First AND Blind is the deal here. Date that is. The show opens with a terrific quartet of talent Sara Chase, Kristoffer Cusick, Kate Loprest and Bryce Ryness all doing their best to deliver clichés about bad first dates. Loprest has one of the best lines in the show and delivers it with panache: I don’t care if you can make it look like the Eiffel Tower. I still don’t want to see it!
This, however, is followed by a very troublesome line that Kristopher Cusick is actually able to make sound funny: Well, if we’re being honest, I guess I should tell you – I’m not allowed within fifty feet of a playground…
And this is the first inkling that we are in serious trouble. Because the writers of this show actually think sexual abuse of a minor is joke material.
To be sure, they never dig that low again, but they hover over the mediocre line on the dial for 98% of this show and leave it to the performers to cover the blemishes. We call this tactic the Drive By. But this is the theatre, and for an actor ANY show is better than NO show, so these folks pick up the soggy material and run with it.
Aaron (Zachary Levi) is a Nice Jewish Boy who deals in finance – mergers and acquisitions. His friend has set him up on a date with Casey (Krysta Rodriquez) who is everything Aaron is not. She is not nice, and she cares nothing about being responsible and doing deadly dull work until she saves up enough money to support a family – etc. etc. etc. And Golly Jee Whiz, you will be surprised to hear this, but these two opposites end up being attracted to one another!! Casey discovers she has a heart and Aaron discovers he has a spine. ROMANCE blossoms!
Their journey, if you can call it that, is told in flashbacks during which one of the two freezes where they sit, and the other deals with all the people from the past who have opinions on how that character should be living life. As a matter of fact, for the first half of the show these two actors spend more time either frozen or talking to the past than they do to one another. It’s a good thing that the supporting cast is so solid, because this is a gimmick that becomes tired after the second go-round.
There is nothing remarkable about either Levi or Rodriguez. They are easy on the eyes and charming but not electrifying. I never saw Levi in Chuck. I am the sole New Yorker to have never seen Smash, and therefore was the one person in the audience who didn’t recognize Rodriguez. Perhaps if this duo had characters that were fully formed humans, these two would have something to do other than wait for the inevitable moment when they connect.
That being said, the audience all around me was enthusiastic and supportive all evening long. The thrill of seeing television personalities onstage appeared to be enough to buoy them up quite well. Their responses were perfect over and over again – almost like a laugh track on How I Met Your Mother. Mediocrity on television is now extending its reach to the theatre, and the audience I was with gobbled up their Happy Meal. So be it. At least they came to the theatre. One can only hope that they continue to do so long enough to someday witness great theatre, after which they will leave the dark side, or in this case the mediocre side, behind them for good. The same way some people go to The Olive Garden before they go to Italy.
In the mean time - except for all the F-Bombs being tossed around the stage, First Date is a family friendly show about never giving up on love. That is the nicest thing that can be said about it.
"Does any of the following sound familiar? An instant lack of rapport; a growing aversion as the minutes pass; a mysterious sense that time has suddenly stopped; a desperate hope that the apocalypse will arrive, preferably right this minute. Magnify those feelings, set them to bland pop-rock music, and you’ll have some idea of the oodles of fun I didn’t have. ... A more appropriate title for 'First Date' would be 'Last Rites.' "
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Let’s just say it: The mating-game musical “First Date” isn’t first-rate. Third-tier is more like it."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"'First Date,' smoothly directed by Bill Berry, is a very pleasant show. Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner’s pop-rock score won’t dominate anybody’s iPod, but it’s perfectly adequate. The supporting cast does wonders in a variety of roles, especially the funny Kristoffer Cusick as Casey’s panicky gay friend, Reggie.
But the show really rests on (Zachary) Levi’s shoulders — and he carries it effortlessly."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"It's loud, busy and overbearing, nearly suffocating its simple story under a truckload of shtick."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"This is one 'First Date' you don’t want to end."
Roma Torre for NY!
"Nonetheless the musical proves to be mighty entertaining along the same humorous lines of 'I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change' in that its familiar middle-of-the-road material is brightly rendered through solid craftsmanship, several doses of sentiment and a smart production."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"This modest, unassuming tuner is a definite crowd-pleaser."
Frank Scheck for The Hollywood Reporter
"Entertaining, but not overly pushy show."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...