Review: First Date (online)

Lambert Jackson Productions have been coming to the rescue of musical theatre fans since the UK went into lockdown earlier this year, streaming shows including Leave A Light On (72 concerts from musical performers), The Last Five Years and Songs From A New World live into people’s living rooms before bringing the latter to the London Palladium in a recent socially distanced concert version. And now once again they’re doing the Lord’s work, this time broadcasting American musical First Date.

Featuring a book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, First Date premiered on Broadway in 2013 and is a romantic comedy about the high points – and the low points – of blind dates. Serial dater Casey (Samantha Barks) meets the awkward, nervous BDV (Blind Date Virgin) Aaron (Simon Lipkin) in a New York bar, having been set up by her sister. The pair soon discover they have very little in common, and with a meddling waiter (Oscar Conlon-Morrey) and a whole host of characters making an appearance, the question is whether their first date will be their last.

Dean Johnson directs this digital production, which is filmed in the familiar surroundings of the Crazy Coqs and a few other London locations, including Leake Street’s iconic tunnels. Rather than the show being streamed live it was filmed over the course of a week and as a result this movie/theatre hybrid is perfect for an online medium as the audience are introduced to the many characters (played by Conlon-Morrey, Danielle Steers and Nicholas McClean), from the couple’s inner thoughts to concerned friends and even a dead grandmother.

The contemporary score features some soft rock toe-tappers like opening number The One, and slower numbers such as Safer. The music is indeed catchy, but it’s the witty and amusing lyrics that really make it stand out, with songs like First Impressions sure to bring a smile to your face. 

Leading duo Samantha Barks and Simon Lipkin are well-suited to their roles, and have brilliant chemistry to boot. Samantha Barks should have been treading the boards in Frozen this autumn, but despite the pandemic viewers can still witness her sheer talent as she lights up the screen. Her solo number Safer is one of the highlights of the second act and marks the moment that Casey’s walls start to crumble and she begins to open up. Lipkin’s Aaron is vulnerable and awkward, endearing as he begins to relax and get into his stride. The three supporting cast members are all hilarious as they show their versatility and embody different characters throughout. Danielle Steers does incredibly well to maintain a straight face during some of her numbers, and it’s great to witness her wonderful vocal talent (not to mention many wigs). Nicholas McClean equally shines in his performance, though it’s the character of Casey’s best friend Reggie where he really excels and demonstrates his comic timing. His Bailout Song is hilarious – not to mention catchy –and is sure to bring back memories of anyone who’s ever gone on a blind date. First Date really is a fantastic team effort but Oscar Conlon-Morrey comes close to stealing every scene he’s in. He gives a masterclass in comedy throughout, particularly as the meddling waiter who often turns up unannounced, and his three minutes of filling during the interval is a touch of genius – and should be a part of every show going forward.

Though First Date is somewhat predictable at times, it’s also a treat from start to finish, and anyone who’s ever endured a blind date is sure to both cringe and laugh along. Thankfully the odd volume issue doesn’t detract from what is a thoroughly enjoyable production. With a warm and touching storyline, a fantastic cast and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, First Date is the perfect show to help escape from the stresses of the real world.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First Date is streaming until 24 October. 

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