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New Musical ‘First Date’ Opens on Broadway: REVIEW

First date09

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

An amiable yet thin new musical about the awkward trial in its title, First Date, with book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner opened on Broadway Thursday night at the Longacre Theatre.

Arriving on Broadway after its world premiere at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, the musical follows an unlikely pair through conventional first date milestones—including appropriate cocktail banter (keep it light), when it’s OK to mention your ex (never), and the precautionary bestie bailout call (always have an exit strategy). Spoiler alert: the check makes a cameo near evening’s end.

First date06Zachary Levi (Chuck) plays Aaron, a nice buttoned up Jewish Wall Street type on his very first blind date—kind-hearted, self-deprecating and anxious to please. In comes Casey, played by Krysta Rodriguez (Smash, The Addams Family), a prickly and gleefully jaded downtown girl with a taste for bad boys and a history of serial dating.

As Aaron and Casey navigate the occasion’s many landmines, their on-paper personas gain some dimension from musical asides performed mostly in their imaginations. Their fellow diners double as family members, best friends, exes—even clerical advisors—filling out their backstories while helping them belt out their judgments and insecurities.

The show is by turns amusing, relatable, remarkably cliché, and surprisingly whitewashed (Aaron’s deceased granny makes much musical fuss over Casey being a shiksa).

First date07Though clever at times, Winsberg’s story rarely surpasses its simple concept. Direction by 5th Avenue Theatre’s Bill Berry and musical staging by Josh Rhodes is likewise uncomplicated, moving characters seamlessly between musical asides, without particularly elevating the limp material. Songs by Zachary and Weiner are fairly catchy if not terribly original with a standout or two, including a number in which Casey takes down her tough girl exterior.

Levi is endearing and charming as Aaron, making his Broadway debut with a pleasant voice and natural comic timing. Rodriguez also delivers an assured performance, despite her character being the more slightly drawn of the two.

The supporting cast admirably fills out its cookie cutter characters—gay best friend, Stepford wife sister, frigid ex, etc.—though scribes leave little to no wiggle room for nuance.

Anyone who’s been single in New York (or anywhere, really) isn’t likely to learn anything new here—and (hopefully) most have been on more unpredictable and stimulating first dates than this one. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:joan marcus)

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