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'First Date' - Good Potential for a Late Summer Fling

08/09/13

05:28:00 am Permalink 'First Date' - Good Potential for a Late Summer Fling

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It would be great to announce that it's love at first sight with the new musical First Date, which opened at Broadway's Longacre Theatre last night. But despite an appealing cast, some jaunty tunes, and some decidedly clever - sometimes even inspired - lyrics, the show isn't really LTR material. It is, however, worthy of a late summertime fling.

With a schematic book by Austin Winsberg, the tuner chronicles one evening in the lives of dorky, investment banker Aaron (Zachary Levi perhaps best known as the title character from television's Chuck), and spiky artiste Casey (Krysta Rodriguez from television's Smash and Broadway's The Addams Family).

Together, they weather the ups and downs of a blind date that's been arranged by her sister, Lauren. It's certainly not the case of opposites attracting for the would-be couple. But they're both polite, and they make it through awkward drinks at the bar. Eventually, graciousness turns to tentative like, and at that point, they figure they might as well have a quick bite while they're at it.

It's the sort of encounter, culminating with Aaron and Casey's goodnight to one another, which could provide the fodder for maybe the first two scenes of a musical, not much more. So, to fill out 90 minutes of stage time, the show's creators have packed it with fantasy sequences in which the central characters imagine possible outcomes to their relationships, are visited by loved ones, and remember previous lovers.

The result is a book musical that feels a more like a revue. There's no doubt that songwriters Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner provide some delicious material for these moments. A crowd-pleaser early on is a electro-rap that's delivered by Casey's gay BFF Reggie as he makes a bailout phone call to her. Unfortunately, Reggie - and the song - make two more appearances, sadly diminishing the impact of the character and the tune.

A more effective sequence is "The World Wide Web Is Forever," a number in which the specter of Google invades the couple's space as Aaron admits that he did a little online snooping about Casey before coming to meet her. And even though it stops the show dead in its tracks, "I'd Order Love" delights. It's a kind of homage to Kander and Ebb that's delivered with Liza Minnelli-like panache by Blake Hammond as the restaurant's seemingly sole waiter.

Elsewhere though, "The Girl for You," which combines Kletzmer and liturgical sensibilities with hip hop, wearies as Aaron contemplates the reaction that his Jewish family and Casey's gentile one might have to their eventual marriage. Equally tiresome is a hard rock number that takes Casey back to her days with a couple of Brit bad boy lovers.

It's not that there's anything wrong with the craftsmanship of these songs or that they're poorly performed. On the contrary, Zachary and Weiner's work has a pleasing pop sensibility and intelligence (rhyming "The First Noel" with "gates of Hell" is more than okay) that makes one want to hear more from them, and a multiply cast ensemble of five (Hammond, along with Sara Chase, Kristofer Cusick Kate Loprest, and Bryce Ryness) are indefatigable and amusing.

The problem is that the songs interrupt and distract from the show's central arc that audiences are being asked to emotionally invest themselves in. It's little surprise that the few times that Casey and Aaron are allowed to express their feelings in song, the show comes more satisfyingly to life. "Safer," a ballad in which Casey describes the reasons for her chilly, distant facade, has real heft, and a patter song in which Aaron finally cuts his ties with the woman who left him standing under the chuppah (yes, she's in his imagination) is a comic treat.

It's a tribute to Levi's and Rodriguez's work that audiences should care. In his Broadway debut, Levi proves that he not only has the pipes to deliver a tune, but he's also a terrifically gifted stage comedian, who can make some of Aaron's worst wrong-headed remarks both hysterical and endearing. Rodriguez, who's saddled with an underdeveloped character, ultimately overcomes most of the role's obstacles, traversing Casey's slow-to-warm arc gracefully.

The show, directed by Bill Berry and featuring musical staging by Josh Rhodes, unfolds efficiently enough within the confines of scenic designer David Gallo's chic restaurant environment, which is enhanced by his projections that help to vary any visual monotony for audiences who might come to feel claustrophobic in this one location tuner. Similarly, David C. Wooland's attractive contemporary costumes hold more than a few surprises, particularly as the ensemble members dart between their various characters, ably mimicking the zippy tone of this lighthearted tuner.

-- Andy Propst


First Date plays at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street). Performances are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm and 7pm. For further information and tickets, visit www.FirstDateTheMusical.com

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