The story has been done before and it'll be done again: Boy and girl are fixed up by friends for a blind date. They meet. They know they aren't suited for each other. Not only that, they irritate and grate on one another. They know they should leave, but . . . It's the "but" that makes the story interesting.
For a romantic comedy to work, the viewer must believe in and care about the two people and their problems. The viewer must want them to be together. If the viewer doesn't care, the whole thing falls apart. For a musical comedy to work, you have to have all those elements working as well as music that tugs on both the heart strings and the belly laugh strings. All these elements are there for your enjoyment in “First Date”, a co-production of the 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT Theatre.
The musical is being staged at ACT Theatre. Last year we saw the first co-production between the two theaters: “Vanities”. “Vanities” was okay; it was a safe production. This year, everything that was lackluster in the first partnership has been transformed into a bright and enjoyable romp. Even with sixteen songs it’s over before you want it to be.
You can almost count of ACT putting together great staging with elevating tables and pieces that roll in and out. For First Date, three round tables appear out of the floor and two bars/counters with stools roll in from the wing. Not only do the tables come up from the stage, but they are substantial enough to support actors dancing on them.
Aaron, played by Eric Ankrim (a long way from his hunky portrayal of Curly in the recent 5th Avenue's production of “Oklahoma!”) is a banker in a severe suit, horn-rimmed glasses and a very conservative hair cut.
Casey, played by Kelly Karbacz, is quite fetching in an off-shoulder black sweater, black skirt and black boots. They’re certainly not a matched pair. At the bar Aaron, hoping to make a good impression, orders something "big and manly," a beer. Casey orders a double vodka “zanax”.
The couple meet and the to and fro sashay begins. She calls him a BDV and explains, "Blind Date Virgin." He calls her a BDS and explains, "Blind Date Slut." Perhaps this joke is ill advised. Things can only go up, well, maybe, but not yet.
The rest of the cast fills out the bar as patrons, waiter and the people in the bar who acted as the voices in each person’s head, advising them about the success of the date. We were disappointed that we missed a long time favorite performer of ours, Richard Gray as the waiter , but were certainly happy to see Greg McCormick Allen, we loved him in “Guys and Dolls”. They shared the part of the waiter. Vicki Noon was a new face, but Benjamin Harris was familiar from other excellent productions at ACT. Both Brandon O'Neill and Billie Wildrick have delighted us in plays and musicals from Olympia to Seattle for many years.
The ensemble had several song and dance numbers that we really got a kick out of. “The World Wide Web is Forever” had the group dancing with laptops with their screens bearing different news and social networking logos. The song signifies that you shouldn't put indiscrete postings on the web that will embarrass you next month or even years later. Both Casey and Aaron Googled each other before the date.
My favorite dance routine was right after Aaron and Casey discover they have many childhood friends in common, who were all Jewish. Then he discovers that Casey is not Jewish. The song “The Girl for You” was a warning from the ensemble that Casey is not the girl for the Jewish Aaron. Billie Wildrick is a memorable Bubbe, complete with kerchief and shawl, dances on the bar, while the rest of the ensemble danced around the stage in flat black Hasidic hats and side curls singing "Oy, oy, oy." In good taste, of course.
The couple tries too hard to make the relationship work. Aaron’s best friend whispers, “Salads are for pussies!” So, for dinner Casey orders the chop salad when she wants a hamburger, and Aaron orders the hamburger even though he wants the chop salad. Eventually, they trade and are both happy.
Like a Greek chorus the ensemble gives a combination of group and individual advice to both Aaron and Casey. Casey played the "friend" card early and started suggesting her girl friends to Aaron, but in the end, Aaron leaves the ball in her court to call him if she’s interested. He then leaves the bar by himself. Everyone on the stage and the audience are devastated. Casey, realizing that she’s made a mistake, rushes out to look for him. She meets him rushing back in. Ah, the possibility of true love exists.
The staging was excellent, the cast was excellent, the direction was excellent. The musical was directed by Bill Berry who directed “Wonderful Town” at the 5th Avenue a few seasons ago. We loved it. The set design was by Matthew Smucker who designed the sets for two of our favorite musicals at the 5th Avenue, “Oklahoma!” and “Candide”. He designed the sets of some of our favorite ACT productions as well: “In the Next Room”, “Yankee Tavern”, and “Eurydice”.
The musical was an excellent example of two creative organizations working together to create a work of art. The musical won't win a Nobel Peace Prize, but . . . It's the "but" that makes the story interesting.
The play runs thru May 20th, 2012. Call for tickets or visit online at www.acttheatre.org.