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Delightful, well-staged, cast-right FIRST DATE on Broadway

Delightful, well-staged, cast-right FIRST DATE on Broadway

Roy Berko

(Member:  American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

How do singles meet, find that perfect “forever,” or at least, their “right” now?  In this age of electronics, Craigslist, J-date, and E-Harmony, dot com offer a wide avenue to traverse.

Of course, who can tell if any of the on-line information is accurate?   As “The One,” the opening song in FIRST DATE, Broadway’s small cast musical explains, weight, age and about anything else listed could be one big lie!

The safest of the bunch is personal contact.  The duo gets to see and exchange information.   Hanging around popular bars, joining single’s groups or trolling the health food sections of super markets are also options.  And then, there is the blind date.

In FIRST DATE the audience is allowed to eavesdrop on the meeting of Aaron and Casey, New Yorkers of very different temperaments and life styles, who have been set up by his friend and her sister.  Why the matchmakers ever thought that this duo were candidates to be the one for each other is a mystery.  But, without the mismatching, there would be no plot!

FIRST DATE, with book by Broadway newcomer Austin Winsbend and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, also Big Apple newbies, is a delightful old-fashioned musical with a modern twist.  It harks back to the days of SHE LOVES ME and PROMISES, PROMISES, musicals with obvious story lines of love and misunderstanding and hummable scores, sprinkled with witty lines, solvable conflicts, and feel-good endings.

Tall, dark, whippet thin, handsome Zachary Levi is character-perfect as Aaron.  Aaron, the geeky, awkward, self-doubting, jilted at the altar guy, blind date virgin, who has been reluctantly dragged, with uncertainty and trepidation, into this fixed-up meeting.

Levi, who is making his Broadway debut, is best known as the computer nerd lead character in the television show CHUCK.  In the musical he adds the dimension of displaying a fine singing voice, which he uses well to create meaningful musical thoughts.  His “In Love With You,” is hilarious, while “The Things I Never Said,” a song version of a letter left to him by his mother shortly before her death, is heart wrenching.

The duet, “First Impressions,” which Levi sings with Krysta Rodriguez, Casey, his blind date, creates the perfect exposition for understanding these seemingly disparate people.

Rodriguez, noted for her portrayal of Ana Vargas in the Broadway-themed television show, SMASH, and Broadway performances in THE ADDAMS FAMILY, IN THE HEIGHTS and SPRING AWAKENINGS, shines as Casey, an in-your face, street wise, oft-hurt young lady.  Commenting on everything from his clothing to his career and manners, Casey seems to insure that this date is going no-where.  Some of her badass veneer cracks when she sings “Safer.”

Their differences are highlighted in the very funny, “The Girl for You,” a reaction of Casey revealing she’s a “shiksa,” a non-Jewish woman, who is not for a nice Jewish boy like Aaron.   Sara Chase regales as the guilt inducing Grandma Ida.

The rest of the score also helps clarify the duos personas.  Included are such plot pushers as, “The Awkward Pause,” “That’s Why You Love Me,” and “The Check.”

Is there hope?  This is a musical comedy, so, of course, the moon glows brightly as the duo seems to resolve many of their differences and go happily into this good night.

The rest of the cast, who appear in multi-roles are spot on, as is the creative direction of Broadway newcomer, Bill Berry.   In lesser hands the light script might have become soppy, but Berry has done an excellent job of keeping things on course, cueing the laughs, and making sure that the characterizations are consistent.

Kristoffer Cusik is fey-fun as the flamboyant Reggie, whose assignment is to call Casey so she can exit from the blind date.   His “Bailout Song”—all three versions of it—delight.

Blake Hammer adds humor as the waiter/impresario of the restaurant in which the blind date takes place.  His “I’d Order Love,” is fun.

Bryce Ryness and Kate Loprest are excellent in multi-roles.

Capsule judgement:  FIRST DATE is charming and fun.  The audience leaves happy and humming the music, having had a good time.  Both Zachery Levi and Krysta Rodriguez are delightful and the supporting cast is excellent. 

The producers of FIRST DATE have announced that the Broadway show will close after the January 5 performance. It will have played 34 previews and 174 regular performances at The Longacre Theatre.  Too bad, I really liked it!