Opening Nights: First Date

This world-premiere musical never seems anything but authentic.

First Date is a gossamer confection of a new musical, easily several notches above last year's co-production by the Fifth and ACT, the paint-by-numbers Vanities. Contained within First Date's brisk 90 minutes are a baker's-dozen hummable tunes, a clutch of stellar performances, and a very close approximation of the thrill and anxiety of a first—and in this case, blind—date.

Aaron (Eric Ankrim), a successful young Jewish investment banker, meets willful artiste-wannabe Casey (Kelly Karbacz) at a local bistro. Around them, the other patrons take on the imaginary guises of those who influence their evening—parents, clergy, old beaux, and the ball-busting fiancee who jilted Aaron on their wedding day. It's a canny idea that hits its stride early in "The Girl for You," as Aaron's family rends their collective garments at the discovery that Casey is a goy. (A ghostly relative moans that, were she alive, this news would surely kill her all over again.)

Given writer/producer Austin Winsberg's TV background, First Date works best when he lets fly with sitcom-ready dialogue. Yet Aaron and Casey's fragile new relationship never seems anything but authentic—especially in its missteps and detours. Ankrim has the bookish charm of a younger Matthew Broderick, while Karbacz channels a smoldering Sarah Jessica Parker as his foil and object of desire. Director Bill Berry juggles the action well, giving most of the supporting cast a moment to shine. (The music and lyrics are by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner.)

Despite numerous references to contemporary life, particularly social media, this work-in-progress does stumble into the generic. It's as if the L.A. creators of the show had wandered into a little Silver Lake boutique that sells set pieces for musicals and ordered one of everything. Onstage, the familiarity of these oft-chosen elements can overwhelm Aaron and Casey's winning and quirky characters.

Overall, there's much more right than wrong to First Date, a show clearly designed to tour, even if it's not quite ready for Broadway. With its crisp dialogue and songs that cling like cotton candy, this little musical deserves your love.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow