2/14/2021      FIRST DATE                                                BroadwayHD
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WORTH A SECOND GLANCE
 

In 2018, the metro area saw two productions of the off-Broadway musical, First Date, one of which I saw countless times from the Light Booth.  I really liked both productions (all biases considered), and it rapidly became one of my favorite go-to shows to see at every opportunity.   Just in time for Valentine’s Day, BroadwayHD brings us a new London production, re-vamped for the pandemic and filled to the brim with energy and skill.

 

Make no mistake, this is NOT a filmed stage version, but a video, taking full advantage of video tropes and effects and giving us an extra intimate look at what is already an intimate musical.

 

Let me start by copying and pasting a few "background" paragraphs from my 2018 columns --

 

Have any of you noticed the similarity between buying a CD of a show you don't really know, and going on a blind date?

 

Case in point -- when I was assigned the gig of lighting First Date: The Musical, I ordered the Original Cast CD and played it through once.  As background to a housecleaning chore.  I thought "Meh!"  Bouncy, but not memorable -- I'll listen more closely as Tech Week draws near, following in the script to match characters with songs.  In other words, due to my commitment, I was REQUIRED to give the score a second chance.  Which, of course, I failed to do before starting tech rehearsals.  I am nothing, if not foolish.

 

And now, I can't get those songs out of my head.  Even three years since working this show.  And you know what?  I like having them in my head.

 

This, if anything, is more anecdotal evidence supporting the theory that First Impressions are NEVER right, that true appreciation comes with second glances, deeper knowledge and increased familiarity. (*)

 

Which, of course, is the very point of First Date: The Musical.  Casey and Aaron are thirty-something New Yorkers hitting a local bar for a blind date (HE works with HER brother-in-law).  At first glance, they are totally unsuited for each other,  He is a buttoned-down cubicle drone still obsessing over the woman who {Deleted by the Spoiler Police}.  She is a wannabe-free-spirit artistic type who has left a trail of bad boy beaus in her wake.  They go through all stages of first date angst -- First Impressions, Awkward Silences, Pre-Arranged "Bailout" Calls, Missed Communications, Unintentional Hurts -- truly the full list.

 

And, along the way, they receive advice (and condemnation) from all the people in their imaginations (unlike the original stage version, here those roles filled by three actors with an apparently bottomless well of talent).

 

This is a musical that should appeal to anyone who has ever endured a blind "first date" or even a not-so-blind one.  There are so many songs and moments that strike recognizable chords, even in older folks like me.  And so many moments that are just laugh-out-loud funny.

 

For my part, I identify most closely with Casey's wrenching "Safer" ballad, in which we learn her spirit is NOT as free as our First Impression would have us believe.  Let's just say that there is a reason I didn't lose my -- umm, will to remain alone -- until 26 and didn't marry until 45 (Forgive me if that's TMI, but I am, after all  trying to wright an autobiographical style of writing about theatre.)

 

This production pulled me in right away, with a catty and appropriate “curtain speech” by Oscar Conlon-Morrey, who plays the high-stepping waiter with a heart of showtunes (among other roles).  The video then goes to a Zoom-Heavy opening number, “The One.”  Once we got into the show, it focuses on Casey (Samantha Barks, Eponine in the movie of Les Misérables) and Aaron (Simon Lipkin, original London Casts of Avenue Q and Rock of Ages), as they sit at the bar and have their date.  All the “voices in their heads” are played by an ensemble of three, Mr. Conlon-Morrey, Nick McLean, and Danielle Seers (Catherine Parr in Six).  They appear “IRL” as the restaurant’s wait staff and in fantasies as any number of characters, taking full advantage of video editing and effects, going through a drag-queen’s cache of wigs and costumes.  All sing beautifully, all give razor-sharp characterizations, all transcend gender and ethnicity to create a full range of imaginative “voices.”

 

Specifically set in a mid-COVID world, there are only a few nods to the pandemic --  masks and shields in the opening number, empty tables in the restaurant, a gag with hand sanitizer that truly works, and the elimination of that final kiss.

 

“What?” you ask.  How can First Date end without a kiss?  I have to admit, it ends beautifully.  The final scene harkens back to a lyric in “First Impressions” that brings the story to a most satisfying (if kiss-free) conclusion.

 

There are many marvelous moments that could only be accomplished on video – the aforementioned instant costume changes (including a quick cut change in the middle of the waiter’s “I’d Order Love”), a final scene on the real streets of New York (which I was assuming was actually shot in London until I noticed the cars were on the American side of the street), and a full-fledged British “Interval.”  Okay, it’s only three minutes, but Mr. Conlon-Morrey spends it all looking right at the camera and making snide comments, so, you really should watch it.

 

As to the leads, they are well-nigh perfect.  Mr. Lipkin comes across as a clone of Daniel Levy, and he makes it work for him.  Ms. Barks is drop-dead gorgeous with a voice that soars and thrills (her “Safer” is breathtaking and sucker-punch-to-the-gut effective.  More to the point, their chemistry works – yes, the characters are polar opposites, but the actors share a warmth and connection that makes the odd-couple pairing credible, smiling and honestly laughing as they discover new things about each other, finding true delight in each other’s company. 

 

They are charming and flawed, and they capture the attention quickly, not letting it go until the final credits.  Their charm is the lubricant that helps us accept their flaws, and their flaws are the "meat" that humanizes them.  Yes, Aaron's thoughts can be annoying at times, especially when he actually listens to his best friend, Gabe, who is a chronic womanizer and "prick."  And Casey's can be just as annoying, especially when she tries to distance herself from her yenta of a sister, Lauren.  But, when they connect at a basic level, it is a satisfying counter-argument to the entire "Romantic Compatibility" dating mindset.  I'm reminded of the old adage, "When two business partners agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary," which I could easily paraphrase, "When two romantic partners are perfectly compatible, it's the same as being alone."

 

To put it simply, First Date is a joyful and ultimately moving show, on stage, on screen, on Zoom, anywhere you can find it!  Share it with someone you want to love!


     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy    #BroadwayHD   #FirstDate)

 

 

First Date: The Musical

Book by Austin Winsberg

Music and Lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner

Directed by Dean Johnson

Musical Direction by Josh Winstone

 

(*) As long as we're stooping to "anecdotal evidence," my most awkward "First Date" was a mostly silent dinner at a cheap pizza place with a fellow actor in a production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband.  I was mostly tongue-tied, she was mostly angry at why I brought her to such a cheap and seedy place (truth to tell, I didn't know the area and it was close to the theatre).  Worst. First. Impression. Ever.  OTOH, here it is more than 22 years later, and she still seems to be content to be my lovely and talented spouse.

 

It should also be noted that I was initially cool to the scores of so many shows that have rapidly become favorite favorites -- Company, The Last Five Years, Hamilton, Floyd Collins, In the Heights, The Light in the Piazza, The Wild Party (Lippa version -- I'm still cool towards the LaChiusa version).

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