PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Aug. 2-9: First Date Opens on Broadway, Harbor Docks at 59E59 and Pal Joey Makes a Friend at Arkansas Rep

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09 Aug 2013

Krysta Rodriguez
Krysta Rodriguez
Joan Marcus

First Date experienced its first date with the New York critics Aug. 8 and the evening was a rocky one.

The new work, which received a Seattle premiere co-produced by A.C.T. and the 5th Avenue Theatre, features a book by Austin Winsberg, with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. Starring as the set-up couple are Krysta Rodriguez, as chic "serial-dater" Casey, and Zachary Levi, as uptight Aaron. Their date unfolds in real time, with various detours into the character's pasts, via Google background checks, fake emergency phone calls, supportive best friends, manipulative exes and protective parents. (Ah, the modern dating scene!)

According to the creators, the musical was written when they followed the common dictum "Write what you know." Apparently, all three men have been on their share of bad first dates. So, call the show autobiographical in triplicate.

"Truly, the scariest thing about this show," said Weiner, "is probably [that] everything is taken from our own lives or our friends' lives in some way. We have friends who will see this show — and maybe they won't be friends with us afterwards!"

The New York Times found the proceedings all too crushingly recognizable. "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," the paper wrote. "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 during my evening at First Date, the singing sitcom that opened on Thursday night at the Longacre Theater." Other reviews also pointed out the show's sitcom-like qualities.

The AP, however, apparently saw a different show. "The book by 'Gossip Girl' writer Austin Winsberg provides the couple with plenty of flippant repartee," went the review. "A madcap mashup of musical styles and lyrics blazing with one-liners are provided by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. Director Bill Berry keeps a steady pace amid the dynamic musical staging by Josh Rhodes. Making his Broadway debut, Levi has a strong leading-man presence, smooth in his dance moves while handling Aaron's nervous gaffes with comedic flair...Rodriguez is polished and cool, gradually showing underlying vulnerability as Casey unbends a little."

Variety, meanwhile, hedged its bets like crazy: "First Date, a romantic musical comedy about the horrors, humiliations and occasional happy surprises of blind dates, is cute (but not too cute) and sweet (but not too sweet). So, indications are that this appealing show will do well (but not too well) on Gotham's Main Stem, despite having come out of nowhere and been assembled by no one you've heard of."



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