The creators of the musical “First Date”, which opened Thursday night at the Longacre Theater would like to provide its’ audience with some first impressions of our human species: Straight men seeking their one true love will be slightly neurotic and employed in the financial industry. They will also order a burger for dinner and will have macho friends who encourage them to “tap” the lady they’ve just spent the evening with. Straight gals who are afraid of making a romantic mistake shall remain emotionally distant and abrasive- Plus they will inevitably order the salad when dining –just to be sure that their men do not think they are fat. If she is an ex-girlfriend, she will be domineering and crazy. Gay men will either be unemployed performers who are now waiting tables or girls’ fabulous best friends who dress in scarves, wear trendy glasses, and act as flamboyantly as Jack McFarland from TV’s “Will and Grace” . These portrayals might provide the basis for a sharp satirical piece. However, satire is anchored in wit and cleverness which cause us to reflect on our foibles. “First Date” is anchored in a loose string of stale stereotypes and unfunny jokes which will more than likely induce regret of a 90 minute time loss rather than personal reflection.
The wafer thin plot of this”comedy” involves Casey (Krysta Rodriguez from the former NBC show “Smash” and Aaron (Zachary Levi from televison’s”Chuck”), two 30-somethings who are determined to find true love over the course of an evening. Will they actually fall for each other? Probably, But not until they are visited by characters in their sub-conscious who offer their two cents worth. The remaining 5 person ensemble competently serve as this Greek Chorus who play a variety of personalities. While each of the cast members have flexibility and range, they are stuck muddling through a swamp of tepid, predictable lines and forgettable pop songs. Levi makes a stellar Broadway debut. In spite of the clumsy dialogue he is forced to deliver , he remains comfortable, funny, and charming. Rodriguez compliments her unlikely Romeo with some first-rate vocals and a confident mien.
For all of the criticism, the creative team of “First Date” should be commended. Drawing from their own courtship experiences, Austin Winsberg (Book), Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (Music and Lyrics) have great gumption to mount a truly original Broadway production, especially when a majority of shows these days are either revivals or based on movies. Yet they could have taken a cue from some of their predecessors. The somewhat dated, but intimate 1979 Neil Simon and Marvin Hamlisch musical “They’re Playing Our Song” comes to mind. And more recently, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” which enjoyed a ten plus year run Off Broadway and is a popular choice in regional theaters. Both of these hit shows offered new lovers what “First Date” cannot: hilarity, earnest charm, and relatable characters— all intertwined with memorable melodies. Director Bill Berry and his able cast deserve a “happily ever marriage” to a single, smart, and attractive musical comedy. “First Date” isn’t it.
—“First Date” is playing on Broadway at the Longacre Theater 220 W. 48th Street (between Broadway and 8th) NY NY. Tickets are available online, by phone (800) 901-4092 or at the box office.