Monday, 5 September 2016

First Date, Sept 2, 2016 ***

Music & lyrics by Alan Zachary & Michael Weiner, book by Austin Winsberg
Produced by Pursued By Bear 
Chapel off Chapel, until Sept 11, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Sept 5, 2016 & later in print. KH
 Rebecca Hetherington & Jordon Mahar 
So, you go on a blind date, organised by your sister’s husband or a work colleague, and you meet a complete stranger in a busy, inner-city café. What could possibly go wrong – apart from everything?

First Date is a 2013, American musical that takes a voyeuristic look at the first, awkward date of Aaron (Jordon Mahar OK), an affluent, conservative investment banker, and Casey (Rebecca Hetherington), an artsy, tattooed and self-absorbed, serial dater of bad boys.

The entertaining book (Austin Winsberg) has well-observed characters and comical situations, while the upbeat songs (music, lyrics by Alan Zachary, Michael Weiner) have witty rhymes and cool lyrics that reflect a funky, inner-urban, café lifestyle.

In the bouncy duet, First Impressions, Aaron and Casey reveal their anxious or critical inner thoughts about each other through amusing lyrics such as, “He’s a bit annoying and overdressed”, and “ She’s kind of Indy and kind of hot.”

Mahar’s vocal strength lies in his upper register and he finds charm in the daggy, unworldly Aaron who struggles to repress his geeky reactions and gestures when confronted with so much passive-aggressive coolness in this smug café.

Hetherington captures Casey’s self-important artsy-ness and barely masked criticism of Aaron’s conservatism, but her performance ultimately lacks confidence and dynamic range while her voice needs a warmer tone to balance some harshness.

Five other performers (Daniel Cosgrove, Nicole Melloy, Adam Porter, Danielle O’Malley, Stephen Valeri) play multiple characters, including sticky-beak, café patrons, or friends and family who appear as intrusive, rowdy voices or guardian angels, commenting on the successes or failures of the date and offering unsolicited advice to Aaron and Casey.

One hilarious, up-tempo rune is Bailout Song, sung by Casey’s gay pal, Reggie (Porter), who calls frequently to give Casey an excuse to bail out of the date, while The Awkward Pause highlights the uncomfortable silences between strangers.

In the audacious song, The Girl For You, the ensemble portrays Aaron’s warped visions of his Jewish family’s objections to a gentile girlfriend, and Casey’s dad’s imagined over-reaction to a non-Christian boyfriend.

The set design (Sarah Tulloch) incorporates an actual, on stage café provided by Tall Timber, a local Prahran business, and it serves pre-show coffee to the audience.

The tight, five-piece, on-stage band under musical director, Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe, contributes to the vibrant atmosphere, however, the mix of voices and music is unbalanced, particularly in the opening number, The One, during which the lyrics were incomprehensible.

Director, Mark Taylor, uses an Australian setting, avoiding the American accents that pervade many musicals and allowing the audience to relate to the locality and characters.

Despite the limitations of this production, First Date is a buoyant and zesty musical with plenty of laughs at the expense of the two first daters.

By Kate Herbert 

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