Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of The Little Mermaid
After a premiere run at Seattle's ACT Theatre in 2012, First Date debuted on Broadway in 2013, and though it wasn't a hit, it had its fair share of admirers. The show focuses on Aaron (a young businessman on his first bind date) and Casey (a serial dater who unconsciously sabotages most of her romantic opportunities) as they meet for drinks and dinner.
The 90-minute, intermissionless show features a solid yet predictable book by Austin Winsberg which is filled with humor but has some tender moments as well. The five ensemble members represent the restaurant staff, other diners, and, most significantly, the family and friends of Aaron and Casey who provide insight, advice and warning through various fantasy/imagined asides. The humor is well written, but sometimes on the vulgar side, so this show is recommended strictly for adults.
The score features music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, and the songs are written in a variety of styles, with a few poignant ballads, a rap, upbeat comedy songs, and traditional musical theater numbers. "First Impressions" is Aaron and Casey's first song together, and it's a tuneful one with some witty lyrics. "Safer," Casey's introspective song about her willingness to choose safe relationships over meaningful ones, is strong both musically and lyrically. The score overall is fine, if not overly distinguished on its own, but serves the story and musical well.
Director Vince DeGeorge has done some excellent work at CCM, especially in the studio series, and it's wonderful to see him working at ETC. His blocking, pacing and tone are just right for the piece, with moments of genius apparent, as in his hilarious and inventive staging of "The Girl For You," a funny song about interfaith dating. Scot Wooley leads a great sounding four-piece band which can be seen on both sides of the performance space.
Despite having two leads, First Date is really an ensemble show, with all seven actors having ample opportunity to shine. Michael Gerard Carr perfectly embodies the uptight, nervousness of Aaron, a man not yet over his last relationship. His singing is rich and pleasant, and he gives the character several layers. Sarah Hoch likewise hits all the marks as Casey. She applies her pop belt singing aptly and conveys the outward boldness and confrontational attitude while also revealing a vulnerability underneath. The five ensemble membersAndrew Maloney, Nathan Robert Pecchia, Jeremy Parker, Maya Farhat, and Jared D. Dorenall portray multiple characters and mine comedic gold to great effect.
Brian c. Mehring's handsome set design evokes a sleek, chic, cosmopolitan restaurant against a New York City skyline, and his lighting is varied and atmospheric. The costumes by Reba Senske are attractive, modern, and well-suited to the characters.
First Date is charming and funny, and likely to be universal for anyone who's ever dated. ETC provides its normal high-level of talent onstage and behind the scenes for an enjoyable show.
The musical continues at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati through February 5, 2017. For tickets, visit www.ensemblecincinnati.org or call 513-421-3555.