'First Date' review: No second necessary
A lot of care has obviously been lavished on "First Date," the middling relationship musical-comedy that has somehow wandered onto Broadway after a start at Seattle's The 5th Avenue Theatre.
The cast is sweet: Zachary Levi ("Chuck") plays a straight-arrow nerdy guy and Krysta Rodriguez ("Smash") is a cool, artsy chick on a blind date in a restaurant. The structure has promise: their awkward getting-to-know-you banter freezes, periodically, so each can share internal monologues with us in song or production number by a Greek chorus of friends.
Unfortunately, his character is clueless, an insecure dullard with no nobler ambition than making money in his Wall Street job. And she, though more interesting, is tediously conflicted between commitment issues and, sigh, the ticking of her biological clock.
There is no credible reason for these people to belong together, except that author Austin Winsberg and composer-lyricists Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner put them into their well- staged, musically-generic little pop show.
Emotional clashes feel stunted; their friends are all cliches. She says she has dated a lot. He, not entirely joking, calls her a slut. Although the setting is New York today, the strangers get to know each other by talking about people they know who went to the same Jewish summer camp in Michigan. And, it turns out that she isn't Jewish, which is the cue for a visit from his dead grandmother (singing "I will break your matzo balls").
Her Catholic background gets spoofed with comparable rote amusement, after which they imagine their-gasp- "mixed-marriage" child. Among the nagging friends who appear in the fantasy scenes are her sister with the conventional marriage (Sara Chase), his neurotic ex-fiancee (Kate Loprest) and her flamboyant gay friend (Kristoffer Cusick) whose clever phone messages get less endearing with each repetition.
Rodriguez has a pingy, lively voice. So does Levi, though first he has to drag out a shameless dead mother story and he doesn't get an edgy song until about 85 minutes into the 90-minute show. Director Bill Berry contributes most of the brightest ideas with a throwaway glance here and a well-timed visual surprise there. The audience at Friday's preview appeared to be having a great time. But, really, if matchmaking is this forced and random, no wonder so many marriages don't last.
WHAT "First Date"
WHERE Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.
INFO $35-$137; 212-239-6200; firstdatethemusical.com
BOTTOM LINE Structurally clever, emotionally banal