A first date can be a living hell. Unless you’ve had very serious surgery or were a prisoner of war, you’ll probably agree first dates are hell. Two strangers who know absolutely nothing about each other are thrust into a room to see if a connection forms. It’s supposed to be a carefree experience, but for many it can be a stressful time where a thousand and one psychological questions get asked over the course of an hour. But in the musical First Date, now playing at the CLO Cabaret, those questions come to life in front of you, and the result is definitely not hellish.
The intimate show takes place on one night with two people on a fairly typical blind date. Aaron (Luke Halferty) is a bit uptight and doesn’t have a lot of dating experience. Casey (Caroline Nicolian) is chill and an admitted serial dater. Their initial first impressions don’t play out too smoothly, but eventually they settle into small talk and then get a proper date going. All the while the restaurant’s wait staff (Maggie Carr, Connor McCanlus, David Toole) transform into different characters that exist inside our daters’ heads. An example: Upon learning Casey isn’t Jewish, Aaron visualizes being berated by his dead Jewish grandmother, Casey’s priest father, and Casey and Aaron’s future unborn son.
It’s a cute concept that borders on schizophrenic. Aaron and Casey get encouragement from some voices (best friends and sisters) but are also haunted by their exes. Many first date clichés are hit upon, like getting a “Bailout Call” from a friend so you can make a hasty exit or making the mistake of talking about a previous relationship. The (sometimes painful) awkwardness is shown, but so is the casual “getting to know you” vibe than hopefully occurs on most dates. Ms. Nicolian and Mr. Halftery play nicely off each other, bring strong performances and beautiful voices to the perky pop-heavy score.
The cast playing the waiters have a tall order that they fill very nicely. Mr. Toole knocks out some serious vocals and grabs laughs as Casey’s gay BFF and Aaron’s straight BFF. Ms. Carr has an almost overwhelming amount of characters to play, but manages to make each one different from the next and find the humor in them. Mr. McCanlus, a CLO Cabaret regular, steals many a scene with his “aspiring artist” waiter, while also playing some of the more bizarre characters (there’s some rapping involved and it’s so great).
The Cabaret has a really fun set for this show, extending out into the tables to help the feeling you’re simply watching people on a date. The cast servers walk among you like the regular staff, a sense of urgency and chaos surrounding two people in their own little worlds. The script can be a bit too corny at times, even by “first date” standards, but the charm of the cast carries it off. There are a few somber moments that don’t seem to work well amongst the comic insanity of the rest of the show, but they never threaten to derail the story.
But what First Date ultimately succeeds in capturing is the intense anxiety one can feel during a first date. What should I wear? What should I order? What’s the one thing I could say that will totally end this? Could I marry this person? Should I say “let’s just be friends”? It’s a tense situation, and the tension is felt onstage. We don’t know what’s down the line for Aaron and Casey, and the point is not to. But they both learn something about themselves, especially Aaron (points to Mr. Halftery for really capturing his character’s growth). It may not end in marriage, but at the very least these characters walk away with something positive from meeting. And that’s enough. First Date’s message is that dating can be scary, but it can also be incredibly rewarding.
Presented by Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret
Directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein
Written by Austin Winsberg (book), Alan Zachary & Michael Weiner (music and lyrics)
Designed by Tony Ferrieri (scenery), Cathleen Crocker-Perry (costumes), Keith A. Truax (lighting)
Photos by Laura Petrilla and Matt Polk
Starring Maggie Carr (waiter, others), Luke Halferty (Aaron), Connor McCanlus (waiter, others), Caroline Nicolian (Casey), Casi Reigle (understudy), Jason Shavers (understudy), David Toole (waiter, others).
The show runs now until April 24th. Tickets purchased HERE.