‘First Date – The Musical’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by September 22, 2017

‘First Date – Broadway’s musical comedy’ is based on a book by Austin Winsberg. Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner added the lively, catchy music and the hilarious lyrics. The musical had its world premiere in 2012 at Seattle’s ACT Theatre. Many congratulations to Lorna Mackie of Blak Yak Theatre who spotted this most entertaining show and brought it to Shenton Park Community Centre Theatre, 240 Onslow Road, Shenton Park. The two-hour performances are on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays at 8.00 pm. until Saturday 7th October’

The scene is an up-market pub, with functional bar, and sets of tables and chairs. The walls are black drapes but with contemporary, wall to floor, illuminated white panels. This design was created, and built by the technical manager, Mike McAllan. Matthew Ward operated Don Allen’s inventive and moody lighting. Stage manager, Lynda Stubbs and her assistant Cassidy Bodenham, were faced with a minor drama last night when a pint of beer was spilled on the set, instantly resolved.

Tyler Eldridge smoothly operated Mike McAllan’s complex, multi-cue sound design and the performers’ headsets.

 

         30 years old Aaron (Tom Hutton) is a nervous, nerdy young man who once had a partner, but that was eons ago. When his best friend, Gabe (Mitch Lawrence) becomes fed-up with Aaron being a sad bore, Gabe suggests to his wife, Lauren (Arianne Westcott) that she should get her smartly dressed, trendy cousin, Casey (Cassie Skinner) who is an experienced serial-dater, to join Aaron on a blind date.

        Aaron arrives at a smart eatery, and is greeted by the waiter (James Hynson). Seeing how petrified Aaron is, and on learning that he has arrived to meet a blind date still dressed in his work suit, the waiter gives him a few tips at looking ‘cool’. When Casey arrives, bubbling with personality, Aaron is already on the back foot.

        In the first of several freeze frames, we see how each of the couple perceive each other, and what the others in the restaurant think. When our good Jewish boy, Aaron discovers that Casey is a gentile, in a dream sequence, Aaron’s grandmother (Therese Cruise) arrives and warns him against the Shiksa. His friends with their peyot (ringlet sidelocks) desperately try to turn him against Casey.

       As the conversation progresses, Casey’s mobile rings. It is her gay friend (Jason Nettle) giving her a ‘safety call’ – an excuse for her to escape from her suitor should he be terrible.

       When Aaron starts talking about Alison (Helen Kerr), the future for the couple looks bleak; can it get better? Or will it only get worse?

 

Director, Lorna Mackie, has presented numerous quality musicals, and with the assistance of Simon Brett has brought us another triumph.

Bandleader, Liam Gobbert, conducted a VERY well balanced group of musicians. Talitha Dunn played a selection of reed instruments, Joanne Harnett and Jay Anderson were on keyboards, Paul Marion played bass, and Alex Kent (thankfully in a small venue) was wisely on electronic drum platters. The musicians had a fine feel for the atmosphere and rhythm of the performance. Helen Kerr surprised the audience when she added to one number with a flute solo.

As I watched the numbers, I was in awe of the cast’s superb singing qualities. All eight actors had powerful voices, with most performers having two or three, comfortable octaves to play with. Their warmth and ability to pass this onto the audience was unusually good. Great work by Tyler Eldridge, who was the musical director. The cast were required to give dramatic performances, and yet deliver very humorous lines with dry delivery. They had a couple of intricate dance routines (choreographer Sarah Rose-Kelly) – again impeccable, and so I was not surprised to read the actors’ résumés, and find that most had a WAAPA training and numerous appearances in the Finley Awards listings.

The costumes ranged from daggy to sexy and wild. Clever work by Lynda Stubbs and Emma Ward. Another highlight was a puppet sequence operated by James Hynson – hysterical.

Congratulations to all concerned, and to Christie Strauss on her success as a first time production manager, by pulling the whole show flawlessly together.

The venue is well equipped, but quite small – around 65 seats – and I am certain that when the word gets around it will sell out quickly. A quality musical in every aspect.