Going on a blind date can be a frightening endeavor, fraught with doubts, misconceptions and the dread that the evening will turn out to be a disastrous waste of time. The same can be said about going to see a musical “blind”, that is, walking into a theater without knowing too much about the story or the score. Given the extravagant cost of theater tickets nowadays, I rarely go see a new musical (or play for that matter) without knowing at least something about the plot or (in the case of musicals) listening to the cast recording (if one exists). Of course, that “rule” is (somewhat) waived when said new musical is among the tickets obtained via the TDF ticket raffle table at the BC/EFA Flea Market & Auction, which resulted in my own “blind date” with First Date, a new, original musical currently playing at the Longacre Theater.
I will admit, as I sat in the balcony of the Longacre (a theater I visited frequently when La Cage aux Folles was playing there a few years back) I had preconceived notions about the show I was about to see. This was a new musical written by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, who are (at least to my knowledge) Broadway newcomers themselves, and the show was about the first (blind) date of Aaron and Casey, unfolding in real-time. My expectations were not really that high, figuring that the show would be rife with sexual innuendo, cultural stereotypes, and cliché jokes typically found in sitcoms revolving around dating singles. I was therefore pleasantly surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed First Date – while the aforementioned moments of sexual innuendo, cultural stereotypes and cliché jokes were present, there were also moments of sincerity and poignancy at the latter half of the ninety minute musical that left me (literally) wiping tears from my eyes.
I was not expecting that.
I was not expecting to feel such an emotional response to characters that at first glance seemed to be stock characters from a typical sitcom – the insecure, dorky guy who consistently says the wrong things and the independent, flirtatious girl who can’t seem to dislodge the chip on her shoulder. It’s clear from the start that both bring their own baggage to the restaurant where they have agreed to meet – the quintet of actors (Sara Chase, Kristoffer Cusick, Blake Hammond, Kate Loprest and Bryce Ryness) that round out the cast intermittently give voice to specters of their past – both real and imaginary – and provide exposition and introspection for the pair. These inner voices (expertly distinguished from the events happening in real-time by the stark sudden change in lighting, and noticeable additions to their costumes) included meddling best friends, concerned relatives and troublesome exes, all of whom attempt to provide guidance to Aaron and Casey throughout the evening. The show does end on a hopeful note (which I had anticipated), with the inner voices silenced, as each finds peace with their past and overcomes the perceived obstacles that had hindered them from taking a chance on romance.
The score was great, with a mix of genres and lyrics both moving and hilarious in showcasing the joys and woes of dating and relationships. The lighting and set design were done well, with events happening in real-time bathed in “normal” white light, while the interludes were accented in various colors. The fourth wall was broken at times as the two leads stopped the action to address the audience with their own inner monologue. As the central couple in question, Zachary Levi (Aaron) and Krysta Rodriguez (Casey), both best known for respectively starring in the TV shows “Chuck” and “Smash”, were fantastic and inhabited their roles comfortably and sang amazingly. Another standout performance came from Blake Hammond as the restaurant waiter who doled out advice to the blind date couple, and even has his own moment to shine with a solo song extolling the joys of love – he nearly stole the show (and I told him so at the stage door).
The stage door experience was one of the best ones I’ve had in a long while – there were metal barricades surrounding all three sides of the stage door, and we were instructed by the stage door security guy (whose name I did not learn) to stand at the front and right side of the barricades, leaving the left side completely empty. At first I thought that odd, as my “usual” stage door waiting spot at the Longacre (from all my times going to see La Cage) was on the left side, but it wasn’t long before the reason for leaving that space empty was revealed. The same stage door security guy explained that Krysta Rodriguez would sign everyone’s playbills and pose for photos for those who asked, Zachary Levi would not only sign everyone’s playbills, he would also stand by the empty side of the metal barricades and pose for photos with everyone – so each and every person who waited at the stage door got to have a few moments with him as their photo was taken. I have never heard of an actor doing this, especially one who is a well-known television actor – this was an extraordinarily generous and sweet thing to do. He also brought out a mini boom box which played Michael Jackson songs, which added to the party atmosphere.
All in all, First Date exceeded my expectations and proved to be a fun evening watching an evening on stage unfold with a healthy dose of hilarity, a dash of heart and a hint of romance. I do recommend seeing this show, as it is an original story not based on a specific existing source material (a rare occurrence on Broadway these days) that has a catchy score and a fantastic cast. While my first impression of this show (prior to seeing it) was not too favorable, as the song “First Impression” says “first impressions are worth a second glance”.