I’m not a big fan of sitcoms – I don’t subscribe to cable or get any TV stations at my apartment – so I was a little disappointed in finding a combination of a sitcom and a romantic comedy on a Broadway stage.
That combination – or fusion, if you will – is called First Date, and it is currently playing the Longacre Theater. With a book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, it stars the appealing combination of Krysta Rodriguez and Zachary Levi and follows two strangers set up on a blind date by their well-meaning friends and family. Throughout the evening – which unfolds in real time, the audience’s perspective of the date is interrupted by flashbacks of horrific former partners, interfering friends and family, and glimpses into the duo’s inner thoughts.
The premise is entertaining enough and extremely relatable – who hasn’t had a horrible blind or first date they can remember with laughs or shudders? But while both Levi and Rodriguez are talented performers, both the book and the music and lyrics are weighed down by pedestrian presentations of stereotypes, none of which are flattering or do the talents of the leading couple justice.
Aaron, played by Levi, is a sweet, goodhearted, slightly nerdish and more than slightly nervous man who was left at the altar by his former fiance. Rodriguez’s Casey is the exact opposite, on paper – sexy, edgy and slightly brittle. She dates casually and frequently, while Aaron is searching for his next big love. Obviously, Casey needs to Let Her Guard Down and Let a Nice Guy In – just like in every other romantic comedy I’ve ever seen.
The score has some entertaining moments – I laughed the first time Casey’s gay best friend called with a “bailout,” providing her with an excuse to leave the date. I smiled the second time he called. By the third voicemail, I was rolling my eyes. And it was entertaining to have the moments from every date – the first impression, the awkward pause – be personified and set to music. Even the question of what one orders at dinner – burger or salad? – and the impression that might make on the other is addressed. But the entire plot is so predictable, without any suspense or tension, that, despite the more entertaining moments, the musical does not feel like a complete product.
Levi, of TV’s “Chuck,” is making his Broadway debut in First Date, but given the polish of his performance, one would not know it. He inhabits Aaron’s awkwardness with ease and is thoroughly charming. The evening’s definite highlight takes place when, encouraged by Casey, he tells off his former fiance in the song, “In Love With You.” Both singing and dancing as the repressed, geeky man, he brightens up the show substantially – for about three minutes.
Rodriguez, sadly, is not given nearly as much to work with. A talented stage and screen presence, from The Addams Family and NBC’s “Smash,” she does what she can with Casey – but even for her, that is not much. Casey is a collection of stereotypes – quirky, with an angled haircut, reading “The Power of Now,” wearing aggressive high-heeled boots – but this scrapbook does not add up to a real person. Her one big number is about how she is scared to be vulnerable in a relationship and it’s safer to remain aloof and date a lot of people at once.
It is worth noting that the musical was written by three men, which I had to keep in mind as I registered my disappointment with the character of Casey. I wholeheartedly wish that one day I could watch a romantic comedy that has more conflict and characterization for women than her simply deciding to “let a good man love her.” So much is asked of women today, and they face so much conflict, both personal and professional – why are their struggles in love only portrayed as either letting a Good Man In or Trying to Have It All? Given all that women achieve and accomplish in today’s culture, don’t they deserve more honor and recognition than this tired old cliche?
Joining Levi and Rodriguez are Bryce Ryness, Kristoffer Cusick, Sara Chase and Kate Loprest, who play the exes, friends and family members that interrupt Casey and Aaron, while Bryce Ryness plays the slightly over-friendly waiter. Everyone gives entertaining performances, and one wishes they had more to work with.
I left First Date thinking, “I’ve experienced worse,” which I have, but if asked to go out again, I would say no.