Most first dates are a complete story, with a beginning, middle and definitive end. But the best ones are preludes to something grander, and such is the case with “First Date,” a chamber musical developed by Seattle’s ACT Theater and 5th Avenue Theater. The project, written by Austin Winsberg (“Gossip Girl,” “Jake in Progress”) with music and lyrics by Disney alums Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary, looks to have a happy future ahead.
Elegantly conceived and executed, “First Date” follows a blind date from awkward introduction to equally awkward good-night kiss. Along the way, the central characters, Aaron (Eric Ankrim) and Casey (Kelly Karbacz), detour into memories and fantasy with the help of four able singer-dancers playing multiple roles.
All the key moments of a typical first date are noted in song, from “First Impression” (one of the evening’s most memorable numbers) to “The Check!” One funny recurring bit is a musical “Bailout” call from Casey’s best friend — a prearranged phone call designed to serve as her excuse for a quick exit, should she need one.
Does she? That’s the question that drives the action of this compact show. The would-be lovers are clearly mismatched: Casey is a sharp-tongued beauty, defensive from being repeatedly let down by the “bad boys” she gravitates toward. (“I love the smell of cigarettes and apathy,” she croons.) Aaron is a nebbishy square, who can’t stop idealizing the last ball-buster who also broke his heart.
If the show is at all unbalanced, it’s that Aaron, in Ankrim’s adorably dorky portrayal, is much more sympathetic than Casey, played with an acid edge by the able Karbacz. You wonder what he might see in her, other than the sleek packaging. But everything else in “First Date” is perfectly tuned: the sleek bistro set designed by Matthew Smucker; the lively staging by director Bill Berry; and the amiable, energetic performances delivered by the ensemble, playing various figments of Aaron and Casey’s imaginations — past loves, current friends and future specters.
By the end, Aaron and Casey have begun to forge a connection, but you can’t say that wedding bells are exactly in the air — except perhaps for the creative marriage between composer-lyricists Weiner and Zachary. Their songs are the highlight of the show, not because the contemporary pop tunes are anything more than pleasing, but because the lyrics are flat-out ingenious. One rapid-fire rap (delivered by the rebellious teenage son Aaron and Casey imagine they might have in the future) name-checks Nietzsche and Oskar Schindler so fast, you hardly have time to laugh.