A Broadway musical turned streamed extravaganza, First Date is a co-production from Lambert Jackson and Crazy Coqs and features an awkward encounter between Jewish Aaron (Simon Lipkin) and agnostic Casey (Samantha Barks).
She is a serial dater, he is still tied to the memory of the girlfriend he remembers as perfect. Self-assured woman meets unprepared man, and if you’ve seen those dating reality shows in prime time, you’ll know the drill, right down to the over-familiar waiter.
Filmed within different areas of The Crazy Coqs and outdoors (including in the Leake Street Tunnels), First Date is heavy on extraneous dialogue which isn’t as funny as it thinks it is, but makes up for this with musical numbers which are staged in such style and humour that you can’t help but stay with the story to see where it ends.
First Date works well in this digital format, with characters manifesting from voices in our daters’ heads, and their doubts and hang-ups. The supporting trio of (Oscar Conlon-Morrey, Nicholas McLean, Danielle Steers) take on the mantle of many diverse characters as the musical progresses, with ‘The Money Man’ and ‘The Woman’ particularly memorable.
Slightly dodgy US accents aside (mentions of American colleges and ‘pap smears’ anchors the location across the pond), Lipkin’s manic and nervous comedy and Barks’ quiet cynicism are a good blend as their chemistry develops.
The score, by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, is said in publicity to be ‘contemporary rock’ but it often has a more traditional feel in classical musical style. I would have preferred less chat, more singing, but there are scenes that make you laugh and an ending full of pathos.
I’m not sure First Date is a show I would necessarily watch again if it ever gets staged as a full production in the UK, but it is a welcome addition to the digital space: quirky, knowing, endearingly awkward, innovative and inventive.
A musical which brings back memories of everything from The Muppets to Dreamgirls via a noirish nightmare is OK by me, and Dean Johnson’s production is ultimately a success.
First Date is available online until 24 October 2020.