Stage Left's production of "First Date" was easy to fall in love with.
"First Date" predictably focused on a blind date, but one in which the insecurities of the participants, Aaron and Casey, were personified through characters that break into song and pull them aside for heart-to-hearts over the course of the evening. At one point, one of these manifestations demanded "What's the point of imagining me if you aren't going to listen to a word I say?"
The musical first premiered on Broadway in 2013 and had successful runs in Japan, Argentina and Australia since then. Its heartwarming story and humor encourages audiences to be brave in dating as they root for Casey and Aaron to explore their feelings both by themselves and with each other on this blind date.
This production was refreshing, hilarious and relatable for college students as they, themselves, navigate the new world of young-adult dating for the first time. It even featured a breastfeeding puppet and an entire musical number, titled "The Awkward Pause," dedicated to an uncomfortable halt in the date with a tune reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence."
Paige Galberg and Chris Lamendola, playing Casey and Aaron, respectively, were compelling as characters that could have seemed irritating in less capable hands. Galberg's vocal performance was superb, particularly in the heartbreaking number "Safer." Her portrayal of Casey's unexpected vulnerability was captivating. Lamendola's performance was also commendable. His stand-out song, "The Things I Never Said," was heart-wrenching and a surprising shift from the production's overall tone.
The reactions of the ensemble in the background were hilarious and elevated the show. Al Oliver III was particularly amusing as Man 3 and stole several of the scenes he was in, making the waiter a clear audience favorite.
Alyssa Henkelman's choreography was highly creative. During the number "The Girl For You," five actors managed to turn themselves into a Star of David as they chided Aaron for not dating a Jewish girl. The blocking made excellent use of the limited space on the Wilks Theater stage.
The orchestra pit played through the musical's rock-influenced score with gusto and expertise. The set was simple but charming with a painted cityscape and dozens of stars that lit up as the show and the night moved forward.
The evident talent and warmth that Stage Left brought was winsome, making "First Date" a delight that would bring out the romantic in anyone.