★★★★ Review by: Chris Omaweng
There’s nothing new about the awkwardness of two people meeting for the first time being portrayed in a musical. But to make an entire musical around that premise is quite an undertaking, and it is equally unsurprising that the narrative is embellished with detail upon detail of the life and times of Aaron (Simon Lipkin) and Casey (Samantha Barks). Various other characters are played by Oscar Conlon-Morrey, Nick McLean and Danielle Steers between them, and the show is kept busy with the miscellaneous thoughts racing through the minds of Aaron and Casey, who are typically – perhaps even stereotypically – polar opposites to one another. He’s a suited Wall Street banker, and she does photography. Or at least she says she dabbles in it.
The picture quality in this online production is impeccable, and no expense seems to have been spared on set and costumes (I really ought to have kept a tally on how many different hairstyles and wigs Steers sported across her various roles), though I suppose anything is possible these days with computer-generated graphics and images. That said, anyone who has ever attended a show at The Crazy Coqs, near London’s Piccadilly Circus, will recognise the décor of the place.
The whole thing is meant, I think, to be in real-time over the course of an evening. The central characters do not express themselves through song as often as one might expect by musical theatre standards. Indeed, they end up talking for so long that their food order, having been served, must surely be getting cold by the time they properly tuck into it. With so many of the songs performed away from the ongoing first date of the show’s title, the show comes across as a play with songs rather than a musical.
Much of the show’s amusement comes from assumptions, whether they turn out to be correct or not: Casey’s ‘best friend forever’, Reggie (McLean) ends up turning up in person at the restaurant after Casey ignores his repeated calls to her cell (or ‘mobile telephone’, if you insist). There’s a happy ending for him, and not only because he realises nobody died just because he couldn’t FaceTime someone on demand whilst the other person was on a date.
The style of humour is not going to appeal to everyone – some will find it insufferably juvenile, and there are moments when frankly, a bit of subtlety wouldn’t go amiss. But – marks for consistency – the bombastic and over the top nature of many of the musical numbers, amplifies the comic effect, with Conlon-Morrey’s restaurant waiter proving particularly hilarious. For my part, without the benefit of a live audience, there isn’t time to let out all the laughter before the dialogue resumes after a humorous punchline.
Mind you, for all the chortling that took place in my front room, it was palpably (and slightly painfully) evident that the musical had an all-male team for music, lyrics and book. As ever, I mustn’t give everything away, but it is interesting that only the women in the show appear to have major weaknesses (it’s always a first date for Casey, never a second, she being the common denominator, and she more often than not ends up with “bad boys”), and so it is to Samantha Barks’ credit that she makes her Casey as likeable as she is in this production.
The ending for Aaron and Casey is about as predictable as night follows day. But let’s not take too much away from the substantial chemistry between them. Despite the relatively bland score, there’s a charm and warmth about this production that shines through thanks to a talented cast at the top of their game.