‘First Date’ offers fresh, honest look at modern-day blind dates

Laura Hodos, Conor Walton, Roland Rusinek, Erica Lustig, Clay Cartland, Nick Duckart and Jessica Booth in Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre’s production of First Date. // Photo Courtesy Alberto Romeu.

Laura Hodos, Conor Walton, Roland Rusinek, Erica Lustig, Clay Cartland, Nick Duckart and Jessica Booth in Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre’s production of First Date. // Photo Courtesy Alberto Romeu.

Gone are the days when a first date involved flowers. Now swiping right on Tinder has become the starting point of many a blind date. While the ways people look for love have changed, sitting through an awkward blind date is a timeless, universal experience.

“First Date,” now playing at the Actors’ Playhouse, is a fresh and honest look at the struggle single adults go through in today’s world filled with online dating, speed dating and dating apps.

Actors’ Playhouse is the first regional production of the show, which is straight off its 2013 Broadway run.

The story follows Aaron and Casey who have been set up on a blind date. In 90 minutes, the audience follows these polar opposites as they venture through awkward pauses, inappropriate first-date conversations and hilariously-timed interruptions.

“First Date” is a snapshot of what happens on a blind date, complete with the nerve-wracking first impression, the awkward small talk and the power struggle over who will pay the bill.

The musical is just plain fun, filled with upbeat, modern music. The characters speak and interact just as any 20-something would about things like the friend-zone and one night stands.

The audience is taken along a no-holds-barred journey of inappropriate first-date topics, such as religion, ex-girlfriends and family conflict through modern, up-beat songs. The ensemble rotated roles throughout the show, embodying everyone from a Jewish bubbe to an Australian bad boy.

“Bailout Song” was the consistent show-stopping number and the anthem of single friends everywhere. With the best of intentions, Casey’s overly involved gay BFF Reggie (Conor Walton) is ready to bail Casey out of a bad date with a phone call. As the night goes on, the calls escalate to a melodramatic, enthusiastic fervor filled with sassy remarks that culminate in a hysterical performance.

Aaron (Clay Cartland) is an honest BDV or “blind date virgin” whose nerves end up getting the better of him. Cartland gives an honest portrayal of the geek-next-door who means well, but spends the majority of the evening with his foot in his mouth.

Cartland amps up the volume during “Allison’s Theme #2” with an ode to his ex-girlfriend. His energy and passion evoked laughter from the audience and proved a cathartic experience for Aaron and anyone who’s left things unsaid with an ex.

Cartland also shares an open, vulnerable moment in his touching performance of “The Things I Never Said.” His ability to show the audience the dimensions of Aaron made him a likeable, everyday hero to root for.

Casey (Erica Lustig) gives off strong, tough chick vibes with a take-no-prisoners attitude. She has had her share of blind dates and is used to dating bad boys – really bad boys.

Lustig brought the edge her character needed, spitting out one-liners as quickly as she downed her drinks. Lustig’s voice is mesmerizing and sultry, and she exuded bravado in her songs from the preliminary “First Impressions” to her powerhouse solo “Safer.”

Throughout the show, Casey experiences a transformation as she lowers her defenses and allows herself to know Aaron. Lustig masterfully took on this challenge, highlighting her overly-cautious nature and the struggle she faced in opening up.

“First Date” is a rocking good time, filled with hilarious, relatable moments that leave the audience laughing and saying, “I’ve been there.” However, the actors find a playful way to hold up a mirror to society, showing the humor in the human experience of finding love in today’s digital age.

This article originally appeared in The Miami Hurricane April 4, 2015.

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