First Date is a gossamer confection of a new musical, easily several notches above last year's co-production by the Fifth and ACT, the paint-by-numbers Vanities. Contained within First Date's brisk 90 minutes are a baker's-dozen hummable tunes, a clutch of stellar performances, and a very close approximation of the thrill and anxiety of a first—and in this case, blind—date.
ACT Theatre, 700 Union St. 292-7676, acttheatre.org. $15-$69. Times vary. Runs Tues.-Sun. Through May 20.
Aaron (Eric Ankrim), a successful young Jewish investment banker, meets willful artiste-wannabe Casey (Kelly Karbacz) at a local bistro. Around them, the other patrons take on the imaginary guises of those who influence their evening—parents, clergy, old beaux, and the ball-busting fiancee who jilted Aaron on their wedding day. It's a canny idea that hits its stride early in "The Girl for You," as Aaron's family rends their collective garments at the discovery that Casey is a goy. (A ghostly relative moans that, were she alive, this news would surely kill her all over again.)
Given writer/producer Austin Winsberg's TV background, First Date works best when he lets fly with sitcom-ready dialogue. Yet Aaron and Casey's fragile new relationship never seems anything but authentic—especially in its missteps and detours. Ankrim has the bookish charm of a younger Matthew Broderick, while Karbacz channels a smoldering Sarah Jessica Parker as his foil and object of desire. Director Bill Berry juggles the action well, giving most of the supporting cast a moment to shine. (The music and lyrics are by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner.)
Despite numerous references to contemporary life, particularly social media, this work-in-progress does stumble into the generic. It's as if the L.A. creators of the show had wandered into a little Silver Lake boutique that sells set pieces for musicals and ordered one of everything. Onstage, the familiarity of these oft-chosen elements can overwhelm Aaron and Casey's winning and quirky characters.
Overall, there's much more right than wrong to First Date, a show clearly designed to tour, even if it's not quite ready for Broadway. With its crisp dialogue and songs that cling like cotton candy, this little musical deserves your love.