"FIRST DATE," through March 2, Grand Theatre, 1575 State Street (801-957-3322); running time: 1 hour, 30 min.
Editor's note: This is part of an ongoing Deseret News series highlighting Utah's community theater programs.
SALT LAKE CITY — If you’ve never been on a blind date, the Grand Theatre’s production of the Broadway musical “First Date” is a good place to start.
A light-hearted, relatable comedy, “First Date” tracks the humorous predicaments — actual and psychological — of two single 20-somethings as they traverse the tumultuous emotional landscape of a blind date.
Casey (Aalliyah Ann Jenks), an “edgy,” romance-weary photographer and alleged blind-date addict, meets Aaron (Michael Scott Johnson), a traditional, financially motivated Ivy League graduate with almost no dating history beyond a failed ex-fiancee. The musical maneuvers between the real-world setting of a bar in New York City where the date takes place and the drama of the characters' thoughts: Casey and Aaron are guided by imagined friends, family members and exes who burst into song to help them decide how to proceed.
While the Broadway musical consists of a seven-person cast, the Grand Theatre’s production, directed by Jamie Rocha Allan, uses the original 2012 five-person script: Woman No. 1 (Michelle Lynn Thompson), Man No. 1 (Dayne Cade), and Man No. 2 (BJ Whimpey) play all of the musical’s many minor characters — and the Grand Theatre’s cast delivers a colorful and bold performance.
Beyond the musical’s somewhat predictable protagonists — a nerdy traditionalist and a creative rebel who sings about guarding her heart — the play is riddled with other odd caricatures that lend themselves well to comedy.
A religiously intolerant Jewish grandmother; a do-gooder sister in a “perfect” relationship who nags Casey about her unruly behavior and ticking biological clock; a cold, tedious ex-fiancee who haunts the leading man’s thoughts at largely inconvenient moments; and an endearingly dramatic gay best friend — aka Casey’s “bail-out honey, calling to bail (her) out” — are among the personalities displayed to their intended comedic extremes.
This is not to say that the play lacks originality — “Google Girl” (Thompson) casually sings about the widespread availability of embarrassing online information in the digital age. Her twinkling LED-light mouse ears, highlighter-blue wig and robot suit looked just the way that Google might look if anthropomorphized into a mildly cruel young woman.
Additionally, the frequent switches between the real-life “date” and the characters' mental dramas were notably well-executed, down to the blue light shining on Casey’s frozen expression as her blind-date boyfriend sang about his “first impression”; the audience chuckled as Aaron froze mid-celery-stick-bite while Casey sang about her affections finally shifting in his favor.
With a modest set, small cast and the audience seated onstage, level with the performers, the actors had little to hide behind — and little room for error. However, the cast used the audience’s closeness to their benefit, maintaining eye contact, responding to the audience’s laughter and minding the details of their expressions, voices, costumes, timing and set. Without doubt, the show offered an up-close-and-personal feel that couldn’t have been experienced in regular theater setup.
Although the play featured newer talent, the singing, staging and acting was clearly well-rehearsed — the actors showed unreserved enthusiasm and appropriate levels of nuance for the material.Comment on this story
It didn’t take long for the audience to become totally immersed in the cast’s dramatized delivery, dynamic staging and well-synchronized acts. The play’s songs, though only modestly difficult, were sung robustly and on-pitch and in such a way that the singing never distracted from the plot’s forward movement. By the time the curtains closed on a drawn-out first kiss (not a serious spoiler) the audience was wholly engaged with the cast, still waiting for the next comedic piece to be thrown their way.
This production of “First Date” was a well-executed, all-around good time. We have one recommendation, though: Don’t take anyone to see this on a first date.
Content advisory: "First Date" contains strong language and mature content.