First Date Review: ‘Chuck’ Nerd Woos ‘Smash’ Sizzler on Broadway

First Date Longacre Theatre
Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez

Over the course of the evening that unfolds in “First Date,” a slight but often charming musical about a blind date, the more experienced Casey (Krysta Rodriguez) offers Aaron (Zachary Levi) a number of Do’s and Don’ts for first dates:
1. Don’t talk about other people you’ve dated
2. Don’t talk about religion
3. Don’t look up your date on the Internet

All these rules, and many more, will be broken by the time they leave the restaurant. Aaron and Casey will also try to ignore the many voices in their heads — best friends and family, exes, sundry imagined characters, as well as the waiter. The audience can’t ignore them, though, since they are played by the five other cast members and make up the bulk — and much of the appeal — of the 90-minute running time and of the 15 or so songs.

When Casey and Aaron find out they are of different religious faiths, to pick one of the most memorable examples, suddenly Aaron’s dead grandmother appears, singing and kvetching:

She considers Jesus boss
And thinks you nailed him to the cross

backed by black-coated Hasidic men who sing:

Oy-vey, oy-vey
This isn’t the girl for you

followed by Casey’s father, who is a Father, a Catholic priest (Remember, this is all in their heads):

You are ruining my daughter’s life
Never thought my baby’d be a Hebrew’s wife
Why would people called the chosen ones
Choose to wear strange hats and circumcise their sons?

backed by a robed church choir with the refrain:
Circumcise their sons.

The number concludes with their future son, clad in hip-hop attire draped with both the cross and the Star of David, rapping:

You’ve got me so confused
I don’t know which way to choose
Do I celebrate Christmas or Chanukah?
Either way, I lose

The musical style in this one number travels from klezmer to hymnal to rap. It’s obvious, yes, but fun.

The reliance on the show’s literal chorus of advisers and admonishers (and “baggage”) reflects the focus of the show: “First Date” is much more about the rituals and rigors of dating than it is about these particular two characters.

Click on any photo to enlarge it

As is standard in romantic comedies, Casey and Aaron don’t take to one another right away. In First Impressions, he sings:
She’s a little artsy.
She’s hip and cool.
She’s just like all those girls that ignored me all through school.

She sings:

He’s a bit annoying.
And overdressed
He’s got the kind of vibe that says, look at me – I’m stressed

But when they eventually warm to one another (and if that’s a spoiler, you’ve never seen a romantic comedy), it isn’t thoroughly believable. They don’t feel like a natural fit – which seems a deliberate choice by book writer Austin Winsberg and songwriters Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. The underlying message is mature, even wise: If you’re serious about settling down, there are factors more important than animal chemistry. But while we do discover some specifics about their backgrounds and their motivations, the characters serve largely as generic vehicles; we learn far less about them as people than we do about the “Friend Zone” (when a date says she wants to be your “friend”) and “The Awkward Pause” and the dilemma of who picks up “The Check” — all lively songs.

Rodriguez is undeniably engaging, with a voice that knocks you out in a soaring ballad like “Safer.” While she might be most widely known now as Ana Vargas in the second season of  the TV “Smash,” she has extensive stage experience, at 29 years old a Broadway veteran of ten years experience and five previous shows, including “A Chorus Line,” “Spring Awakening” and “In The Heights,” as well as “The Addams Family.”   In “First Date,” she is, like her character, the expert, compared to the status of her partner, a novice.  Levi, 32, is making his Broadway debut. Cast because of his starring role in the TV series “Chuck,” he has a pleasing if unspectacular voice and a pleasant manner. His awkwardness is a bit overdone in “First Date,” especially when Aaron first meets Casey in the restaurant, and isn’t sure whether to hug her or shake hands or just wave, and winds up doing an elaborate fist bump — a false moment that is a missed opportunity.

Blake Hammond, a Broadway veteran of everything from Hairspray to The Lion King, stands out as the priest, a therapist, and especially the waiter, with a show-stopping number, “I’d Order Love.”

Is this a good show to bring a date? Maybe — but not, I wouldn’t think, a first date: There’s too much self-consciousness as it is on the stage.

Here are three of the tuneful songs from the show, as performed at the Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concert series — without David Woolard’s spot-on costumes and the blue-toned elegance of David Gallo’s set and Mike Baldassari’s lighting. (Also, it doesn’t rain inside the Longacre)


First Impressions


First Date
Longacre Theater
Book by Austin Winsberg, music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner
Directed by Bill Berry
Scenic and media design by David Gallo, costume design by David C. Woolard, lighting design by Mike Baldassari, sound design by Kai Harada
Cast: Zachary Levi, Krysta Rodriguez, Sara Chase, Kristopher Cusick, Blake Hammond, Kate Loprest, Bryce Ryness
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $35 – $137
Buy tickets here

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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