BWW Reviews: FIRST DATE at ACT
If you choose to take a date (first or otherwise) to the new World Premiere musical "First Date" currently being presented at ACT and co-produced through ACT and the 5th Avenue Theatre, you may end up getting quite sentimental and mushy towards your date as the evening wears on. Or you may end up breaking up as you laugh a little too hard at some of the baggage of these characters that hits a little too close to home. Either way, you're bound to have a good time (at least until the fighting begins) at this fun and funny bit of cotton candy.
The title kind of says it all. We're on a first date with the button down investment banker Aaron (Eric Ankrim) and the free wheeling artist Casey (Kelly Karbacz). In fact we're on a blind date. But joining them on their date (at least in spirit) are their friends, family, exs and one therapist who are all too willing to give them advice whether they like it or not. But of course they're not really there, it's really just the baggage these two romantic hopefuls are carrying with them and so these outside influences are really just giving us a glimpse into what is going through the heads of our daters.
At first glance the show is a little cliché. OK, at first and subsequent glances. The show isn't going to cure cancer or send you into the world reeling with your newfound ideals. But not all shows need to do that. Some can just be a fun diversion. Sit-coms and romantic comedies are a fun diversion and this is basically that set to music. There are definitely some cute modern day twists on the old story put out there by authors Austin Winsberg, Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. The idea that you can find out so much more about someone before you meet them by cyber-stalking them. The option of having a friend call you mid date as an excuse to bail. The instant replay of auspicious moments of the date on video. Yes, other elements of the story may be a little old but if you think about it, cliché elements are often used because we can relate to them and they work. But even the typical rom-com elements are handled with charm and wit and the music and lyrics are fun, frothy and keep the story moving along and that's really all you can ask for.
But what completely sells this light little musical comedy is the outstanding direction by Bill Berry and the wonderful cast. Ankrim and Karbacz offer the perfect counterpoint to each other have incredible chemistry. Beyond having great voices (as does everyone in the cast so let's just state that now) they maneuver through the comic and serious moments like master white water rafters heading down the rapids. The two just ooze charm and presence and keep the audience completely engaged at all times. And as the voices in their heads Richard Gray, Benjamin Harris, Vicki Noon, Brandon O'Neill and Billie Wildrick are absolutely stunning and certainly bring the comedy to life. I especially lovEd Harris' recurring gay BFF character who kept offering the bailout phone call. Sure, he was a little over the top stereotypical but Harris completely sold it and made it work.
With a kick ass set from Matthew Smucker (the second time in two days I've made a comment like that about him) this new addition to the musical theater romantic comedy genre may not always seem so new, but it's definitely a welcome and fun addition (have I mentioned it's fun?). And it's definitely a great date night show. Just don't look over at your date when those close-to-home moments come up. You don't want to pick a fight in a theater and counselors are NOT standing by.
"First Date" from the 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT performs at ACT's Falls Theatre through May 20th. For tickets or information you can contact either the 5th Avenue at 206-625-1900 or www.5thavenue.org or ACT at 206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion