First-date jitters – to Google or not?

As college students may know, trying to find a date can sometimes be stressful. Everyone knows Googlemania has taken over America, but how much information does a person need to know about someone before going on a date?

The Drama Department’s April 28 production of its musical “First Date” gave audiences a glimpse into one young couple’s first date experience. The 90-minute performance was a cross between a nice, quiet dinner date between two young people and disruptions by weird family members and close friends.

“First Date” premiered on Broadway in August 2013 and is based on a book by Austin Winsberg, with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. It takes place in a New York bar/restaurant.

Richland drama professor and director Gregory Lush described “First Date” as a “small, Broadway musical.” He said he was trying to evoke the feel of a New York cabaret. Richland’s quaint Arena Theater was perfect for this production instead of a large theater.    

What made this performance such a success was Lush’s choice of the two lead actors:  Ben Stegmair in the role of Aaron and Alan Self as Casey – as the young couple.  Five other cast members played the patrons:  Cat Christenson, Jordan Bradford, Carlos Hernandez, Nabeeha Kazmi and Will Frederick. All are Richland students.

Frederick portrayed a workaholic waiter who dazzled the audience in every scene. Stegmair, as the insecure Aaron, wore a dark jacket, white shirt, tie and beige slacks. He chatted with Frederick, who told him to get rid of the tie but keep his glasses. When Self walked in, all eyes shifted to her. She looked stunning in a beautiful red dress that fit perfectly to show off her gorgeous figure, complete with a black leather jacket and boots. Stegmair and Self took turns singing a nice rendition of “First Impressions.”  But, in this and other songs, the band seemed to overwhelm the singers.

Each of the uniquely different restaurant patrons served to inform the audience about Aaron and Casey.  Christenson had the most serious role as Lauren, Casey’s nosy sister, who informed her that her “biological clock” was ticking.  Bradford was excellent as Reggie, Casey’s eccentric gay friend, who was so worried about her safety on a blind date he lost it. In “Bailout Song 3” he screamed, “You’re not dead, are you?  I hope you’re alive.” It was just hilarious.

The patrons represented people and voices imagined in the minds of Aaron and Casey. None are supposed to be physically present. The actors played all the characters through song and dance, as Aaron and Casey discussed them.

Aaron imagined his dead Grandma Ida (played by Christenson), who was wearing sunglasses and a scarf. She informed him that she was disappointed he wasn’t dating a nice Jewish girl. Casey is an atheist. He’s visited by his best friend Gabe, played by Hernandez, who encourages Aaron by telling him the date is going well.  Frederick also plays Casey’s Christian father who isn’t crazy about Aaron as a prospective son-in-law.   

There were some strange scenes in this musical. One absurd scene involved Aaron imagining the future son he could have with Casey and how they would discuss which religion the imaginary son would choose.

The oddest scene, however, had to be the one where Casey told Aaron she had a 4-year-old son named Blaze. Frederick stood behind the bar holding this colorful puppet that resembled a stuffed teddy bear – representing Casey’s child and then let it snuggle up to Casey’s right breast, as if it was trying to breast feed. This rather shocked Aaron, who wondered why anyone would feed a 4-year-old this way.  Then Casey admitted she had no children.

The audience really cracked up laughing over this outrageous scene.

The audience learned Aaron was in investment banking; Casey loved photography and worked at an art gallery. They talked about Aaron’s past girlfriend, Allison, played by Kazmi, who left him standing at the altar.

Just as Casey asked Aaron if he Googled her before their date, Kazmi, as “The Google Girl,” and the rest of the cast representing Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, surrounded Casey as they all grabbed their cells and sang, “The World Wide Web is Forever.” It was a nice ending for the musical, which is all based on social media.

“First Date” had a touching ending. Aaron admitted, “I don’t want to go out with any of your friends, Casey. I want to go out with you. Maybe it’s time you tried something different.” The duo sang the final song with the company: “Something That Will Last,” and in one last scene, as one might expect, they kissed.

This production of “First Date” was perfectly suited for a Richland audience. It was a nice romance with unexpected surprises from an unusual cast of characters. The versatility and energy from the cast really made it a hit.