By Other Voices Theatre
First Date (book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner) is a musical comedy depicting the perils and pitfalls of modern dating life in New York City. With only one location and a small cast it is surprising that this show has not been more of a regular feature on the local scene since its’ five month Broadway run ended in early 2014. That one location is the Skyline Lounge, an upscale restaurant and bar, and it is brought to life in rich detail by set designer, Lee Hebb. The props team have ensured a fully stocked bar as the center piece of the design complete with a flat screen TV neon sign. Front and center is a high top two seat table that is flanked at the edge of the stage by other restaurant tables. The walls are adorned with artwork paying homage to musical theatre and high above the bar is a silhouetted city skyline that comes to life when the lights change and the cut out windows glow with warm amber light.
The lighting design from Steve Knapp comes close to stealing the show as areas of the stage and actors are isolated with wonderful precision. The opening number, The One, has more cues than some other shows have in their entirety and we really feel like we are sharing the innermost thoughts with each of the cast members. Technically it’s a brilliantly executed opening to the show but it feels a little tentative vocally and it’s probably the one time in the production we wish the un mic’d singers would fill the space more.
Our three musicians, music director Jonas Dawson, along with John Maestri and Natalie Spehar, are hidden in the wing stage left. The live music is a highlight of the show with the band sounding imperious, despite only being a trio, while never overpowering the on stage performers. First Impressions introduces us to our protagonists, Aaron (Nicholas Cox) and Casey (Katherine Worley) who are meeting on a blind date. Cox portrays a nervous geeky charm that makes the character endearing and he gives a sweet vocal performance. Cox is not a powerhouse and that leaves us wanting more in some of his solo moments but in general the story telling nature of the songs allow his personality to the fore and in the later duets he is the perfect foil for his cast mates. Worley arrives in a striking red dress with a healthy dose of cynicism and eye rolls that is a good starting point for her first act arc.
Two other couples are sat at tables at either edge of the stage and they transition from extras to family, friends and exes as the story unfolds. Director Susan Thornton stages these moments seamlessly with the help of those lights and the pacing is terrific. Bailout Song #1 introduces us to Casey’s gay BFF as Man #2 (Thomas Bricker) is isolated stage right for a cell phone call to see if she needs saving from her date. Bricker plays the flamboyant attitude to the max and it is likely to be a performance that will divide opinion – for the phone calls (Bailout calls 2 & 3 follow later) put us in the loved it category. These moments are ludicrously over the top but they are joyously so. Later when the character actually comes to the bar (in a more real scenario) some of the mannerisms feel a little close to the line of what some could consider offensive.
The show really hits it’s comedic and vocal stride with The Girl for You as the Oy Vey’s resonate hilariously around the theatre as if we had a full choir before Bricker transforms into a (very white) rapper. The Awkward Pause features Man #1 (James Funkhouser) strumming on the acoustic guitar with wonderful sincerity and the earnestness displayed by the rest of the cast on this parody of Simon & Garfunkel’s Hello Darkness My Old Friend is the highlight of the night.
The World Wide Web is Forever sees the pace start to meander a little. This isn’t really a show that requires much traditional choreography but we would like a little more from the movement here. The flat screen TV suddenly feels a little over used and some of the earlier excellently implemented rules about when other characters are frozen / change role seem to become inconsistent (Funkhouser keeping on the green hat instead of it being used to indicate a switch in character being a prime example) The date isn’t going very well and Safer arrives just in time to keep us invested in its’ outcome. Worley gives a solid comedic performance but she feels truly at home when the material leads her in a more emotional direction and she really connects here with her acting and singing. The original production was performed without an intermission but this is a moment that gives the show heart and is a natural place to take the break.
The glue for much of the first act was Man #3 (Stacy Carroll) in her primary role as the waiter. Carroll has excellent comic timing and delivery and looks incredibly comfortable as she owns the stage for opening song of act two, I’d Order Love. Requesting her light from the booth and music from the band she delivers a rich, smooth vocal and exudes stage presence. It is difficult to justify why the role was not changed to make her character a woman. It likely would have required some minor adjustments but it is hard to see how this wouldn’t have been the right choice. The other women in the production are also vocal stand outs. Woman #2 (Tori Weaver) is full of wonderful little quirks as the ex-girlfriend Allison, while Woman #1 (Taylor Knapp) sings with a beautiful clarity that seems effortless on The Things I Never Said as Aaron’s Mother.
When the final scene moves outside of the bar we appreciate the white city skyline painted on the stage right wall as it helps us buy into the change of location. Cox and Worley deliver their best vocal of the night on Something that Will Last as they finally are able to let their real life connection (yes they are a couple according to the bios) inhabit their performance.
This is a high quality technical production working in great harmony with Thornton’s direction. Dawson has great voices to work with throughout the supporting cast to find some wonderful company moments while the additional round of applause for the band when the music ended after the curtain call was richly deserved.
We rate this show at $32 and with ticket prices at $22 a +$10 value rating. Tickets will likely be hard to come by. First Date continues at Other Voices Theatre until February 17th. https://www.othervoicestheatre.org/