“First Date” has a sterling cast and they all give very solid performances. The show can also be quite funny. One of the funniest moments is the song sung by Taylor Witt’s Aaron, finally reaching some closure with his ex-fiancee, Allison (Abby Middleton, who also plays Lauren). Witt’s over-the-top emotional release is just about worth the price of admission. Most of the best lines, however, are given to Carl Williams, Andres Alejandro Ponce, and Middleton. Those three know how to deliver a line.
This is a lighthearted show…nice escapism.
The set-up is deceptively simple. It’s a blind date. Aaron, a young investment banker, has been set up on a date with Casey (Alex De Bard) by a co-worker and his wife, Lauren. Both have little voices in their heads. In Aaron’s case, it’s Ponce as Gabe, one of his oldest friends, and in Casey’s case, it’s her sister, Lauren.
This is not going to be an easy date. Casey has walls and deflects with sarcasm, snark, neediness, and games. Aaron is very earnest and still trying to put to rest his feelings for his ex. But hey, it’s only been 14 months, three weeks, and about five days. These things take time. But the two gamely decide to give the date a chance.
Casey’s gay BFF, Reggie (also played by Ponce), is her escape call and he is hysterical. Reggie overreacts when she ignores his multiple calls and decides he has to go rescue her from a serial killer. But he does get to meet the Waiter (Carl Williams) and the two actually have a really good chemistry. As the show progressed, I couldn’t help wondering just how funny a script would be with those two as the first date couple.
Middleton knocks it out of the park as both the insufferable Allison, and as Lauren, the uber-preppy sister. She’s so good that you don’t realize at first that one actress is playing both parts. On that last score, the same with Ponce. His Gabe is a frat-boy grown up, but with a deep side of caring, and his Reggie has the same caring, but with much more hipness.
The final character, who has just one song, a duet with Witt, is Sarah Anne Sillers as Aaron’s deceased mother. Her voice just soars.
The book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner is a pleasant bit of fluff. It’s a rom-com that tries to spice things up with some alcohol and adult language, but it doesn’t break any new ground. Witt and De Bard have some heavy lifting to do to get any investment in what are fairly stock characters. The issues holding them back from successful connections are presented without much nuance, and both actors really reach to imbue this material with some freshness. Along the way themes are introduced (religion, goals, dating history, careers) and dropped without much investment.
Evan Hoffmann is the director and Paige Rammelkamp the music director. They keep things moving briskly. Sound is handled by William Wacker and lighting by Annmarie Castringo. Other than the kiss-off song by Aaron to Allison, the action just stops and the actors step up to a mike at the musical interludes. It works when Ponce or Williams is on, but is somewhat of a jarring interruption with the others.
This is a lighthearted show that is the epitome of a fluffy rom-com and provides some nice escapism. I would still like to see a musical about a first day with Reggie and the Waiter.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 24 minutes without intermission.
Show Advisory: Adult language, sexual references, and alcohol.
“First Date” runs through May 16, 2021. This production is a filmed musical that will be available for streaming virtually by NextStop Theatre Company, Herndon, VA. For more information, please click here.