Not that I ever had high hopes for First Date with its bland-o-riffic media campaign about how it is a "hysterical and hopeful new Broadway musical about the chances we all take to find love." I'm not kidding, you guys…that is actually the show's boiler plate. You know, some revolutionary ideas. Except not really.
But First Date, now open at the Longacre Theater, is…well, let me put it this way. I was sitting with my BFF and after every (utterly obvious and forgettable) music number causing the audience to burst out into applause, I tilted my head and did that slow-clap thing before looking at her, hoping she would look back at me with the same reaction. She did. And by the show's end, I was all, "is that it?" Not that I wanted the show to continue passed its 100-minute runtime (one of two redeeming aspects of the show), but I was surprised something this under designed is playing on Broadway.
To be blunt…student work. Maybe decent-level student work, but even the best student work should never amount to something more then a regional production or a festival. As in, if I saw this at Fringe or NYMF, I would have patted it on its head with a, "good try, dear" and laughed over sushi at its lofty ambitions of making it to Broadway.
This would be the part where I go into the story…except you know it already. Two insanely unlikeable characters are on a first date and despite no discernible chemistry or common ground, they stumble through the evening with tension and awkward moments galore. Except where it could have been consistently funny or cute or emotional, it failed on every count. And the moment when the edgy, artistic girl starts falling for the sweet, business, quaint guy when he trots out mention of his dead mother - which is then followed up with a song - I mean, come onnnnnnnn.
Oh, but it is not just the two of them on this date. Because we can't have that now, can we? The ensemble takes the form of friends, family, the bitch ex-wife etc. and generate conversation with the inner thoughtspeak of our first daters. They also provide the "interludes/transitional songs" (if you can call them that) to advance the story forward. I'm sorry, but no. This should not be a Broadway musical when it looks indistinguishable from your standard live-action cartoon or 90's teen programming. It was a cliche by the time Lizzie McGuire came around…and that was well over a decade ago.
Anyways…"under designed" is the most operative descriptor when it comes to First Date. With the book carrying little-to-no levity, Bill Berry's direction only compounds the show's issues. There are only three major stage-transitions and most of the character interactions are relegated to…immobile conversations? The whole thing has the vision and graphic quality of an Atari video game. Actually, you know what...an Atari video game has more depth and dimension than this show. Uh oh...
None of this is meant to take away from Zachary Levi's high-profile Broadway debut though. He was pretty much left out to dry with the all-around bleh material and his "I don't give a shit" co-star in Krysta Rodriguez. But the laughs he earns - what little there are - and his nerdy-awkward charisma are notable contributions and obscure the show into thinking it is slightly better then what it really is. He does get one stunner of a moment though - a song-and-dance beltastic number about how he really feels about his ex-wife. It helps that it is the best song of the show (although that is not saying much), but Levi sells it and earned one of theater's highest comparisons from me - he 'Norberted" it. It makes me wonder what he is capable of if he is given quality material - I have no doubt he'll escape from this fiasco of a show untainted.
The same can't be said for Rodriguez, whom at best, is disappointingly AWFUL. I know, I KNOW…this is the girl, whom by all means, had a decent resume and a certain level of talent before her exposure with Smash. Hell, she utilized that platform to make herself look good, tearing up dive bars with her Beyonce covers and defying gravity with "Cirque de Krysta." For this go-around, she can't play the "it's the material" card…seriously, how does she explain herself here? She's all, "I'm wearing a shift dress with a lace overlay" - and she is a strikingly beautiful girl - but she clearly wasn't trying when it came to the acting and singing. She managed to make her unlikeable heroine EVEN MORE unlikeable with her, "wutevs, can't wait until this show's run is over" energy. Girl down. GIRL. DOWN.
As opposed to belaboring the point that I was just not a fan of this show, I'll leave you with this inner soliloquy of mine as I was flipping through the Playbill at the end of the show trying to decipher what the hell just happened…
- Begin Scene -
"Who, on earth, thought this show was a good idea?"
"Who could possibly think this is quality?"
** Notices that most of the producer's claim-to-fame is Memphis **
"Oooohhhhhhhhhh. That's who."
"But yeah, no. No. Nope."
** Exhaunts and stomp walks out of the Longacre Theater. Gazes at billboard of Krysta Rodriguez. Shakes head. Dramatic hairflip. Leaves. **
- End Scene -
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus