Broadway Review: ‘First Date’

Zachary Levi Broadway First Date

Enjoyably modest musical is buoyed by strong perfs from Zachary Levi, Krysta Rodriguez

First Date,” a romantic musical comedy about the horrors, humiliations and occasional happy surprises of blind dates, is cute (but not too cute) and sweet (but not too sweet).  So, indications are that this appealing show will do well (but not too well) on Gotham’s Main Stem, despite having come out of nowhere and been assembled by no one you’ve heard of.  Creative team of Austin Winsberg (book) and collaborators Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (music and lyrics) should thank their lucky stars for Krysta Rodriguez and Zachary Levi, who are seriously charming as mismatched blind daters destined to become lovers.

Ah, the joys of the modest musical, a rare commodity on Broadway these days but an ideal tenant for the intimately scaled and lovingly restored Longacre Theater.  Helmer Bill Berry, producing director of the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle where the show originated, makes judicious use of his resources.  David Gallo’s unit set adapts to the various restaurants, wine bars, and cafes where all the dating and mating takes place, enhanced by the witty background projections of a big, bad, sexy city.  The design is nice and tight, a perfect fit for the stage, which Mike Baldassari has drolly lighted in those deeper shades of midnight-blue-to-black (with splashes of red) that are universal signifiers of moody music, hard liquor and sex.

The bar is packed with dating couples (for obvious budgetary reasons, scaled down to two boy-girl pairs, joined by a waiter) singing their hearts out in a rousing opening number (“The One”) about the hazards of looking for a mate on the open market.  It’s a long list, with blind dates running the gamut from the ones who lie about their age, their weight, and even their gender, to the painfully honest chap who admits that he’s not allowed within 50 feet of a playground.

The tall, weedy guy who nervously enters this lions’ den is Aaron (Levi, the Chuck of the NBC spy series “Chuck”), who hasn’t been on a date since his wife left him and already regrets that he let his best friend fix him up on this blind date.  Aaron is what any woman would recognize as Mr. Nice Guy, who makes a better friend than a lover, so it’s quite an achievement in character-building when Levi carefully draws out the more interesting and yes, sexier side of this sweet, sensitive guy.

Rodriguez (“Smash”) is quite the bombshell as Casey, the neo-punk, height-of-fashion cutie who drinks with both fists and goes for bad boys.  Armed with Rodriguez’s strong voice, solid acting chops, and snazzy Jazz Age costume, Casey seems likely to make short work of awkward Aaron.

But the friction between their personalities produces terrific chemistry, and the smart book guarantees that, while their early exchanges are abrasive, they’re also genuinely witty.  When Casey insults Aaron by calling him a BDV (“blind date virgin”), Aaron politely replies that he’d prefer a name like “A-Train” or “Wolverine.”  The clever lyrics of “First Impressions” take them a long way in getting over the initial discomforts of their blind date.

Of course, no sooner do Aaron and Casey get past the first meeting rituals, than they find themselves stumbling over other social landmines, like “The Awkward Pause” and, inevitably, “The Check!”  Not to mention the familiar critics like friends, exes, and family who materialize at the drop of a hat (or the sound of a musical intro) to offer ill-timed and unwanted advice.

Kristoffer Cusick, as Casey’s gay bff Reggie, has some funny moments in the three “Bailout Songs” that he calls in on his cellphone. Blake Hammond scores some laughs as all the waiters in all the single bars in the world, or at least, in this cold and lonely city.  The other performers also stand up tall doubling and tripling as the voices in our young couple’s fevered brains.

Like the show’s romantic sensibility, the musical idiom is Broadway-lite; but again, not too-too Broadway and not too-too lite — quite suitable, really, for this entertaining, but not overly pushy show.

Broadway Review: 'First Date'

Longacre Theater; 1060 seats; $137 top.  Opened Aug. 8, 2013.  Reviewed Aug 7. Running time:  ONE HOUR, 45 MIN.

Production

A presentation by Junkyard Dog Productions, Stem Productions, Altar Identity Studios, Alex & Katya Lukianov, Susan & Jim Blair, Linda & Bill Potter, in association with Yosuhiro Kawana, Vijay & Sita Vashee, Kevin & Lynn Foley, Jeff & Julie Goldstein, Edward & Mimi Kirsch, Frank & Denise Phillips, Steve Reynolds & Paula Rosput Reynolds, Land Line Productions, Alhadeff Family Productions / Sheri & Les Biller, Pat Halloran / Laura Little Theatrical Productions, Tony Meola / Remmel T. Dickinson & John Yonover, ShadowCatcher Entertainment / Tom & Connie Walsh, of a musical in one act with book by Austin Winsberg, music & lyrics by Alan Zachary & Michael Weiner. 

Creative

Directed by Bill Berry.  Sets and media, David Gallo; costumes, David C. Woolard; lighting, Mike Baldassari; sound, Kai Harada; hair, Josh Marquette; musical staging, Josh Rhodes; music supervision, vocal & music arrangements, Dominick Amendum; orchestrations, August Eriksmoen; production stage manager, Arturo E. Porazzi. 

Cast

Zachary Levi, Krysta Rodriguez, Sara Chase, Kristoffer Cusick, Blake Hammond, Kate Loprest, Bruce Ryness.

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  1. David says:

    So much for the August 18 hype. We saw it on 8/25, playing to a packed house. We loved it and so did everyone there. True to everyone else’s comments, Zachary Levi stayed well afterwards signing autographs outside the stage door. I HIGHLY recommend this show!

    • Sheryl says:

      The show was okay? Not everyone in the audience loved it by the conversation as we all headed out of the theatre. The show is “okay”. As for Mr. Levi, he walked right pass people who were waiting at the stage door. You must have got him on a night when his “full of himself” attitude was at a lower level.

      • Carol says:

        Sheryl, I agree with you 100 percent. I know one of the stage people on the show. Mr. Levi is a complete nightmare. Who is this Kevin commenter? He’s by the stage door each night seeing what’s going on? I saw a matinee and Mr. Levi blew by everyone at that stage door. When he’s kind to stage door fans, it’s because producers tell him to get out there.

      • Kevin says:

        Sheryl, I’m not sure if you have some vendetta against Levi or the show, but after each performance, Levi stays by the stage door until every single showgoer who wants an autograph or photo gets one. In fact, you can see in some Twitter posts that they’ve made the stage door look nicer because he’s made such a point of catering to fans.

  2. Karen Pudelski says:

    We flew in from Cleveland to see the show and loved it! Zac Levi, Krysta Rodriguez, and the rest of the cast were very nice after the show, signing autographs, posing for pictures, and talking with all of the fans. I did not see one “diva” in the group….just regular people meeting their fans. I am recommending this play to everyone. It was a great evening!

  3. Brent says:

    My wife and I saw this aug. 10th…loved it! Great cast…great staging…all the cast spent time signing autographs…highly recommend…

  4. Jake says:

    Where did the haters here read about the show closing on August 18th? It’s not anywhere on the ‘net and its grosses are improving each week. And slandering Zachary Levi is not cool. I walk home by that theatre most nights after the show and he’s out there signing every single autograph and taking pictures with hundreds of very insistent fans. I’ve even talked to a few members of the cast, and everyone seems to love him.

    • Michelle says:

      Jake the shows weekly potential gross is $867,000. The week closing August 18, its actual gross was $424,000. Do the math. As for defending Mr. Levi, he alone knows how he treats people. He came to Broadway with an attitude and has been very rude to people. If he thought it would go unnoticed, then he’s mistaken. The other cast members are lovely.

    • Marcus says:

      What do you expect the cast to do, tell the truth? They can be replaced. Mr. Levi is a different person behind the scenes. The show is winding down, money is being lost and once Labor Day is here, that will determine its fate.

  5. Georgette says:

    I found the ending very abrupt. It just ends. It was like the writer didn’t know what to do, so it ended. Save your money people. Good luck to the cast in their future projects.

  6. Nina says:

    I read it’s closing August 18. Oh well.

  7. Naris says:

    The show was “okay”. But I guess it has to get more solid reviews to stay open. Better luck next time to the cast.

  8. Rachel says:

    I have to say I was disappointed in this show. It’s now closing on August 18. I thought Mr. Levi would have been better, but then again he’s a “TV Star”.

    • Glen says:

      A close source says that Mr. Levi, who comes across as a nice guy is really full of himself behind the scenes. He has brought a “star” attitude to Broadway. That is never tolerated in this wonderful community.

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