Review: ‘First Date’ by Other Voices Theatre

Anyone who has ever been on a blind date knows the nerve-wracking anxiety that usually goes with it. “What will my date be like? Will we have anything to talk about? Will we be compatible? Will this be a love match?” First Date, a musical comedy with book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, takes a look at all these questions and more.

Nicholas Cox (Aaron) and Katherine Worley (Casey) in First Date by Other Voices Theatre. Photo by James Meech.
Nicholas Cox (Aaron) and Katherine Worley (Casey) in First Date by Other Voices Theatre. Photo by James Meech.

Aaron, a sweet but awkward, rather nebbish investment banker, is set up on a blind date with his friend’s sister-in-law, Casey, an artsy, worldly, indie chick. It becomes obvious rather quickly that Aaron is, as Casey calls him, a BDV (Blind Date Virgin), which is in stark contrast to her serial dating. After numerous uncomfortable, but often hilarious, blind date faux pas on Aaron’s part (for which Casey has to correct him), and advice from the waiter as well as friends, family, and other people who are voices in their heads come to life, before their food is served Casey has decided that they should “just be friends.” Aaron doesn’t appreciate being placed in the friend zone and wants to leave, but Casey convinces him to at least eat before they go their separate ways. Over dinner, the conversation becomes more personal, and Casey realizes there might be something more to this man than she thought. Will they decide to have a second date or are they better off as friends?

As always, director Susan Thornton and music director Jonas Dawson have brought together an outstanding cast for this delightful production. The five-person ensemble perform multiple roles as voices in Aaron’s and Casey’s heads and people in the restaurant, with each having one recurring role. Taylor Knapp was everything from a deceased Jewish grandmother to Lauren, Casey’s married older sister who constantly harangued her about her ticking biological clock, generally preferring bad boys, not having the security of a husband and stable home, and even wanting to order a burger for dinner. The highlight of Knapp’s performance was the tender number “The Things I Never Said,” in which she is Aaron’s workaholic mother writing a letter to him before she has heart surgery.

Tori Weaver was perfectly bitchy as Allison, Aaron’s emasculating ex-fiancée who humiliated him with a very public and ill-timed breakup. Aaron, unfortunately, was still hung up on her, imagining her as this beautiful, loving angel, and still held out hope for her eventual return. With Casey’s encouragement, he finally exorcizes Allison from his heart and mind once a for all in a spectacular fashion. James Funkhouser was hysterical as Gabe, Aaron’s rather sleazy, womanizing best friend, who not only tried repeatedly to make him see Allison the way she really was but also threw in other sordid advice regarding how Aaron should approach this date.

The two standout ensemble performances came from Thomas Bricker and Stacy Carroll. Bricker repeatedly brought down the house every time he appeared as Casey’s over-the-top, flamboyantly gay BFF giving her bailout calls to help her get out of the date. When she wasn’t picking up or calling back, his mind naturally ran to the worst-case scenario–to the audience’s delight. Carroll’s main role was the waiter who has seen far too many first dates and has opinions on what makes them successful. She completely steals the show at the beginning of the second act, when it is revealed the waiter is a wannabe writer and performer who presents the one-person cabaret featuring the number, “I’d Order Love.”

Real-life couple Nicholas Cox and Katherine Worley were adorable as Aaron and Casey, making the audience hope they can move beyond the uncomfortable beginning and the friend zone and eventually make a love match. Cox is endearing with his social gaffes throughout the evening, which leave the audience embarrassed for him at times. By the time Casey helps him dispel Allison from his memory during “In Love With You,” which is the highlight of Cox’s performance, the audience is completely in his corner, cheering him on. Worley is delightful as the sarcastic, more worldly Casey. It’s obvious that she wants to find love, but with her penchant for dating bad boys, which is really brought out in the very humorous song, “Can’t Help But Love Me,” sung by Funkhouser and Bricker, she is having a difficult time finding a stable, reliable man who interests her. When Aaron shares very personal information over dinner her tough facade begins to crumble. Worley really opens her heart to the audience in her beautifully performed number, “Safer,” where Casey finally acknowledges that “I go building up walls, yet I wish to be found” as she decides Aaron might be worth giving a second look.

Thomas Bricker, Katherine Worley, and James Funkhouser performing “Can’t Help But Love Me” in First Date by Other Voices Theatre. Photo by James Meech.
Thomas Bricker, Katherine Worley, and James Funkhouser performing “Can’t Help But Love Me” in First Date by Other Voices Theatre. Photo by James Meech.

The small musical combo consisting of Jonas Dawson (keyboard), John Maestri (percussion), and Natalie Spehar (cello), while sounding much larger, sounded wonderful and was perfect for this intimate setting.

The set for this production, beautifully designed by Lee Hebb, is an intimate bar in NYC with theatre posters on the walls and a TV that generally shows the bar logo, but frequently changes to comically highlight the themes of the songs. Lighting and projection design by Steve Knapp and sound by Kasey Taylor were wonderful as well.

For a truly enjoyable evening out with friends, lovers, or possibly a first date, this production of First Date is a must-see. Order tickets soon as this is an intimate theatre so seats are limited.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

First Date, presented by Other Voices Theatre, plays through February 17, 2019, at The Performing Arts Factory, 244B South Jefferson Street, Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 662-3722 or purchase them online.

Costumes, Maria Boyce, Patty Byrne, and Nancy Speck; Makeup and Hair, Jennifer Maschal-Lorms; Props, Pat Dickinson.

Note: This production is not recommended for children under 16.

Previous articleReview: ‘My Very Own British Invasion’ at Paper Mill Playhouse
Next articleReview: ‘Once’ at Olney Theatre Center
Terri Magers
Terri Magers is a 30+ year veteran of the theatre both onstage and behind the scenes. She has appeared in productions around the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and Frederick and Hagerstown, MD, as well as Annapolis and DC. She started out onstage, but in 1999 discovered her love of stage managing and more often than not is now dressed in black. In 2010 she graduated to directing and has directed productions of 'Little Women the Musical,' 'Jekyll & Hyde the Musical,' 'Hairspray,' and 'Young Frankenstein the Musical.' Terri has also served on numerous theatre boards and is currently the Associate Director of Production and Development for the Black Box Arts Center in Shepherdstown, WV.