The first “real” show to open on Broadway in the 2013-2014 season, following a revival of Forever Tango and another ersatz Beatles tribute, Let It Be, the musical First Date gets things off to a summery start. From rainy Seattle originated a production that maintains a sunny flavor, though it throbs with an anxiety familiar to anyone who’s undergone the title ordeal.
The new-to-Broadway composers, Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, have toiled at Disney, and while a basic sweetness underlies the conception, songs entitled “Bailout No. 1” and “The Awkward Pause” ensure that there will be no meet-cute between Aaron (Zachary Levi) and Casey (Krysta Rodriguez). He’s a “BDV” (Blind Date Virgin), she’s a “BDS” (Blind Date Slut), and for a good chunk of this fast-paced, witty show it’s the blind leading the blind, as the painfully uptight Aaron and the seen-it-all Casey fail to connect on any level, including drink orders. (She’s cocktails and chasers, he’s “beer, in a manly glass.”) Refereeing at the restaurant where they’ve met is a singing gay waiter (Blake Hammond) who offers the resistance-breaking anthem “I’d Order Love.” Seated at the other tables are a quartet of second bananas who portray the voices in Aaron and Casey’s heads, who advise and criticize, taunt and torment … then begin to suggest, as they open up to one another, that they may have a future together, if they can make it to the final number, “The Check!”
If this rom-com smacks of sitcom, complete with not one but two homosexual characters who play to the rafters (the other, Casey’s best friend, breaks in with the “bailout” phone calls to free her from the evening), well, it does. But it’s a good situation for a compact, 90-minute musical, garnished with some choice laughs provided by book writer Austin Winsberg, of TV’s Gossip Girl. And the two leads, also drawn from the small screen, keep it from becoming overly synthetic. Rodriguez, a Broadway baby who made a splash on Smash, is terrific as the guarded Casey, who strikes like a cobra with her zingers, then gradually unwinds as Aaron spills his sad story of a prior failed relationship. Levi, who showed musical chops off-screen as the voice of the braggart hero in Disney’s animated feature Tangled, proves a winning song-and-sort-of dance man onstage in his Broadway debut. A funny one, too, one who performs an entire scene with a pickle in his mouth. That’s acting.
Given a smart production by director Bill Berry, First Date is worth your acquaintance. The composers have a musical of the film Secondhand Lions due in, and I look forward to continuing the relationship.