Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Dean's review of The Father
Not at all. Everything about the plot is a cliché: The opposites attract set-up. The Jewish boy and the shiksa (the word is used in the play). The guy who can't quite get over his ex-fiancée even though she jilted him at the altar. The tough-on-the-outside, maternal-on-the-inside artsy chick with low self-esteem and commitment issues who dates "bad boys" because she knows they'll leave her. The gay waiter, and the gay friend who's supposed to give Casey an out if the date's tanking. The Jewish grandma. The blah-blah-blah therapist. Add a couple of your own.
But guess what? I had a great time at this show. The plot might be standard issue, but the concept is clever enough to save it. The date keeps being interrupted by internal monologues and advice from friends and relatives who aren't really there. None of this is really new either, but the musical numbers are peppy and the lyrics are really witty (although often so rapid-fire that they're hard to keep up with). The music, as in so many contemporary musicals, is undistinguished, but I don't expect melodies that I can remember nowadays. The music and lyrics are by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, the book by Austin Winsberg.
What really won me over about this First Date was the talented young cast that Devon Frieder assembled for this show. They're all as energetic as Devon, and that's saying a lot. Almost every January, in the post-holiday theater lull, Devon produces, directs, choreographs and stars in a musical of recent vintage. Most of her choices would not be done by the other theaters that put on musicals in townnot enough name recognition to fill the house. Albuquerque's only chance to see something like First Date depends on Devon bringing it to us, and although it isn't a great musical by any stretch, I can't imagine anyone not enjoying this production of it.
A lot of that depends on the two leads. Shawn William Smith is hugely likeable as Aaron. He's a little too hunky to come off as awkward as the character is supposed to be, but an attractive stage presence is not much of a problem. Likewise, Devon as Casey is not as off-putting at the start of the date as she's written to be, but everything else about her performance is top-notch, and the hairdo is perfect.
Tanner Sroufe has a field day as the waiter; for some reason, he gets the catchiest number in the whole show, "I'd Order Love," and he really sells it. Veronica Baca is fine as the ex-fiancée. Gigi Guajardo is, unfortunately, almost inaudible. Nicholas Handley and Lando Ruiz are entertaining and seem to be having fun in various roles. Trey Caperton, probably the most talented high-school performer in the state, is a little overly enthusiastic here. Dial it down a notch, and it would help us understand the catty lyrics of his songs.
There's a good set by Johnathan Howell and nicely done lighting by Ben Kesselring. (If you're wondering why the restaurant is the "Westerburg Grill," it's an allusion to Devon's previous show, Heathers, which takes place at Westerberg High School, itself an homage to the singer Paul Westerberg. Also, there's a hamburger in the show.) The music (recorded) was a little too loud and sometimes overwhelmed the singing voices at the performance I attended, but that's my only quibble with the production.
This will most likely be your only chance to see First Date and I would show up, if I were you.
First Date, presented through January 21, 2018, by Devon Frieder Productions at the North 4th Arts Center, on 4th Street just north of Griegos in Albuquerque NM. Friday 7:30, Saturday 3:00 and 7:30, Sunday 4:00. Tickets $15 to 18, with group discounts. Info at facebook.com/devonfriederproductions.