First Date has tons of things going for it. Much of its appeal comes from its bankable premise- everyone can relate to the fears and anxieties of dating. If musicals function by transforming moments of angst and self-reflection into larger-than-life musical numbers, a first date has plenty to musical number moments to derive. First Date also banks on its stars. Krysta Rodriguez has an Emma Stone-like appeal with a little more edge and much better pipes. Zachary Levi’s Broadway debut only solidifies his status as a likable, nerd-chic, and incredibly versatile actor. Going from Chuck to First Date and on to the upcoming Thor film is a bold move but if Levi’s stage presence is any sign of his work to come, I’m super excited.
However, I’d say that First Date‘s greatest virtue is its efficiency. Besides a bit of a disposable opening number, every song is fun, witty, and sometimes touching. The entire musical is a concise hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission, which means it doesn’t make the mistake of thinking that longer and bigger is necessarily better. Each member of the chorus becomes an essential part of the action, taking on multiple roles as family members, friends, exes, and other influential voices that lend a peek into what is actually at stake in Aaron (Levi) and Casey’s (Rodriguez) encounter. There’s Aaron’s ex (Kate Loprest), with whom he feels anything but closure, and his nonchalant best friend (Bryce Ryness) who is desperately trying to get Aaron laid. Aaron’s Jewish grandmother (Sara Chase) also makes an appearance when Aaron discovers that Casey is not Jewish, as does their potential future son, a rebellious teen with daddy issues and a lots of religious confusion. On Casey’s side are her married-with-children sister, a slew of ‘bad boy’ exes she wishes she could yearn for, and her gay best friend (Kristoffer Cusick) who calls to bail her out of a potentially terrible date. Seeing the chorus members transform into each of these characters is one of the highlights of the show and they each give memorable performances.
Maybe because of this small, intimate atmosphere, I feel like the show would feel a lot more at home at a smaller Off-Broadway theater. The space of the Broadway theater feels too large and too formal for a show with this frankness and economy.