Tall Tales/TIO Denver: “First Date” at Denver Center

Tall Tales/TIO Denver: “First Date” at Denver Center

“First Date” is now up at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts through April 22, 2018. Go here to purchase tickets. Our Denver theater critic, award-winning author Mark Stevens, reviews the production.

Seth Dhonau (left) as Aaron and Adriane Leigh Robinson as Casey, courtesy, The Denver Center.

Frothy, foamy, slight and bubbly.

“First Date” won’t spark any in-depth, soul-stirring post-show conversations. “First Date” is built for merriment. It’s a giant ball of freshly spun cotton candy. For 90 minutes, you will forget that kale exists. To overcook the food metaphors, it’s a chopped salad of clever, witty, snarky, trope-filled theater.

Musical theater.

Characters in this show break into song at the slightest excuse. Say, if another character takes a breath. There are 17 songs in a lickety-split 90 minutes. There are toe-tappers and a couple of big old Broadway-esque ballads. There is also a snappy live band back there behind the stage. (Everything is always better with a live band.)

The premise is simple. Take a first date—okay, make it a blind date, too—and parse it for every possible internal thought of the two participants. Hopes to fears, milk them all. Then, throw in a few secrets (our hero was left standing at the altar; our heroine has a thing for bad boys) and stir. “First Date” (book by Austin Winsberg; music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner) has a sitcom rhythm and plenty of laughs.

The two leads at the Denver Center for Performing Arts show are played by Adriane Leigh Robinson (Casey) and Seth Dhonau (Aaron). They are surrounded, sometimes in smothering fashion, by Man 1, Man 2, and Woman 1. The three supporting players are a whacky Greek Chorus of commentary on the ebb and flow of the events unfolding in the bar where the date is happening.

Man 1 (Steven J. Burge) rotates roles including Casey’s best gay pal to Aaron’s enthusiastic, don’t-screw-this-up Everyman Bro. Man 2 (Jordan Leigh) plays the waiter, who gets involved on many levels including as one of Casey’s former bad boy boyfriends, and Woman 1 (Lauren Shealy) plays both Aaron’s emasculating ex and Casey’s common-sense sister. All three work together and, at times, alone.

At first, it’s a mismatch. Aaron is a suit-and-tie guy. An investment banker. Jewish. And he’s apparently (how is that possible?) never been on a blind date before. He’s establishment.

Casey is tight black pants. Artsy. Edgy. Definitely not Jewish. And an experienced blind-dater. She’s indie, a free spirit.

Lauren Shealy as Woman 1, Seth Dhonau as Aaron, Steven J. Burge as Man 1, Adriane Leigh Robinson as Casey, and Jordan Leigh as Man 2, courtesy, The Denver Center.

Back and forth go Casey and Aaron, steering clear of hot-button issues or gently probing general likes and dislikes. They are frequently interrupted and counseled (via song, natch) by the ever-present Greek Chorus. Should Casey order a chopped salad or a cheeseburger? The chorus knows! (Both Man 1 and Woman 1 have seats just off stage, practically with the audience, and it’s fun to watch them accessorize for their next bit and get ready for their cues. They never break for long.)

Is there rapport? Or disdain? Is there a way to transcend the obvious barriers to a connection or will hope fade given the contrasting sets of personalities and the essence of each other’s DNA?

The performances are all smooth and energetic, with Steven J. Burge often leading the charge. The show started running in November, so they’ve got the blocking and timing down. (“First Date” runs through April.)

I’m no expert on musicals, but all five singers pack a punch, particularly Adriane Leigh Robinson. A few times the band overwhelmed some of the singing—something which should be easy to get right in the nifty, compact Galleria space.

Buy a ticket, order a drink for the show, order another when the wait staff comes around, and prepare to laugh. You will not be surprised a bit, even after the big dark moment when all hope is lost, that the show ends with a smooch. Or two.

More about Mark Stevens:

Mark Stevens, courtesy Cyrus McCrimmon

Mark Stevens, courtesy Cyrus McCrimmon

Telluride Inside… and Out’s monthly (more or less) column, Tall Tales, is so named because contributor Mark Stevens is one long drink of water. He is also long on talent.

Mark Stevens was raised in Massachusetts, but he’s been a Coloradoan since 1980.

Mark has worked as a print reporter, ((Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, Rocky Mountain News), national news television producer, (MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour) and school district communicator. He’s now laboring in the new economy, listed under “s” for self-employed public relations exec.

Mark has published four Colorado-based mysteries, “Antler Dust”(2007), “Buried by the Roan” (2011), “Trapline” (2014) and “Lake of Fire” (2015).  “Trapline” won the Colorado Book Award.  The fifth book, “The Melancholy Howl,” is due out in late 2018.

For more about Mark, check out his website.

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