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Love in the time of Covid

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

First Date - The Musical. Online 22nd - 24th 2020

Its been a long time since a review was published on Review Culture. The last live show was The Thrill of Love at the Riverhead Theatre in Louth. If like everyone else, you have been missing live theatre, you should say hello to Lambert Jackson Productions. The company has been providing a much needed injection of musical theatre online via their productions of The Last Five Years and Songs From a New World. Their latest venture, streaming until the 24th October is First Date , a lesser-known Broadway musical with a book by Austin Winsberg and music & lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. The original premiered on Broadway in 2013 with Zachary Levi and Krista Rodriguez . Stepping in to these roles were Samantha Barks and Simon Lipkin, directed by Dean Johnson.

Having seen and loved the original production, this version had a lot to live up to and given the conditions under which it was created, the company have done an excellent job. The set up is simple, a first date and a blind one at that. Aaron, played by Simon Lipkin is awaiting the arrival of Casey, played by Samantha Barks. Aaron is greeted by their host a wonderfully camp and comic Oscar Conlon - Morrey who manages to make the production his own throughout. The cast is rounded out by Nicholas McClean and Danielle Steers. All three play a variety of roles to flesh out the cast as a GBFF, Aaron's mother, Casey's sister and a string of ex-lovers.

The book is light and simplistic. Boy meets girl yadda yadda yadda. We learn that both leads carry a wardrobe full of baggage from their prior relationships as we meet the versions of each, conjured by their own imagination. They range from Aaron's former fiancée who jilted him on the day of their wedding to the Brit punk rocker in Casey's past. With two endearing leads, the audience roots for them to become a couple but the course of true love never runs smooth.

The uptight Aaron manages to open up in a way he never had before to Casey because she quickly opens the door to the Friend Zone and ushers him through. Meanwhile, the commitment-phobic Casey sees light at the end of the tunnel as she realises its not essential that every girl has to be into bad boys. The ending will come as no real surprise to anyone.

But its the dynamic between the two leads that charms the audience and moves the narrative effectively. Lipkin's Aaron is a slightly nerdy city-type, whose confidence has been destroyed over the years when life has trodden him down. Barks' Casey. in contrast, is cocky and confident on the surface though riddled with self-doubt internally. Both performers rose to the challenge of their characters but failed to achieve the heights of their Broadway counterparts. The role of Casey really calls for somebody more "out there". Barks is utterly charming and a sensational singer, but comes across more like a cool, primary school teacher than the alternative and artsy, confrontational Casey seen on Broadway.

As mentioned previously, Conlon-Morrey really picks up the ball and runs with it. Having seen his performance in The Toxic Avenger a few years ago, it was thoroughly expected and he does it so well. He persistently breaks the fourth wall and seems to be channelling Eric Stonestreet's Cameron from Modern Family. His winning performance, simply billed as Man 2, is worth the price of streaming, alone.

Musically, some of the backing in this production is rather lacklustre and fails to do justice to the rockier nature of the full stage version. Neither The One, which opens the show nor First Impressions engaged the audience quite as powerfully as they can. It must be said, that the song The Things I Never Said, shared by Lipkin and Danielle Steers was surprisingly, deeply moving. By the time In Love With You comes around, the sudden switch in tone is really funny and unexpected release for Aaron. There are a number of really great songs in this show if you are willing to think in terms of a small-scale contemporary musical rather than a giant Broadway show.

Overall, this production has some limitations thanks to the omnipresence of Covid, but still retains its charm and its humour. It is recommended to all who are missing live theatre and well worth the cost of streaming (£12.50 a ticket). It is hoped a few more companies will be able to follow suit and find new ways of presenting theatre without having audiences physically present in the room. until we come to an end of this current health crisis .

Reviewer: Andy Evans

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