon reveal—to the audience at least—rather interesting backstories. We start to hope that this date will succeed despite all the emotional baggage the two carry.
There are also amusing topical references to “bail-out” calls, Google, biological clocks, and match.com, all of which figure into the overall plot.
Plus, anyone who has ever been on a first date can certainly empathize with what the two are going through, such as desperately wanting to make a good impression or trying to make a graceful exit as things go from bad to worse.
The show is blessed with a wonderful supporting cast, all of whom play multiple roles. These include Aaron’s friend Gabe (Bryce Ryness), a chronic womanizer always ready with some not-so-helpful advice; Casey’s sister Lauren (Sara Chase), who’s pushing her sibling to take a chance and find true happiness; and Casey’s friend Reggie (Kristoffer Cusick), who checks in with a bail-out call should Casey need a means of early escape.
There’s also a waiter (Blake Hammond) who gets in a few good lines on the subject of dating.
While the show’s score is pleasant, it’s the lyrics that stand out. The words are pointed, powerful, and universal when talking about dating and all of its ups and downs.
The music works well enough, but many of the pieces have a sort of improper pacing to them with transitional sections that don’t work as well as they should.
There’s also one number (“The Girl For You”), which feels dated and is the only time the show goes too over the top, where subtler would have been better.
Some of the musical highlights include the wonderful “Bad Boys,” where two men (Ryness, Cusick) from Casey’s past remind her of their prior romantic hookups; and “Allison’s Theme,” which spotlights Aaron’s continual hang-up when it comes to his ex (Kate Loprest).
Rodriguez is quite simply a powerhouse onstage, excellently playing a smart and determined woman, but one without a clear purpose in her personal or professional life. This is someone who wants to find a lasting relationship but who is terrified to let anyone get close, which is one reason she drops the dreaded “f” word (“friend”) at one point.
The actress also has a wonderful singing voice and does well interacting with the various characters.
Levi, however, doesn’t fare as well. His character starts off stereotypical, as someone trying too hard on a first date. Initially, he offers nothing that hasn’t been seen on stage many times before. The actor’s vocal talents are also not as strong as they should be.
Yet his poor start turns out to be a prelude to showing the man behind this façade. Ultimately his character proves to be as three-dimensional as Rodriquez’s, especially when Aaron has a “showdown” with Allison in the name of closure.
Bill Berry’s direction is good in keeping the action moving along while allowing the different characters to develop slowly. Also, the show and story never overstay their welcome, lingering only long enough to give a nice feel to the proceedings.
David Gallo’s set of the restaurant works well, David C. Woolard’s costumes fit the different characters, and lighting effects by Mike Baldassari are fine.
Pleasant and at times unexpectedly romantic, “First Date” is not perfect, but it is definitely enjoyable and worth checking out.
The Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.