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Review: 'First Date' is familiar fun

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First dates are so very awkward, aren’t they? And we’ve all had them, whether recently or fifty years ago. There are the awkward pauses, the more modern dilemma of who pays the bill, the leave-taking moment (to kiss? to shake hands? to hug?), it’s a wonder anyone gets through one to make it to the second date!

All these issues and more are on display as the 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT Theatre combine their producing strengths and mount a world premiere musical, First Date. Up front, you must know it’s already selling so well you might have trouble getting tickets with seats together! It’s partly due to that combination of 5th and ACT subscribers and x number of seats already filled by them. But if you scramble to get seats, you’re in for a funny evening with intricately crafted lyrics and very recognizable moments.

With book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, the musical doesn’t break new ground, but mines very familiar aspects with up-to-date pop culture insertions (Glee joke here, please). In a real-time first date setting, we also meet the unseen characters inside the daters’ heads: the best friends, the parents, even ancestors, and a therapist.

A winning cast (they are all well-known talent) is headed by Eric Ankrim and Kelly Karbacz, who stumble and bumble through, almost stopping the date, and then finding a way to keep it going. Ankrim plays a slightly uptight “nice guy” (Aaron) which is a problem for arty, tarty, smarty Casey (Karbacz), who has fallen for “bad boys” most of the time. An over-the-top funny Benjamin Harris (throughout the evening), and smooth Brandon O’Neill sing to her about their lack of emotional availability.

Then there’s the matter of religious differences (while terribly stereotypical, it still produces an hysterical ancestral moaning song including a grandmother (Billie Wildrick) who sings about admitting to “shtupping a shvartze” but still being upset.) Casey has a bestie Gay guy who is ready to help her bail if she needs to (Ben Harris also). The restaurant they meet in has a singing waiter (Richard Gray) who tries to help their mood with I’d Order Love. They even Google each other to see what foibles they can find, in case there are any deal-breakers.

The support cast plays multiple in-the-mind-only roles. Vicki Noon plays Aaron’s leave-you-at-the-alter ex-Allison, who he still moons about, and Billie Wildrick plays Casey’s best friend, newly happily married and wanting the same for Casey, if she’d just give the “nice guy” a chance. Brandon O’Neill also plays Aaron asshole best friend who knows how to get tail and plays the invisible wingman.

A sleek minimalist set by Matthew Smucker is augmented with a lovely city-scene to suggest an any-large-city date. Versatile costumes by Frances Kenny work well, although Casey’s sheath is fidgety for her. Director Bill Berry keeps the zing in everyone’s step. And the small musical band, led by RJ Tancioco, provides sure musical sound.

The jokes are pretty great and the topic is universal. You just probably don’t want to take a first date to it; it could be just a bit too awkwardly immediate. Otherwise, hurry and get your tickets before you miss your chance. For more information, call the 5th Avenue at 206-625-1900 or ACT at 206-292-7676.