Sunday, April 27, 2014

First Date

So, it may be five months late, but I’m finally getting around to writing about all the shows I saw when I was in New York in November. I kept meaning to do it and things just got crazy (new job, new town, new house, new life). I figured since Tony time is sneaking up on us (Tony nominations are Tuesday), I ought to write about the shows that I DID see, so I can remember WHY I think some of them need to have Tony nominations (or wins).

I spent several days in NYC back in November and was lucky enough to see several different shows. The first show I saw was the second night I was in town. Some friends and I had made plans to get together to seeFirst Date. An original musical is something I love. A comedy is even better. I’d heard things, both good and bad, about First Date, but I wanted to see it to decide for myself. One of the great things about the show was that during its run, they offered $35 seats in the balcony, making it a show that I didn’t have to do rush, lottery, or TKTS for.

My friends & I before the show!

First Date is a 90 minute musical with no intermission, set around a blind date between two New Yorkers with a somewhat jaded idea of relationships. Aaron is a workaholic who is straight laced and nervous about going on a blind date after having had a disastrous relationship in which he was left under the Chuppah, alone. Casey is a serial dater who has a history of losers in her little black book. She is essentially the total opposite of Aaron. With a book by Austin Winsberg and music & lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, First Date explores so much of what singles experience while they are in the dating scene. The bad, the good and everything in between.

Played by Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez, Aaron and Casey have a most interesting first date, including all the typical awkward moments, strange “getting to know you” moments, and the continual interruption of friends and family (whether in their imaginations or actual interruptions). Levi and Rodriguez had great chemistry and good comedic timing, playing off each other in a very natural way. Watching their interactions made me convinced that the characters had potential as a couple, if they could get past the first date mess.  

So I'm short. And Zachary Levi is VERY tall.
The small ensemble cast of only five play all the other roles in the show, including the waiter, Aaron’s dead grandmother, Casey’s sister, both Aaron & Casey’s best friends, Casey’s ex-boyfriends, and Aaron’s ex-girlfriend, along with a host of other roles. Kristoffer Cusick and Bryce Ryness make a their most notable roles as the best friends of Casey and Aaron, respectively. Kate Loprest’s most notable role is that of Aaron’s ex-girlfriend, her comedic expressions reaching even the back of the balcony. Black Hammond makes a hilarious waiter, and turns into the even more funny character of Casey’s father. Sara Chase is at her best when playing Aaron’s Grandma Ida. I laughed so hard during that little bit that I’m sure my neighbors got sick of my snorting.

In truth, there were some very creative things going on in this show. Directed by Bill Berry, I love that all the characters in the show stayed on stage through pretty much the entire show, either as patrons in the restaurant where the date was taking place, or as characters in the lives of Casey and Aaron. I liked that all the costume changes happened on stage by simply adding a hat, or a headband, or some other small piece of costuming. It made the sudden transitions of the characters happen more seamlessly.  

Krysta was super nice.
There were some strange things too. It almost seemed as though the overall feel of the show was awkward. The scenic design was great, bringing the feel of a NYC eatery, but the way that media was incorporated in was a little over the top. It was cool, for sure. David Gallo did well in both set and media, but the media design didn’t really seem a necessary part of the show. The entire thing could have happened without the strange projections of “google” (Google had eyes. It was weird.). Then again, I have a slight bias toward projections in staged productions. Sometimes they are okay… even needed. But overall, I don’t really care for them.

Truth be known, I really, really enjoyed the show. The music is catchy and the premise of the overall show is creative and something I’ve never seen before. The book is funny and clever and a week rarely goes by when I don’t listen to the cast recording two or three times. I think First Date will do fantastically in regional and community theatre. In fact, I look forward to the first local production I get the chance to see. I can’t wait to see someone else’s take on First Date.

Sadly, I can’t tell you to go see it. The show closed at the Longacre Theatre in January. But I can tell you to pick up the cast recording. You won’t be sorry. 

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