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Sparks fly in clever and quirky ‘First Date’

  • Written by Deborah Stone
First Daye
Photo by Chris Bennion. Pictured are Aaron (Eric Ankrim) and Casey (Kelly Karbacz) in the world premiere of “First Date,” a co-production of ACT and the 5th Avenue Theatre.
First dates, especially blind first dates, are often awkward and uncomfortable.

They can be full of embarrassing moments, insecurities, self-conscious mannerisms and plenty of presumptuous judgments.

Two people, who’ve never met before, are now in a situation where they are exploring how they might connect with one other.

To make the scenario even more challenging, add the emotional baggage each brings to the table, which can come in the form of past relationships, family, friends, religious beliefs and more.

That’s the concept behind “First Date,” a co-production between ACT and The 5th Avenue Theatre, now having its world premiere on the stage of ACT’s Falls Theatre.

Created by seasoned screen writer Austin Winsberg, with music and lyrics by the dynamic team of Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, this delightful romantic comedy chronicles the perils and pitfalls of blind dating, along with the promise of new beginnings.

Aaron (the incredibly talented Tacoma native Eric Ankrim), a nebbish, nervous investment banker, is on a first date with the artsy, hip, yet very cynical and jaded Casey (New Yorker Kelly Karbacz).

It’s a blind date set-up at a bistro, but joining the couple (in spirit) and serving as inner critics are their parents, gal and guy pals, exes and one therapist, who are all very willing to dispense advice to them whether they want it or not.

These outside influences provide the audience with insight into what’s going on in the minds of the daters, divulging their nagging doubts, fears, longings and hopes.

They project themselves in the form of song whenever one of the characters has a revelation as a result of what the other person is saying.

In the interim, these characters (played by a strong ensemble featuring Richard Gray, Benjamin Harris, Vicki Noon, Brandon O’Neill and Billie Wildrick) portray restaurant patrons.

In one of the more uproarious numbers, “The Girl for You,” Aaron’s Jewish ancestors react in horror to the notion that one of their clan might possibly marry a shiksa (non-Jew).

In “That’s Why You Love Me,” images of Casey’s macho, bad-boy ex-boyfriends (Brandon O’Neill and Benjamin Harris) appear and attempt to lure Casey away from “nice guy” Aaron.

A recurring gay BFF character (Benjamin Harris) continues to leave messages for Casey, offering the proverbial bailout phone call.

And then there are appearances by Allison (Vicki Noon), Aaron’s ex-fiancé, who stood him up at the wedding “chuppah.”

In a nod toward modern day communication, “The World Wide Web is Forever” illustrates the ability of people to find out all types of information about each other before they even meet via Facebook, Twitter, Google and other cyber-stalking vehicles.

Yes, the show has its share of the typical romantic comedy elements and clichés, however under Bill Berry’s capable helm, they’re handled with a heaping dose of charm and plenty of wicked wit.

Chemistry abounds and sparks fly between the two leads, who both have great stage presence and terrific vocals, as well as comic chops to boot.

The musical score is eclectic, ranging from rap and punk rock to romantic ballads and the blues, and the lyrics are clever and humorously irreverent.

Josh Prince’s perfectly timed musical staging allows the production to seamlessly zip along, keeping the audience fully engaged and entertained.

Special kudos also need to go to Matthew Smucker and his fun and innovative set design.

“First Date” a coproduction of ACT and 5th Avenue Theatre, runs through May 20 at ACT Theatre. For ticket information: (206) 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.

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