Review: 'First Date' at Stage West
Cristee Cook | Dallas Art Beat
I had the opportunity to be at Stage West’s opening of First Date on Saturday night, and I think I might be in love. The musical, directed by Harry Parker and with Musical Direction by Alan Shorter, follows a blind date between Aaron and Casey. It’s set up as a traditional rom com, but First Date is full of surprises and brings a contemporary perspective to relationships and dating. The production at Stage West has it all: boisterous humor, heart-opening human connection, and delightful music, singing, and dancing.
Aaron, the sorta-geeky, traditional businessman is played by Seth Womack. He’s meeting Casey, played by Amber Marie Flores. Casey is the sorta-indie, guarded rebel. The classic opposites-attract pairing is endearing with Womack and Flores and as unexpected twists in the story reveal more about them, the awkward blind date unfolds with a sweet humanity everyone can relate to. But Womack and Flores, together with a wickedly funny 5-person ensemble, are who bring the musical’s humanity so vibrantly to life.
Casey is a single woman who’s seen (and maybe dated) it all but has a true desire to find “the one.” Amber Marie Flores brings a delicate balance to the role – she's exhausted and hopeful, pretty guarded, but also deeply sensitive. Her sarcasm and one-liners are hilarious, but also heavy shields for the dreams still unfulfilled and baggage she carries. Flores shines the brightest when we get a chance to see her character express the most honest moments. The Act I closer “Safer” is rich and vulnerable and I loved seeing Casey’s mask come down.
Seth Womack as Aaron is sweet, a little naive, and a lot more experienced than Casey (and maybe the audience) give him credit for. As Aaron, Womack is charming but has a layer of fear underneath his earnest efforts to connect with Casey. I found his indignance and vindication in “In Love With You” an exhilarating and cathartic moment. The emotional number “The Things I Never Said” showcased Womack’s emotional range.
The chorus ensemble brings Aaron and Casey's inner dialogue to life, and we experience the musical’s unique humor and insight.
Brett Warner, who plays multiple roles as Woman 1, is exceptionally funny as Grandma Ida – Aaron’s inner voice that takes over when he finds out (gasp!) that Casey isn’t Jewish. As Lauren, Casey’s overbearing, over-achieving, and overcritical sister, Warner brings the right amount of judgement and pairs it seamlessly with her sincere hope for Casey's happiness. Flores and Warner play the tension of that relationship with nuance. They give us tons of laughs, but this relationship is where so much of Casey’s true story is revealed, and it's great to see the rich characterization with Warner and Flores.
Mary Burchill, who plays multiple roles as Woman 2 is devilish and narcissistic as Allison. Representing Aaron’s failed relationships, Burchill delivers the entitled girl you hate to love. But Burchill’s rich voice and graceful movement sparkles in each role she plays as Woman 2.
Randy Pearlman, who plays multiple roles as Man 3, nails the role of the Waiter. Every time Pearlman came onstage, I knew we would be in for a treat. He is hilarious, hopelessly romantic, and just the right amount of snarky. Lance Jewett as Man 1 and Collins Rush as Man 2 also elevated the comedy to heights of fun and should not be underestimated.
I especially liked the characters of Reggie, played by Rush, and Gabe, played by Jewett.
I had a great time. I laughed, I felt a little verklempt at times, and then I laughed more. First Date is an insightful portrayal of love and relationships in today’s world, delivered with piercing humor by a talented and unified cast. Don't miss it!
Co-Produced with Theatre TCU, First Date is currently playing at Stage West in Fort Worth, and running through October 13th.