Book: Austin Winsberg
Music and Lyrics: Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner
Director: Dean Johnson
If you do get the chance to see this musical it might be best to speed through the dialogue and just settle with the songs. These are fantastically catchy, and jam-packed with neat rhymes, ironic jokes and funny put-downs, but the spoken conversation between a couple on their first date is so clunky that it might have you hiding behind your cushion. Nice songs, shame about the book.
Aaron and Casey are on a blind date; he’s arrived early and is nervous and awkward. Contrarily, Casey is an old hand at this, calling herself a ‘serial dater’, and she expects little from this latest date, which has been organised by her brother-in-law. So used to first dates, Casey has become jaded and this has made her rather cruel. She teases Aaron mercilessly to the point of making up a troublesome four-year-old son, father unknown, whom she still breastfeeds.
What Aaron sees in her is hard to fathom at first but when he tells her his life story, after a rocky hour in which they banter relentlessly and humourlessly, Casey softens her approach. Could this date be a success after all? As the couple, Samantha Barks and Simon Lipkin do all they can to make their characters real, but the dialogue they have to speak is cumbersome and repetitive: it’s a shame that director Dean Johnson didn’t cut some of the lines from Austin Winsberg’s book to focus more strongly on the songs by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner.
Lipkin has the perfect voice for this kind of New York musical, performed first in 2012, low, and always slightly amused or surprised and so it’s a little disappointing not to hear more of it. He only has a few songs, and only one solo, the angry and revengeful In Love With You. Barks, too, only has the one solo, and while it’s a beauty of a ballad, the heartfelt Safer doesn’t quite fit with all the jibes and the wisecracks we expect from her character.
Working even harder than Lipkin and Barks are Oscar Conlon-Morrey, Nicholas McLean and Danielle Steers who play a whole host of other characters. Amid many roles Conlon-Morrey plays the cheeky waiter who has to serve the argumentative couple but his own number, the Hollywood showbiz sounding I’d Order Love, is rather ruined by his constant gurning. He has a very strong voice but the comedy is, at times, overdone.
McLean is equally as busy playing best friends of both Aaron and Casey, and his Bailout Song appearing throughout the show is increasingly funny and frenetic while Steers has to play Aaron’s dead mother, his ex-girlfriend, as well as Casey’s sister and a Hello Dolly personification of Google. Best of all is her duet with Aaron, the emotional The Things I Never Said, but again, like Safer, this song seems plucked from another musical.
Most of Aaron and Casey’s date is filmed within Crazy Coqs, the stylish cabaret bar in Piccadilly Circus, and it does take some time to get used to the sound quality and some words get lost forever in the empty space. While the audio quality is better in the videos that are incorporated within this 100-minute show, it’s still good to see a performance space being used for a digital production.
Towards the end when, finally, Aaron and Casey start being nice to each other, the show improves and the dialogue is, at last, worth a listen. But the songs and the performers are the draws here. First Date resembles a first date in itself, when one of you just won’t stop talking while the other one just wants to get down to business.
Reviewed on 24 October 2020