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Review: FIRST DATE at NextStop Theatre Company

A musical romantic comedy livestreaming through May 16.

Review: FIRST DATE at NextStop Theatre Company
Alex De Bard as Casey in 'First Date'. Photo courtesy of the production.

Aaron says he's an open book, but what genre of book? On their blind date, it takes Casey, the woman he's being set up with, some time to figure that out.

The same holds true for the musical these characters anchor: First Date, presented by NextStop Theatre Company in a live-streamed stage-film hybrid. The show can't tell whether it wants to be wholesome or edgy, foul-mouthed or wistful. It's as though a disoriented lyricist from Rent wandered into a script meeting for How I Met Your Mother.

One moment, when Aaron says something ill-considered, there's clunky but family-rated rhyming: "You thought you were being clever, but you were being dumb as ever." Similarly, his wingman, Gabe, telepathically advises Aaron that "once you bring up your ex, you can forget all about the sex." Cole Porter this is not.

In a more R-rated, aggressive, cathartic tell-her-off number about Aaron's ex-fiancee, Allison, he describes her as a "co__tease" and a "b___," who chronically left him with "blue b____." (Oh wait -- I can spell out the word "balls," can't I? Tricky to know where to draw the line these days, isn't it.) Casey eggs him on during this rant. She enjoys getting to see his personality beyond his initial button-down demeanor.

On Casey's side of the equation, she'll be in ingenue mode, singing plaintively about romantic "fantasies I'm not sure I'm worthy of." Or she'll be cracking wise that blind dates are so awful that "I put them right up there with pap smears and M. Night Shyamalan movies."

Each of us contains multitudes and no one is any one thing -- thank God. But for 90 minutes, First Date's book, by Austin Winsberg, careens from style to style, mood to mood, with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner tethered and fishtailing awkwardly behind.

You can see what the creative team is after: a common, keystone experience -- the first date -- in an almost single setting, roller-coasting from nerve-wracking to promising to iffy to plausible to disastrous to salvageable to, just possibly, a perfect moment. "We could fall flat on our faces, or more in love each year," as the couple sings in one of their more successfully worded duets. But the tone issues get in the way. (As did occasional buffering problems Saturday night with the show-streaming platform. At least I think that's where the hitch was.)

For all that, the production is pretty strong. Evan Hoffman's direction is decently paced. Charles Belt's cinematography is nicely composed and edited, lit with nuance by Annmarie Castringo for tricky interior restaurant and outdoor night scenes.

Paige Rammelkamp's musical production is confident in both jaunty expository numbers and a couple moving ballads. One ballad Taylor Witt, as Aaron, sings with Sarah Anne Sillers about Aaron's deceased mother. Another ballad Alex De Bard, as Casey, delivers passionately, and with impressive vocal flair, about overcoming her self-sabotaging habits and finding romantic happiness.

Carl Williams, as a crafty waiter, has an amusing fantasy number in a sequined jacket, and he and Andres Alejandro Ponce pull off a snarky tune about the bad boys Casey usually falls for. (She's a sucker, she laments, for the smell of menthol and apathy.)

First Date never fully delivers on its promise. But hey, just finding the nerve to put yourself out there -- whether on a blind date or in a webcast theatrical venture during a pandemic -- is its own little miracle.


Running Time: 90 minutes
For tickets, click here.

Regional Awards

From This Author - Alexander C. Kafka

Alexander C. Kafka is a journalist and photographer. He has written about books and the arts for The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, D.C. Theatre Scene, <... (read more about this author)

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