San Diego Theater Review: FIRST DATE (San Diego Musical Theatre at Horton Grand Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on April 9, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


The device of having characters receive advice from a conscience or someone from their past is tried and true in musicals: They’re Playing Our Song‘s Vernon’s gets help from his Greek Chorus “boys”; Grease‘s Frenchy is (beauty)schooled by the Teen Angel; and now, First Date‘s Aaron and Casey get input, helpful or not, from a variety of people stepping in from both present and past.

Aaron (Joshua David Cavanaugh) is a nervous, decidedly uncool financial adviser. Casey (Cassandra Nuss) is a hard-edged, serial dater who has a history of poor choices in her love life. Casey’s sister sets them on a blind date, but not because they are seemingly a good fit; she has a far-fetched hope that, if Casey meets someone who is simply nice, it will set her straight. Austin Winsberg’s book and Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner’s songs take us from their awkward first introductions to the end of their ill-fitted date. For 95 intermissionless minutes, the two get no break from each other, nor do we from them. Fortunately, the palpable tension is delicious and the songs are definitely entertaining so no respite is desired.

Interventions by others are mostly found in breakout songs, such as The “Bailout Song” series—in which someone calls her cell phone to offer an escape—and “The World Wide Web Is Forever,” detailing how people now research their dates before showing up. Additionally, director J. Scott Lapp’s uses freeze-frame asides with characters in spotlights so that Casey and Aaron also get quick, spoken advice during their conversation. Both mental and actual telephonic interference from characters like Casey’s hyper-sensitive gay best friend Reggie (Jon Sangster) and Aaron’s unresolved ex-girlfriend Allison (Lindsay Joan) heighten the stakes while adding some hearty laughter along the way.

While there aren’t any catchy songs, they are clever and engaging enough in the moment, and the cast conveys them with pleasing humor. Jon Lorenz (who co-created miXtape) leads the rock-band combo well, the only exception being the opening number, “The One,” when they drowned out about half the lyrics; the front half of the Horton Grand Theatre was laughing but the back half was lost. Thankfully, the problem rarely occurred after that.

San Diego Musical Theatre has earned a solid reputation for producing quality revivals of well-known shows that are mostly family-friendly; for the most part, the double entendres of their recent 9-to-5 are about as edgy as this company gets. First Date is outside that sweet little bubble; patrons put off by F-bombs and other off-color references are duly warned (the most risqué thing about the upcoming Damn Yankees is the title).

As social missteps and faux pas abound, Aaron and Casey reveal more about themselves than they intend. Might they actually be good for each other? Or should they try to make it as friends? Or do we sometimes have to accept that not every couple should spend more time together? Don’t worry—all of this will be answered in a bouncy look at a dating culture that is fast disappearing in the face of this electronic age.

photos by Ken Jacques and Shawna Sarnowski

First Date
San Diego Musical Theatre Off-Broadway Series
Horton Grand Theatre, 444 Fourth Ave
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 4 & 8; Sun at 2
ends on May 7, 2017
for tickets, call 858.560.5740 or visit SDMT

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