The Streaming Experience: First Date
I must say, like many of you out there, the idea of a blind First Date, especially one set up by a sibling or our opinionated best friend is as appealing as going to the dentist for a root canal. Or is that just me? I don’t know, but the questions, “How does it start?” “How does it last?” and the impossible high priestess one of them all to answer, “Are you ever going to find the one?” is as daunting as writing a fresh musical about all of these questions without tripping and falling into a pit of overly done gender, racial, and/or sociological stereotypes. And I’m not so sure the writers of First Date did in fact avoid that rabbit hole as effectively as one might have hoped. But as we sit back and watch those particular questions float out before us in song, we can all find something to relate to.
What I can say is that I have rarely looked forward to the blind set up in any way shape or form, but here, thanks to the producers at Art Lab and ShowTown Productions, we have been virtually invited to be a fly on the wall for this “musical extravaganza” played out before us as stylishly as possible, given the restrictions of this COVID time and place. With every good intention in the book to be as fun and festive as possibly, the show drives forward on a seductive wink and smile. But like many a First Date, the nervous anticipatory excitement is always palpable, alongside the foreboding sense of discomfort and dread. Is it going to be fun, entertaining, engaging? Or will there be a stone cold silence that one will have to stiff upper lip survive until the check is delivered? It’s hard to know, but some of the same questions came floating up through my head about First Date, the Virtual Broadway Musical.
Starring the surprisingly endearing and talented Diana DeGarmo (Off-Broadway’s The Marvelous Wonderettes) and Ace Young (Broadway’s Hair), two former “American Idol” contestants who are actually real-life married, the very fine singers have bravely taken on the central blind date counterparts with a determined force. These very opposite-doesn’t-always-attract-at-first-single New Yorkers find themselves set up and sitting across from one another wondering all those previously stated questions, and a even a few more. They grab a few drinks to steady their nerve (maybe I need one too at this point?) as they embark on “a blind date with nothing to lose, except maybe their patience and sanity“. The possibilities are endless, and the energy sits well on their engaging strong shoulders as the show itself has some pretty solid barstool legs to stand on. The new virtual production of this 2013 Broadway musical comedy is a pretty well constructed, albeit light and frothy affair, floating itself easily and charmingly around the restaurant table with a Glee-like effervescence. It rarely drifts too far off its well drawn out path, and as directed with a gentle hand by Art Lab‘s Executive Producer, Meg Fofonoff, the fly on the wall vantage point is as pleasant as one could hope for, “but it’s only a first impression” they sing, and we can definitely relate. “Worth a second glance” is also a soon-to-follow valid lyric, and you’d also have to agree with that sentiment, but if somewhere in your conscious brain you are expecting this piece of contemporary pop to unearth something deeper or become more compelling than those first few numbers, you might as well as for the bar tab right now, and make your way home.
Featuring music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (ABC’s upcoming “Duet“) and a book by Austin Winsberg (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”), the story about this one blind date, pre-arranged by a sister and a buddy, is as simple and straightforward as it sounds. Aaron, played by the hottie with the delicious smile, Ace Young disguised not too deeply as an adorkable good guy, finds himself sitting across from another hottie, Casey, played by the talented and sexy Diana DeGarmo, giving us so much edge that we start to wonder what is truly up with her. Formatted to be a hilariously relatable musical, putting you right next to the two in the bar and the restaurant, the highs and the lows never fully stick, feeling generally overly wrought and forced. Personally, their inner dialogue and their behaviour towards each other never really add up, and if I was the one on that date, I might have made a run for the door before they even sat down for the main course.
Surrounded by some pretty annoyingly persistent voices in their heads, the two do battle with each other and all their inner demons and generalizations fully made visible and audible for all to see. They ramble around those awkward silences and past embarrassments with a determination that is formulated. Will there be a second date? Well, you know the score right off the bat, but the hope of this production is that we will stay tuned in, maybe because we are placing our bets that the journey will be fun and entertaining. That they will find a way to connect to some of our communal thought processes and romantic dreams, while singing a number of fun contemporary pop Broadway songs that sort of make you think of other pop songs, that just might possibly be a wee bit better than the ones on this First Date.
Streaming on the ticketing platform, Stellar for five performances from July 23-25, First Date plays it safe and sound. It never veers too far off from the very obvious, somewhat stereotypical, path of what we might assume will be said and sung about. Some of the songs are very catchy, while others flounder in a sea of old jokes. The musical chorus of four, playing an assortment of overly stylized characterizations, is a mixed bag. Vishal Vaidya (Broadway’s Groundhog Day) and Aurelia Williams (Broadway’s Once on This Island) find a level of honesty and truth that works wonders in their well done vocal presentations, even within the silliness of the set-up, while Jennifer Sánchez (Broadway’s Sunday in the Park with George) delivers a kindly cut out of a character that we all know maybe too well. Nick Cearley (co-founder of The Skivvies, Broadway’s All Shook Up) and Kevin Massey (Broadway’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) unfortunately serve up a side dish of overly cartoonish characterizations that only distract and pull us out of the genuine attachment that everyone else is working fairly hard to create.
First Date is no Sondheim, and should never be lumped into the company of other relationship musicals, like the soon to arrive Company. But it does carry a certain kind of charm. It arrived onto the single person bar scene via Seattle’s ACT Theatre in 2012 before making its way, surprisingly, to Broadway in 2013, maybe because it was starring two big named performers, Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez. These two found their way through the piece, making it a joyous date night out, with servings of fun and light romanticisms, or so I am told. The musical has gathered quite a bit of success around itself, having been seen in over 200 productions around the world, including such cities as London, Melbourne, Tokyo and Buenos Aires. But I must admit, after watching this solidly orchestrated streaming, that I can’t quite make out the full appeal, especially on Broadway. I’d definitely order Love, especially when given the chance, thanks to Vaidya’s deliciously wise, fun performance of the song, but in regards to this production of First Date, I don’t think I’d be too eager to turn up for a second one. Although not terrible, as many dates are, the spark that makes one memorable, isn’t quite here, at least for this singleton.
Costume designer is Jennifer Tremblay. Storyboard artist is Sue Schaller. Film editor is Nate Wind. Director of Photography is Howie Michael Smith. Production Stage Manager is Julie Devore. Stage Managers are Stephen Milosevich and Lisa Ann Chernoff. Casting is by Alexandre Bleau, CSA.
Musical direction is by Julie McBride. Musical supervisor is Cynthia Meng. The band features Elena Bonomo (drums), Josh Plotner (reeds), Jakob Reinhardt (guitars), and Yuka Tadano (bass).
Tickets are now on sale. Tickets purchased today through June 2 at 11:59 PM are $15. Regular priced tickets are $20. For more information, click: