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BWW Review: FIRST DATE is a Charming Look at Dating

FIRST DATE THE MUSICAL is a new musical with a book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. It's based around the various permutations of blind dating. It made its world premiere in 2012 at Seattle's ACT Theatre in a 5th Avenue Theatre co-production and made its Broadway debut in 2013.

FIRST DATE THE MUSICAL has a noticeable sitcom quality. It also has genuine wit, charm and a musical panache that is a breath of fresh air compared to the overblown musicals being created these days. Set mostly in a Manhattan restaurant, it shows the audience the extremely awkward first date of Aaron (Scott Garrett Graham) and Casey (Marett Hanes), a serial dater who's clearly more experienced with romance Russian roulette. This blind date is Aaron's reentry into the world of romance after being ditched at the altar by his fiancée, Allison (Kate Sullivan Gibbons), and his nervousness is clearly evident. The couple's inner thoughts are revealed in the evening's musical numbers.

Shown to their seats by a snarky waiter (James Springer) they begin their date with the usual small talk, and then the first bomb drops. Casey casually mentions that she's not Jewish, prompting the hilarious stereotype-filled number, "The Girl for You," in which the other patrons in the restaurant transform themselves into characters including Aaron's dead grandmother (Rebecca Smootz) and Aaron and Casey's future son (Craig D. McKerley).

Other songs in Zachary and Weiner's score comment on the couple's interactions, including the brilliantly witty Simon and Garfunkel-style "The Awkward Pause"; the too oft-reprised "Bailout Song," a series of voice mail messages from Casey's gay friend (a way over the top and bordering on offensive stereotype by Craig D. McKerley) offering to be her alibi to escape from the date; "The World Wide Web is Forever," about dating when all of your personal information is out there online via Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram; and "Safer," Casey's lovely ballad about taking chances that closes the first act. Another stand-out number opens Act Two, when James Springer blows the roof off the building with "I'd Order Love".

It's all fairly familiar stuff, but under the sharp direction of Barbara Schuler it's delivered with a comedic sensibility that produces a steady stream of laughs. Scott Garrett Graham displays a charmingly geeky quality and an astonishing openness in later moments that make him a marvelous leading man. Marett Hanes is equally fine, and while her character has occasional off-putting qualities, it is wonderful to see her take down the walls this woman has put up to finally display empathy and charm.

Lending solid support is the five-person ensemble - Daniel Cline, Rebecca Smootz, Craig D. McKerley, James Springer and Kate Sullivan Gibbons - who tackle a wide variety of characters, including Aaron's boorish best friend who offers macho-style dating advice, Casey's nagging sister who warns her not to let Aaron get away despite him not being a "bad boy" type that she usually dates and Aaron's clinging ex, who is never far from his thoughts.

Jim Schuler's inventive set design works beautifully for the show as do Veronica Prior's costumes. And, as always, David Blackburn gets wonderful music out of the 7 person company.

While not a show with any big message, FIRST DATE is a lot of fun and you won't go wrong on a date like this one.

FIRST DATE Book by Austin Winsberg, Music & Lyrics by Alan Zachary & Michael Weiner

Running time: Two Hours with one intermission

FIRST DATE, produced by Austin Theatre Project, at Balance Dance Studios (4544 South Lamar Boulevard, Suites 200 and 300, Austin, TX, 78745). February 20 - March 05, 2016 .Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 5:30 PM. Tickets:

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From This Author Frank Benge