In Stage Door we share our live theatre adventures here in NYC through our movie-mad filter…
Glenn here. The poster for the Longacre Theatre’s First Date makes it look, shall we say, rather interminable. An insipid, generic romantic comedy with an overdose of uber-quirk made by phony producers in West Hollywood as a tax write-off. Something along the lines of this. To be honest, I can see how many would find it to be exactly that, but it subverts its potential worst case scenario to win a few hearts the old fashioned way.
First Date is a rather modest original musical with a book by Austin Winsberg, plus music and lyrics by the team of Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner who have used their one-act show (no intermission in the roughly 100-minute musical) to show off a variety of music styles and a broad comedy style. Modest in size, but not pizzazz or laughs or heart. It’s got those in spades. There’s only one set – a cozy-looking New York City bistro with a flashing neon sign just off to stage left and a cabaret-singing bartender – although it frequently breaks out with fantasy sequences and a fair share of discotheque lighting to keep the eyes busy. That is when said eyes aren’t fixed on dreamboat Zachary Levi who stars alongside Krysta Rodriguez as Aaron and Casey, a pair of miss-matched (or are they…? I think you can figure that out on your own) blind-daters. Zachary Levi is just.so.gorgeous.
The show has a lightness that is easy to embrace. Sweet without rotting your teeth, with a vibrancy that’s hard to shake even through some very unsophisticated lyrics or questionable musical numbers. There’s a Jewish versus Catholic number and a British punk rock sequence that produce laughs and buckets of energy, but feel somewhat like filler. I was also a bit disappointed by the super-gay stereotypes that occasionally popped up, although they were among the most popular of First Date’s 16-song score. Mario Cantone would fret if he saw the reaction Kristoffer Cusick’s “Bail Out” interludes got from the young crowd. Likewise, if they were to make a film out of this show I’d suggest the bartender (Blake Hammond) be the first to go. Entirely unnecessary Nathan Lane wannabe, that. His solo, “I’d Order Love”, is the show’s weakest moment by far.
Speaking of film adaptations, I’d definitely be game to see somebody try. Of course, they’d need to have the smarts of a John Cameron Mitchell type since First Date features some tricky narrative hooks that would be hard to replicate on film without looking trite. The devil-on-the-shoulder trick where figments of Aaron and Casey’s psyche pop up to give dating advice is so prominent and results in some of the biggest laughs that it would have to remain in some way. A clever screenwriter could make it work, I’m sure. And if any hypothetical film version were to be made, I’d hope they keep the kicky scrappiness that reminded me of the mumblecore-adjacent rom-com In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007). Have you seen that? You’ll know what I mean if you have.
Can we get back to Zachary Levi? Fine, if you insist! I was already a fan of his before going in to First Date and, boy, am I even more of a fan now. He’s genuinely perfect for the role of Aaron, the handsome dork in a suit who’s unaware of his own charm and looks, with an endless roster of nervous ticks and mumbles to go alongside his hilarious white man dance moves and good looks. Plus he’s got a great voice, but we already knew that from Tangled and his appearance on the Oscar stage. I want to marry him. I think everyone who leaves the Longacre will be ovulating. Women and men.
As for Krysta Rodriguez. Well, she’s also fabulous, but I just kept picturing Smash all night long! First Date even feels like the kind of hip, youth-centric, romantic musical that that series’ rightfully-maligned Hit List was meant to be except more Manhattan than Brooklyn. There are LCD screens! Plus at least one of the supporting actors appeared on stage in Wicked with Megan Hilty AND Hilty has even performed a number from First Date way back in 2009. It was like Smash was haunting my first bout of musical theatre since the show’s demise. That it made its way to Broadway rather than its more natural fit of Off Broadway is probably because they saw an under-represented audience who would respond easily to First Date’s occasionally foul-mouthed, somewhat cynical, yet ultimately romantic and hopeful look at the dating world. It’s probably fluff, but, vivacious fluff. A crowd-pleaser. It’s You’ve Got Mail if they were younger and met on a blind date.