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Review - FIRST DATE Earns A Goodnight Kiss

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The four main creators of First Date, the funny and frisky new musical comedy that sends a welcome blast of cooling hipness into Broadway's summer, are all having their first dates with Times Square audiences and the fun time they provide is definitely deserving of a goodnight kiss.

Review - FIRST DATE Earns A Goodnight KissBookwriter Austin Winsberg's resume contains a long list of television credits and it's his snappy, sitcomy dialogue that initially propels the briskly moving story of a mismatched pair that gets set up on a blind date that nearly ends disastrously with a mention of the f-word ("Friend"). But by the time the 90-minute episode has concluded, some honest-to-goodness heart and sweetness has snuck in just in time for the final smooch.

Scenic and media designer David Gallo's unit set resembles one of those tucked away bistros residing in an old warehouse that you might stumble across on an otherwise empty Brooklyn side street. Atmospherically hazy projections suggest the skyline view on the other side of the river.

Zachary Levi is adorably nervous and quirky as finance guy Aaron, hesitantly jumping back into the dating pool over a year after his fiancée Allison left him standing under the chuppah. His pal Kevin's wife, Lauren, thinks he might be the perfect guy for her sister, Casey, whose long dating history displays an unhealthy addiction to unemployed, unfeeling bad boys.

Krysta Rodriguez's Casey is the kind of sardonically sexy indie/arty type that intimidates the hell out of Aaron. But if their romantic chemistry seems lacking, their comedic chemistry crackles incessantly via Rodriguez's deadpan reactions to Levi's hilarious lack of game.

Rather than have the couple communicate through traditionally integrated musical theatre songs, the zippy score penned by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (who share music and lyric credits) consists primarily of moments that freeze time and musically reveal their inner thoughts. There's the number where they initially size up each other ("There's some Asian symbol tattooed on her wrist. / She's got the kind of look that says, 'Hello, world, I'm pissed.'"), a Fidder On The Roof spoof mimicking "Tevye's Dream," where Aaron imagines his family reacting in horror upon finding out Casey isn't Jewish, and an internal dialogue where Casey, bored by Aaron's niceness and stability, tries confronting her attraction to the edgy, but emotionally unavailable guys from her past.

But as they get to know each other more, their musical moments surface into conversation and Casey's heart starts softening when Aaron opens up with an intimate childhood memory and then, at his date's encouragement, lets loose with a rousing 11 o'clock number (Well, maybe more of a 9:30 number.) where he angrily, and uproariously, lists his ex's abusive qualities in a final declaration that he's over her. ("You turned me vegan, which I totally despise / And I'm pretty sure you laughed that time I said, 'Let's compromise.'")

Review - FIRST DATE Earns A Goodnight KissThe talented supporting quintet of actors all have one major role to play while, assisted by David C. Woolard quick-changing costumes, tripling into smaller roles as well as into a Greek chorus of diners commenting on the action. (Like that pivotal moment of every First Date, when the check arrives.)

Orchestrating the evening is a gregarious waiter, delightfully portrayed by Blake Hammond as a kind of culinary Cupid, who, like a previous musical theatre character of his profession, strives to preserve a romantic atmosphere.

Sara Chase and Bryce Ryness are the voices in Casey's and Aaron's heads; her sister Lauren encouraging her to give the guy a chance and his best friend Gabe doling out advice on how to win over this out-of-his-league babe.

Kate Loprest is Aaron's chilly memory of the sexy but manipulative Allison and Kristoffer Cusick is outrageously flamboyant as Casey's BFF Reggie, whose trio of musical moments contains the voice mail messages he leaves as her bailout caller.

Staged with wacky buoyancy by director Bill Berry, this is the kind of musical that'll have you remembering the funny moments more than the melodies, but if it's true what they say about a sense of humor being the most attractive quality in a mate, First Date offers up a terrific match.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez; Bottom: Bryce Ryness, Kate Loprest, Kristoffer Cusick and Sara Chase

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Michael Dale After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.


 
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