★★★★ Review by: Greg Stewart
Over the last few months Lambert Jackson Productions have taken to the virtual stage like the proverbial duck to water. Aside from their Leave a Light on Concerts, they have also produced virtual versions of The Last Five Years and Songs For a New World, the latter transferring to the stage of the Palladium for two performances. Their latest offering is Broadway musical First Date with a book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner.
We’re reminded in the opening credits that 2020 has been a whole lot of Netflix without the chill, and although singletons have been denied the opportunity to meet potential partners this year, First Date is based on the concept of an awkward blind date. If you’ve watched the similarly titled, but entirely unrelated, reality TV show then you’ve already got a pretty good idea of what this musical is about.
A seemingly mismatched couple, Casey and Aaron, meet for their first blind date, with a host of other characters dipping in and out of the evening, including Reggie who provides Casey with an emergency ‘bail-out call’.
Samantha Barks as Casey is fairly laid back and nonchalant about the whole thing, seeing this as just the latest episode in a long line of blind dates, which she puts in the same category as Pap smears. In stark contrast, Simon Lipkin’s Aaron is bristling with a nervous energy on the verge of cringe.
It is the supporting cast that give First Date its all important magic ingredient; comedy. Oscar Conlon-Morrey, though primarily playing the waiter, jumps from one hilarious character to the next demonstrating tremendous energy and passion throughout. Nicholas McLean and Danielle Steers also form a compelling ensemble who pick up all manner of wonderful characters along the way.
Director, Dean Johnson has embraced the varied musical stylings and added some quirky editing to make this virtual offering stand out with kitsch fun and pizazz. While some of the dialogue verges on the dull side, the score is one of a true Broadway musical, with plenty of real highlights. Usually this comes from Lipkin and Barks, but the supporting cast also get their fair share of the juicy numbers, including a particularly poignant number from Danielle Steers, which also features a cameo appearance from Rufus Kampa.
First Date is a hugely entertaining comedy musical which has transitioned well to a virtual production; indeed the online medium may even have played to the show’s advantage, allowing the creative team to create a musical brimming with playful escapism, and providing some much needed fun to everyone currently accepting Netflix over chill.