The premise of the musical is, as its title implies, a first date. Not only is it a first date, but it is also a blind date. Zachary Levi (TV’s Chuck) is Aaron. He arrives early for his would be tête-à-tête and is queer-eyed-for-the-straight-guy by the overly friendly and overly inquisitive waiter. His blind date is Casey, played with mostly aloof detachment by Krysta Rodriguez (TV’s Glee). It should, however, be noted that her detachment comes from the way the character is written.
Nothing of real note happens until the 38-minute mark when the couple has their first fight. It isn’t until the 70-minute mark that either of these characters asks you to feel. And this is only a 90-minute show.
Both actors are engaging and even Rodriguez’s character makes you like her by the end of the show. Levi could charm the knickers off a nun. I’m just sorry that both got trapped in this musical that seems ripe for those seeking innocuous entertainment for a first date. Who knows, perhaps it is the perfect first date musical.
The not-so-young couple in front of me appeared quite in love, perhaps they were on a first or second date. They couldn’t stop making out during the show to the point that I wanted to tell them to rent a room. The young couple next to me couldn’t manage to stop talking. The audience appeared to be the type that one would get when you fill your Broadway show with TV stars. Thankfully, the producers had enough sense to get actors who could sing and dance the parts. Too bad they didn’t spend more money on the orchestra. Despite the long list of producers above the title, they still only seem to be able to afford six musicians that come with a sound that just screams “synthetic.”
The show’s bland opening number, “The One,” is sung by the small cast’s five supporting actors. The song is about finding that one special someone in your life. To quote a line from the show “I’m starting to puke in my mouth as I say this.” During this number, a bar/restaurant set is revealed.
The restaurant is suggested by a large metal frame that fits neatly on the stage. You can see the back wall and the wings of the theatre. On this movable, metal framework are hung television sets which display the now de rigueur video graphics (by the show’s set designer, David Gallo) that Broadway shows have become so reliant upon. First Date has handsome lighting by Mike Baldassari.
The set has a bar-like table that faces the audience and three tables at which are seated our supporting cast. They remain there dutifully until it is their turn to come to life as one of the many colorful characters being conjured in the minds of our young couple. When they magically transform, they are a band of flagrantly stereotypical Hassidic Jews, a Jewish grandmother, a bad-ass best friend, a sister, an ex-boyfriend and an ex-girlfriend.
Perhaps the most obnoxious character of the evening is Casey’s BFF, a raging queen, Reggie (Kristoffer Cusick). The 1970s are calling and they want their gay stereotype back. He has a show-stopping number called “Bail Out.” In it he places an unanswered call to Casey’s cell phone in the event that she needs to be bailed out of this first date. Despite the character flaming brighter than a baked Alaska, Cusick deserves high praise for the delivery of this number. It’s his performance that rightly stops the show. The number is then sadly reprised twice more. Both times it feels unwarranted and uncomfortable.
Poor Blake Hammond has the unenviable task of portraying the waiter who also seems to come to us from a time when Tom of Finland was in vogue. He happens to have one of the most awkward numbers of the evening, “I’d Order Love.” He bursts into the restaurant with tape-deck in hand and announces he is there to share his “latest musical extravaganza.” Why is this song here?
Bryce Ryness gives a terrific edginess to Aaron’s inappropriate best friend, Gabe. Rounding out the cast are Sara Chase and Kate Loprest in roles that include Casey’s sister Lauren and Aaron’s ex-girlfriend, Allison, respectively.
First Date is cleverly directed by Bill Berry. He stealthily manipulates the supporting actors to pop into and out of their dream-like existence with a sharpness and clarity.
Unfortunately, the show is just tacky. In this ménage à trois of boy, girl, and audience, the audience is the one that begins to resent being there after about 10-minutes in.