First Date

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater
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First Date is enjoying its Southern California premiere in an energetic production at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. The show, which features a book by Austin Weinsberg and music & lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, had its world premiere in Seattle in 2012. It opened on Broadway the following year.

 

Aaron (Marc Ginsburg) and Casey (Erica Lustig) are the awkward pair navigating the treacherous seas of a first date. Aaron has been out of the dating pool since being left at the altar by his fiancée, and Casey is a serial-dater with a less-than-stellar track record with men.

 

First dates have long been the target of easy laughs on sitcoms, and Winsberg’s book explores many of the most familiar clichés—he’s Jewish and she’s Christian; she’s artsy and he’s uptight; he’s looking for a wife and she’s chasing after rocker bad-boys. But, to his credit, Winsberg’s book looks beyond the laughs to the universal experience, while Zachary and Weiner’s sprightly score and genuinely funny lyrics help breathe life into the otherwise stock situations.

Also helping enormously is the tight and meticulous direction by Nick DeGruccio which never lets the energy sag. He guides Ginsburg and Lustig to engaging performances which have us rooting for them. And, if the multiple roles played by the talented five-member ensemble are mostly caricatures, DeGruccio makes sure that their moments are fleet and funny. None overstays their welcome in this 90-minute entertainment.

Though dates have two participants, Ginsburg’s Aaron is the anchor for the show (not surprising with a male creative team), and he is persuasive as a nervous first-time blind date. Lustig proves to be a strong foil for him and brings a feisty charm to Casey. Both have powerful voices and know how to phrase for ultimate effect. The hard-working ensemble includes Scott Dreier, Stacey Oritano, Justin Michael Wilcox, Kelley Dorney and Leigh Wakeford. All are excellent performers and grab their moments to shine: Dreier as the sweet Waiter with dreams, Dorney’s egotistical Allison (Aaron’s ex), Wilcox’s no-nonsense best friend to Aaron, Wakeford as Casey’s acerbic gay bestie and Oritano as Casey’s incredulous sister.

Lee Martino expertly enlivens the proceedings with a surprising amount of choreography, and Brent Crayon leads the band in a stylish reading of the score. Stephen Gifford’s urban bar/restaurant is attractive and, if it’s a bit too spacious to be believable as a Manhattan eatery, it suits the near fairy tale style of the show.

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts    September 18 – October 11, 2015 www.lamiradatheatre.com