First Date, a musical comedy written by Austin Winsberg and Michael Weiner, may not be the best known musical but I think it’s safe to say that it has certainly made an impact on theatre fans in 2020. In this weird, challenging, darkness filled and complicated year, theatre makers have had to do much more than jump through a few hoops to get a show going. It’s more like an obstacle course. Rules here, regulations there, levels of tier and lockdown that could change at a moments notice. But somehow, some incredible creatives, performers and teams are making it work. And First Date, produced by Lambert Jackson Productions only goes to prove the lengths that this industry will go to in order to bring theatre back into our lives.
First Date tells the story of Aaron, a blind date newbie (Simon Lipkin) and Casey, someone who has quite a bit of experience when it comes to blind dates (Samantha Barks). We follow them from their first meeting through to the end of the date, and are invited to eavesdrop into their pasts and innermost thoughts through a series of offsides and dream sequences. Throughout the evening, we are introduced to a number of different characters played by the three members of the ensemble, including best friends, ex’s and family members, along with a hilarious waiter.
Lipkin’s Aaron is nervous and awkward, endlessly endearing as he bumbles his way through his first blind date. We see his best friend Gabe (Nick McLean) and ex girlfriend Alison (Danielle Steers) try to direct his thoughts and actions as if they were the angel and the devil sitting on his shoulders and are treated to a glance into his thoughts in ‘The Girl For You’ as he dreams about what could happen if he chooses to settle with a girl completely unlike him. Lipkin showcases his natural flair for comedy, complete with funny voices and the ability to say so much without saying much at all. We also see a softer side to Aaron in ‘The Things I Never Said’, a touching and heartfelt dream sequence duet between Aaron and his mother, played by Steers.
As Casey, Barks is able to show her range both in comedy and big serious moments. Casey is a confident, extroverted larger than life character who likes to look as if she has everything worked out. She steers Aaron through the date, clearing in charge from the outset. She may not come across as a character that is particularly easy to like at first, but through the evening, you find yourself wanting the best for you, especially after her big ballad ‘Safer’ where she debates with herself about the walls she has put up and the desire to tear them down.
I have to give a big shout out to the three piece ensemble of this piece, Nick McLean, Danielle Steers and Oscar Conlon-Morrey as they play multiple characters and delight us with their comedic flair. I lost count of how many wigs Steers wore throughout the evening, and marvelled at how she managed to keep a straight face during ‘In Love With You’. Nick McLean delights throughout, bouncing from playing attention seeking best friend Reggie to a bad boy ex of Casey’s and Aaron’s best friend Gabe desperately trying to get him to stick with the date. Oscar Conlon-Morrey had me in stitches throughout at the eager to please waiter, even entertaining the viewers before the show started and during the short interval. His big moment ‘I’d Order Love’ is a work of comedy genius and I won’t give to much away but watch out for a puppet. Conlon-Morrey is a natural comedian, and I would personally love to see him as Dewey Finn in School of Rock one day, he would smash it.
The show was put together extremely well with some clever editing throughout by Dean Johnson. Colour is brilliantly used to signal changes from real life to dream sequences and inner thoughts and a clever use of editing allows for characters to pop up over the main action. It’s all slick and polished, like some fun and larger than life musical sitcom. The music is fun and catchy, using a variety of styles with each song brilliantly moving the action along. There are moments where the plot is a little predictable but with the well developed and overall likeable characters, you can easily look past this. I won’t say too much but by the end of First Date, even the coldest hearts will be feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
To conclude, First Date is an amazingly funny digital production. Its five person cast bring a variety of characters to life with ease and will have you smiling from ear to ear. The classic moments of a first date are highlighted in new and hilarious ways, from the awkward first meeting (complete with covid safe elbow bump), the dreaded ‘I googled you’ talk, and the much feared ‘friend zone’ questions. This may be a production we have to watch through our computer screens but thanks to the brilliant editing and the various locations, you feel as if you are watching a full show and I only hope that we get to see it in the flesh one day in the not too distant future.
I also quickly have to say well done to whoever was running Lambert Jackson Production Twitter last night for their fantastic interactions with those watching and getting involved on the #firstdatemusical hashtag. The social aspect and interactions made the evening even more enjoyable.