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Theater Review: "First Date"

Zackary Scot Wolfe, Lindsay Joan, Lauren King Thompson, Joshua Cavanaugh, Jonathan Sangster, Cassandra Nuss, and John Massey
Photo credit:
Shawna Sarnowski

First dates are frightening enough, but first *blind* dates? Positively horrifying.

Unless, of course, you’re serial blind dater Casey (Cassandra Nuss), who seems to make a habit of it – to the consternation of married sister Lauren (Lauren King Thompson), who just wishes she’d settle down.

Tonight, in the musical “First Date,” she’s set Casey up with Aaron (Joshua David Cavanaugh), one of her husband’s coworkers.

Set designer Stephen Gifford’s spiffy West Village gastropub in New York City is the setting, with practically ceiling-high shelving and artsy bottles on display, three tables on two levels and a banquette/bar.

Aaron is first to arrive, all businesslike and nervous in his Wall Street suit and tie. The Waiter (John Massey) brings “a big, manly” beer, opines that Aaron’s attire makes him seem “desperate and/or douchey,” and suggests he ditch the tie and loosen the shirt collar.

After Casey arrives and orders “a shot of something strong, and a chaser of something stronger,” we’re treated to their “First Impressions” (He: “She looks like all the girls who ignored me in school;” She: “He’s a bit annoying and overdressed”).

Aaron’s attempt at humor (calling her a BDS – blind date slut – is Not Appreciated.

Can this date be salvaged?

Aaron and Casey will get lots of imaginary (but right there onstage before you) help from relatives, parents and best friends who sing and dance them through the date and a nearly disastrous dinner.

“First Date” is the brain child of Austin Winsberg (book), with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. It premiered in Seattle in 2012 and had a five-month Broadway run in 2013-14. J. Scott Lapp directs San Diego Musical Theatre’s sparkling first local production through May 7 at the Horton Grand Theatre downtown.

There’s something for everybody here. For example, Casey’s bff, the very gay Reggie (Jonathan Sangster), programmed to call Casey’s cell every so often for a “Bailout” – just in case. There are two “bad boys” (Zackary Scot Wolfe and Sangster) – the kind of guy Casey has always been attracted to.

There’s Aaron’s very Jewish grandma (Thompson), horrified to learn that Casey is Christian, and Casey’s dad (Massey), equally aghast that Aaron’s Jewish.

There’s even that omnipresent, unforgiving bane of good impressions, the Internet, represented by Google (Lindsay Joan), Twitter (Massey) and Facebook (Thompson), predictably revealing embarrassing things about both Aaron and Casey.

When Casey is about to flee, singing that it’s “Safer” to be alone, Massey’s seen-it-all Waiter (a frustrated performer who steals the show) steps in to recommend the fix with a delightful song: “I’d Order Love.”

Cavanaugh’s nervous-nelly Aaron is a good foil for Nuss’ pretty, blasé old-timer, and it’s fun to watch them inch toward compatibility despite everything.

Kudos also to the wonderfully versatile actors who play multiple characters – Thompson, Joan, Sangster, Massey and Wolfe. They are all excellent.

“First Date” is one of those rare shows that everyone can identify with. Grab a date (first or otherwise) and see this show.

The details

“First Date” plays through May 7, 2017 at the Horton Grand Theatre, 444 Fourth Avenue, Gaslamp Quarter.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (858) 560-5740 or sdmt.org