acting chicago

REVIEW: "First Date" at The Royal George Theatre

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 molly

I don’t care how the two have met, whether through a mutual friend, Tinder, walking their dogs separately and realizing they were at the same anti-puppy mill rally the week amount of shared interests could stave off at least one awkward moment during a first date. And I was just #blessed to witness the most awkward date of them all with cameos made by the pair’s Jewish mother, douchey best friend, ex-fiance, and 70s blazer clad therapist. Well, let me be honest...I just saw the recently departed Broadway musical First Date making its Chicago premiere at The Royal George Theatre! First date goers Aaron (Charlie Lubeck), a buttoned-up accountant and Casey (Dana Parker), a “hip” art gallery assistant, two textbook incongruous beings, share an evening dissecting each others differences while embracing that they might not be as different as meets the eye.

Though our main focus is on the title date, this show is all about the ensemble, and an incredibly versatile one at that! The ensemble members, Woman 1 (Cassie Slater), Woman 2 (Anne Litchfield Calderon), Man 1 (Shea Coffman), Man 2 (Adam Fane), and Man 3 (John Keating) portray various people from Aaron and Casey’s past, present, and future both in the flesh and as figments of their imaginations. Fane produced one of the more memorable performances of the evening as Casey’s flamboyant bestie, Reggie who believes himself her savior by calling her phone periodically to bail her out of the date. This character is cleverly laced throughout the show and acts as a catalyst for Casey, as each time he calls to come to her rescue, Casey's grip on her mobile device loosens as she gradually warms to Aaron. Fane’s over-the-top, soy sassy, not having being put through to voicemail portrayal of Reggie was a delight to have called back over and over again, as his energy created an undeniable buzz about the room.

Everyone knows that religion is considered a no-fly zone when first meeting anyone, yet this date prematurely flies off course upon Aaron’s coincidental discovery of Casey’s Shiksa or more appropriately put spiritual, not religious, status. This deal breaking revelation for Aaron hurls his imagination into a frenzy, and the ensemble promptly launches into a number (“The Girl For You”) about Casey’s inability to be the one because she, in fact, is not a chosen one. Slater is so deliciously convincing as Aaron's disapproving Jewish Grandmother, with thick rimmed black glasses and a native New York accent to match, she reminded me of someone out of the Bill Cunningham older women archive. Additionally, choreographer Becky DeDecker proves herself a master of her craft throughout the show and especially with this number by interlacing traditional Jewish dancing while at the same time maintaining a necessary contemporary vibe for the musical. 
If an ensemble is only as stunning as it’s stars, Lubeck and Parker prove this to be so. Lubeck is likeable from the get-go, a little soft spoken with impeccable comedic timing, he proves he has some serious acting chops as he takes us on the journey of a simply mediocre flop to a man of believable confidence. While his counterpart Parker does not have a similar warmth to her at first, we realize it is the character’s perpetual nature of putting up walls that makes this initial standoffishness necessary. Parker’s vocal abilities shine in the eleven o’clock number, “Safer” as she masters the challenging ballad with not only amazing power and tone but noticeably healthy vocal placement.

Overall, Parker is a force of talent and radiant beauty, and I was honored to watch her work on stage.
Though the two struggle on their first date to find common ground, Aaron and Casey do like each other by the show’s end. However, is it truly realistic that the couple in question would actually find lasting happiness with each other? NOT EVEN. The storyline for the show in and of itself is a chain of red flags: his questionable attachment to his ex fiance, her commitment issues, their off-base stances on religion, it seems the only thing they actually have in common is their mutual acquaintance who has a fondness for magic tricks.

Even so, this is one of the few flaws I saw with this production and has nothing to do with the performance itself. Chicago’s premiere production of First Date is without a doubt the cutest show on the market, and that is with a capital C. No seriously, by the closing number I was so entranced I think my eyes became cartoon hearts, and I quite literally forgot to breathe forcing an audible fan girl gasp out of my drop-jawed mouth. I loved it. The older woman sitting in front of me who interrupted a quieted moment in the show to lean over and tell her husband, “this is adorable”...She loved it. And without a shadow of a doubt, you will love it too.
First Date
is playing now at The Royal George Theatre for an open ended run Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 7:00 pm/9:30 pm, Saturdays at 5:30 pm/8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm.

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