By Jonathan Edmondson
When “First Date” had its opening night in the beginning of August, the Internet was already filled with acidic comments from message-board attackers who virtually ripped the show apart. They called it “tacky,” “cliché” and “boring with an uninspired score and lackluster performances.” The professional reviews that followed were equally as harsh, splashing negative headlines across their Arts & Entertainment pages.
When I went to the Longacre Theatre for a Sunday matinee, three days after the show’s official opening on Thursday, Aug. 8, the street outside was lined with eager ticket holder, who were not scared off by reviews and came for a new musical with a talented cast.
The show ran for approximately 90 minutes without intermission. I can proudly say that not only did I laugh at the musical comedy, but shed a few tears, too.
Krysta Rodriguez, from “Smash” and “In the Heights,” plays Casey, an artsy New Yorker who is set up on a blind date with the geeky Aaron, played by Zachary Levi from “Chuck,” who makes an electric Broadway debut. I will be the first to admit that the story starts out cliché. Casey is hip and sly, while Aaron is timid and brainy. Despite the unoriginality in concept, the plot takes off when Aaron and Casey decide to continue the date over dinner.
What follows is a hilariously heartwarming tale of two lost souls who somehow need each other. The audience gets to know the characters as Aaron and Casey get to know each other. I felt like I was on the date, too, wishing along with everyone else in the audience that the two would find some way to work it out.
Rodriguez, in her first lead Broadway role, plays Casey with the perfect mixture of sass and sincerity. She’s vulnerable when it is least expected and guarded when she needs to let loose. Her ballad “Safer” is a musical highlight, showcasing Rodriguez’s smooth vocals and trained accuracy. The emotion and fight in her voice absorb the audience straight into her mind, giving us a glimpse of why Casey is who she is.
Making his Broadway debut, Levi commands the stage with charm and precision. His show-stopping number, “In Love with You,” is the most surprising, hysterical number in the whole show. A breathless Levi had to freeze for a long time after his song, for the audience would not cease clapping.
“First Date” may not win any Tonys, but it does not have to. It is exactly what Broadway needs right now. In a theater universe where so many unoriginal ideas are performed each night, it is truly refreshing to see an entirely new musical. The characters have the potential to fall flat, but each member of the seven-person cast brings the script to life in exciting ways.
“First Date” proves that original, successful musicals are risky, but utterly shine when done correctly. The chemistry between Rodriguez and Levi is electric, and both actors prove that this will certainly not be their last date with Broadway.