Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot focuses on Aaron and Casey, who meet at a New York restaurant on a blind date that has been arranged by a co-worker of Aaron's who just happens to be married to Casey's sister Lauren. Over the course of the show, which plays out in real time, the couple are confronted by the disapproving voices in their heads which represent the thoughts, mostly unwanted, of their exes, family members and friends, which isn't helped by the fact that there is already plenty of friction between the two due to their mismatched personalities.
Austin Winsberg's book is smart, witty and realistic with characters you root for and learn a lot about over the course of the show. He perfectly depicts the horrors and humiliations, along with the humor and heartfelt moments, of blind dating. The score by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner features a range of musical styles and some clever lyrics. There are several uproarious comedy numbers that feature the entire cast of seven. There are also terrific ballads that reveal deep thoughts and feelings about our dating duo, which are wisely kept until later in the show after Aaron and Casey, and the audience, have learned more about each other. However, as realistic and comical as the book is and even though the score is both humorous and heartfelt, the show does seem to drag a bit in the second half.
Director Darl Jones has assembled a very gifted cast to bring these well-written characters to life. Fortunately, Jones has also opted to not expand the cast, keeping it the way it was done on Broadway with five actors playing all of the almost two dozen supporting characters. That decision allows for each member of the supporting cast to truly flex their acting muscles and create a wide range of individuals with just an added piece of clothing or the use of a prop while morphing from one role to the next. Jones' clear direction also derives incredibly well rounded portrayals from his two leads.
As Aaron and Casey, Rio Chavez and Kayleah Wilson add plenty of nuance and shading into these interesting individuals. Chavez is, appropriately, somewhat quiet and shy as the nerdy, nervous, sweet and sensitive "Mr. Nice Guy," the exact opposite of the bad boy types Casey is used to dating. Wilson is bright and spunky as the edgy art gallery worker we quickly learn has a lot more romantic experience than Aaron. They both infuse their ballads with emotion and have very good comic timing in their line delivery.
In the supporting cast, all of whom play multiple parts with ease, JT Ziervogel is funny as Aaron's womanizing best friend, Gabe; Macy Wood's assured vocals derive both comical and loving results in her roles as Aaron's grandmother and mother; and Adam Robles gets big laughs as Casey's gay best friend Reggie. Also, Danie Grief is very good, with a dry comic delivery, as Ashley, Aaron's former fiancée; and Thomas Wilson delivers with ease some funny one liners as the bar's waiter.
Cathy Hauan's music direction derives some great sounds from both the cast and the small band. Hannah Guy's smart set design, while fairly simple, beautifully depicts a small restaurant with various items mounted on the walls that serve both as restaurant decor and props the ensemble uses throughout the show. The costumes from Aurelie Flores quickly depict the traits and types of the characters. The lighting design from Meg James uses rich colors and tones to paint a realistic picture of a bustling restaurant. Tyler Foree's sound design is crisp and clear.
While First Date only had a six-month Broadway run and its fairly predictable plot isn't that original, it makes for a crowd pleasing show with some good lyrics and comical one liners. MCC's well-directed production features a talented cast who derive big laughs with a big amount of heart.
First Date, through September 22, 2018, at the Mesa Community College Performing Arts Center, 1520 S Longmore, Mesa AZ. Tickets and information for upcoming productions can be ordered at 480-461-7172 or at www.mesacc.edu/arts/events.
Stage Direction: Darl Jones