Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Review of "First Date"

The angst, the anticipation of a first date is laid bare in the comic musical First Date, receiving a sparkling production at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury.  The 90 minute, intermission-less show plays through April 7th.

The production can be quite funny even though it mines typical first date embarrassments and mortifying moments. 
First Date 3- Front Row L to Right- Nikko Youros, Constantine  Pappas (seated),  Anna Laura Strider.  Second row L to R,  Carly Valancy, Jimmy Donohue and Ethan Kirschbaum. In back...Christina Carlucci.  Photo credit Paul Roth

We are introduced to Aaron, uptight and painfully uncomfortable; and Casey, cool, calm, and collected with a decidedly downtown, indie aura.  The mismatched duo, played winningly by Constantine Pappas and Christine Carlucci, painfully, yet humorously, portray the missteps and blunders associated with these virgin rendezvouses.  The laughs and awkward situations are amplified and embellished by a talented four-person ensemble playing a number of different roles.

When the show debuted on the New York stage it didn’t quite work as a fully sustainable musical.  The production almost became lost within its the large Broadway venue.  At the much smaller Seven Angels, the intimacy and charm can be more fully realized.  The audience feels as if it is a part of what’s taking place on stage rather then simply observing.

The book by Austin Winsberg is perky, perceptive, and slyly observant.  There is a slight dramatic arc to the story—will these two unlikeliest of characters hook up in the end—but, for the most part, the librettist seems to be having fun crafting good-natured scenes that gently poke fun rather than aim for biting, cynical cleverness. 

The score by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner is bouncy, somewhat tuneful, and full of Borscht Belt schtick.  The musical interludes almost have a revue quality to them with titles such as “First Impressions,” “The Awkward Pause,” and “The Check!” 

Constantine Pappas’s Aaron has fine comic timing and an appealing singing voice.  He manages to add a layered nuance to the role that distinctively rounds out his character from just a one-trick sad sack.  Christine Carlucci’s Casey, edgier, exuding both self-confidence as well as a certain vulnerability, is the Ying to Pappas’ Yang.  Or maybe the oil to his vinegar.  Both performers, unsure and uneasy at first, develop an appealing chemistry by the show’s end.  The rest of the engaging cast deserves recognition—Anna Laura Strider, Ethan Kirschbaum, Carly Valancy, and Niko Touros.  They come to life singing and donning various guises throughout the show, performing their varied roles with professionalism and aplomb.  Special mention goes to James Donohue who, primarily, portrays an effervescent and jovial waiter to nonstop comic relief.

Director Sasha Bratt skillfully pulls all the elements of the production together to create a highly satisfying whole, which is difficult since the basic plot simply centers around two people sitting in a bar trying to get to know each other.  He enlivens this matter-of-fact scenario by continuously and seamlessly integrating the four ensemble cast members into the production without halting the flow of the musical.  Bratt smartly gives the actor James Donohue room to display his comic talents.  The Director also infuses subtle, somber mood shifts within the show which gives the production more balance.

Emily Nichols has created a stylish set piece that would be the envy of any New York City bar.

First Date, lighthearted and entertaining, playing at Seven Angels Theatre through April 7th.

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