“One date. Two people. And every single voice in their heads.” This is the tagline for First Date, the musical comedy which opened Saturday in its west coast debut at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. The show, which ran on Broadway for about five months at the end of 2013, thoroughly entertained the opening night audience with a very relatable inside look at a blind date and all the neuroses one entails.
I saw the Broadway production, which starred Zachary Levi of Chuck fame and Krysta Rodriguez, who is currently back on Broadway in the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening. As I have always found to be the case with La Mirada’s shows, every aspect of the production was top notch, making this staging an incredibly worthy one through which to introduce a new audience to this musical. With a book by Austin Winsberg, music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, and a small cast of seven, the show is a quirky romantic comedy that is wholly original, something that seems to be increasingly rare in musical theater.
The plot follows the titular first date of Aaron (Marc Ginsburg) and Casey (Erica Lustig), who are just as overtly mismatched as you would expect. He is a neurotic, workaholic type who wears suits and ties to bars and is still hung up on his ex-fiance. She is artsy, non-committal, has a thing for bad boys, and is in denial of her own issues that prevent her from ever getting a second date. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue. The show highlighted exactly the right silly dating moments—the stress over the arrival of the check, what to order for dinner, Googling your date prior to ever meeting them, the pre-arranged phone call from a friend in case you need a quick exit excuse, and, of course, the awkward pause. The two leads were very talented and possessed excellent chemistry and comedic timing, making you truly root for them and creating moments even out of songs that were ultimately a bit forgettable.
The five ensemble members played a wide variety of roles, ranging from a waiter and fellow patrons of the restaurant where Aaron and Casey’s date takes place to characters who exist only inside the main characters’ minds. We have Casey’s gay best friend, her sister, Aaron’s dead Jewish grandmother, his much more suave best friend, and even personifications of various social media sites. The versatility of the talented ensemble (Justin Michael Wilcox, Leigh Wakeford, Scott Dreier, Stacey Oristano, and Kelley Dorney) was truly impressive and really brought the show to life.
Despite a modest run time of about 90 minutes, some scenes and songs overstayed their welcome a bit. While the ensemble numbers were the funniest and most entertaining, I found myself wishing the show would focus more on the core relationship. Aaron and Casey both learn quite a bit about themselves over the course of this one, fateful date, and some of the more emotional moments felt like they barely had room to land. We never really explore Casey’s commitment issues or what exactly Aaron is looking for in this first real dating foray after his failed engagement. Rather than spending full production numbers with the waiter character (although many audience members seemed to eat this moment up), I would have liked to focus more on the central story and really continue getting to know the actual characters. An 11th hour, out-of-left-field secondary romance felt forced, and it almost felt as if the show tried to explore too much and let some moments fall by the wayside as a result.
All of that being said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much audience members of all ages appeared to truly enjoy what is definitely a very modern show. Ultimately, while the references and subject matter may be most relevant to a younger crowd, the style of humor and overall themes are rather universal. Everyone can connect with the fear that comes along with a first impression, particularly with someone you’re interested in. The fears Casey and Aaron have are in so many ways fears we have all had at some point, which is probably why they are so easy to root for as a potential couple. While First Date certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it is a very enjoyable, engaging musical comedy that hits many of the right notes.
Directed by Nick DeGruccio, First Date runs at La Mirada through October 11th. Tickets range from $20-$70 and can be purchased at www.lamiradatheatre.com.