September 7, 2013

"First Date" Fails to Sweep Me Off My Feet

Lots of people seem charmed by First Date, the first musical to open in this new Broadway season.  And I wish I could have been too.  

Because I admire the fact that First Date isn’t based on a movie, TV show, videogame or Baby Boomer songbook but seems to have sprung wholly out of the heads, or dating mishaps, of its creators, Austin Winsberg who wrote the book and Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner who did the music and lyrics (click here to read a piece about the songwriting duo).
Maybe First Date didn’t sweep me off my feet because it’s not aimed at old happily married people like me but at those who are still playing the mating game. Or maybe it’s because I didn’t date enough before hooking up with my husband K and so don’t identify with all the awkward moments that so many people in the audience at the performance my theatergoing buddy Bill and I attended obviously did.
First Date tells the story, from the initial bumbling small talk through the will-they-or-won’t-they kiss, of a blind date between Aaron, an easygoing nice guy who does something in finance and is on the rebound from a bad relationship; and Casey, an edgy artsy gal who has commitment problems and a preference for bad boys.  
All the action, which includes flashbacks and fantasy sequences performed by a talented five-member ensemble, takes place in the trendy bar where the mismatched pair have decided to meet for a drink, and maybe dinner if things go well. 
Director Bill Berry, producing director of the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle where First Date premiered last year, has concocted lots of clever business and some amusing scenes, although the phone calls from Casey’s gay BFF, flamboyantly portrayed by Kristoffer Cusick, made me wonder if there were a gay equivalent for blackface.  
Still, the performances were generally appealing. Even though I wasn’t as wowed as others were by Krysta Rodriguez, who plays Casey and got entrance applause from some folks who apparently recognized her from her breakout role on the now-infamous TV show “Smash” (click here to read a piece about her).   

But I was totally won over by Zachary Levi’s Aaron. Levi is best known for his role as the title character on the NBC series “Chuck” but his Playbill bio says he’s been acting in school and community theater productions since he was six and he seems wonderfully at home on stage.

The songs in the show aren’t as winning or particularly memorable but they were pleasant enough. And I might have enjoyed them even more if the lyrics weren’t so densely packed.

When you add it all up, this 95-minute mini-musical (there are only seven guys in the orchestra) comes off as kind of innocuous. It doesn’t seem quite large enough for a Broadway show—or for Broadway ticket prices. 

On the other hand, judging by the whoops of delight coming from the people seated around Bill and me, the show is clearly a crowd-pleaser. The trick for the producers will be in getting the right crowd in those seats.

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