Theatre Thursdays: Is First Date worth a second call?

First Date- Zachary Levi and Krysta RodriguezStarring Krysta Rodriguez and Zachary Levi, First Date is a new Broadway musical comedy. The show, which tells the story of young singles Aaron and Casey meeting for a blind date and all the awkwardness that entails, is currently in previews at the Longacre Theatre. I got to see the show last Thursday and quite enjoyed myself, but there were definitely some issues with it.

First Date the Musical- The OneThe show begins with the extremely small ensemble of four players performing a number called “The One”. The number is a comedic look at many of the uncomfortable situations which can arise during a first meeting (one of my favorite lines: “I wanna let you know straight up that I’m Catholic and I don’t believe in sex before marriage, but here’s a list of things I will do!”) and from the first line the audience was laughing. During this song, the set transitions smoothly from its opening curtain, a city skyline, into what will end up being the main set for almost the entire evening, the interior of a restaurant/bar.

It is in this cleverly-designed bar scene that we meet our main players, starting with Aaron.

Ankrim in the Seattle production with Kelly Karbacz as Casey

Ankrim in the Seattle production with Kelly Karbacz as Casey

Aaron is usually played by Zachary Levi, but he was out of the show in order to attend Comic Con, so the role was instead played by Eric Ankrim. Ankrim originated the role in the show’s out-of-town tryout in Seattle and his comfort level with the role was perfect. He was charmingly awkward and had excellent chemistry with leading lady Krysta Rodriguez, so if you ever see the show and find his standby announcement slipped into your Playbill, have no fear. You will be seeing an excellent performance and won’t be missing out in the least.

Upon arrival, Aaron meets the restaurant’s waiter, who ends up being a combination fairy godmother/matchmaker for Aaron and Casey on their date. Blake Hammond played the role to perfection and was one of the highlights. After Aaron is made more presentable by the waiter, Casey enters the restaurant and instantly we see the differences between our two daters: he’s uptight and nervous while she’s irreverent and edgy; he tries to impress by showing up early and dressing conservatively while she also hopes to make a good impression, but does so by being fashionably late and dressing flashy. Krysta Rodriguez shines in this role and brings the perfect aggressive-yet-intriguing personality for the character.

First Date- Krysta RodriguezThe show moves along at an excellent pace, feeling neither slow nor rushed, and is presented without an intermission. The comedy flows well and every uncomfortable stumble these characters make rings incredibly true and the relatable quality of the writing, especially the comedy, is the show’s greatest strength. As Casey and Aaron navigate conversational landmines, the other patrons in the restaurant comment on the couple’s missteps. They do so by taking on multiple characters who make up the two daters’ inner monologues such as Casey’s “perfect” sister and Aaron’s “colossal prick” best friend who offer frustrated advice and barely constructive criticism each time they make a mistake.

Everything was going nicely with the show up until about the last third, when I had to take issue with the writers for throwing any kind of feminist sensibilities out the window. Once Casey decides that Aaron is “too nice” and tells him so, he laments that he’s been friend-zoned and starts getting passive-aggressive with her, at which point she hears her sister in her head admonishing her for mistreating all the nice guys who just want to be good for her. It ends up with the same old song and dance in which Casey is wounded, which accounts for her hard edge, and of course she needs the Nice Guy (TM) to help heal her because clearly any woman who doesn’t want such a man is a “relationship assassin” who needs to be fixed.

First Date- First ImpressionsIt was really disappointing to see this otherwise excellent show take this disappointing turn right at the end of the evening. I didn’t find this to be a deal-breaker because the show was so enjoyable despite this problem, but it was a sour note on which to end. Since the show is still in previews, hopefully it will improve prior to opening. It could still work without any drastic change: all that needs to be done is remove this feeling of blame that’s placed squarely on Casey. She can still be interested in bad boys, Aaron can still feel disappointed by her dismissal, but all the anger directed at her and harping on how she’s in the wrong while he’s just a victim could be removed or re-written.

I did enjoy this musical overall and give it a recommendation, just with the warning that the last third of the show (as it stood on the night I saw it, since it may change) gets into some problematic areas. The cast is excellent though, and the writing excels in all other areas, so it makes for a great show.