News Column

'First Date' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

August 10, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 10--Did New York critics enjoy their date with "First Date"? For some there was good chemistry, for others (including the highly influential New York Times) it fizzled.

The rom-com about the ups and downs of a blind date was a light, charming diversion and a box-office hit when it premiered in Seattle last year at ACT Theatre, in a joint production by ACT and 5th Avenue Theatre. But it was no sure thing that the small-scale show would win hearts under the glaring lights and high expectations of Broadway, where it has transferred with original director Bill Berry (associate artistic head of 5th Avenue) guiding a mostly new cast led by Zachary Levi (of TV's "Chuck") and Krysta Rodriguez (TV's "Smash").

"First Date" officially opened at the Longacre Theatre on Thursday, and was welcomed to Broadway by The Associated Press: "The book by 'Gossip Girl' writer Austin Winsberg provides the couple with plenty of flippant repartee. A madcap mashup of musical styles and lyrics blazing with one-liners are provided by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner ... Making his Broadway debut, Levi has a strong leading-man presence, smooth in his dance moves while handling Aaron's nervous gaffes with comedic flair."

There were also positive notices from the Hollywood Reporter ("displays a genuine wit and musical flair that marks a refreshing change from the onslaught of overblown musicals permeating Broadway these days") and from the New York Post (" 'First Date,' smoothly directed by Bill Berry, is a very pleasant show"), with more kind words from Variety ("Ah, the joys of the modest musical, a rare commodity on Broadway these days but an ideal tenant for the intimately scaled and lovingly restored Longacre Theater").

Levi and Berry received mostly positive attention, but the show itself drew some withering pans in key outlets. USA Today found it "simultaneously dimwitted and hyperactive," and Bloomberg News dismissed it as "harmless and forgettable."

Charles Isherwood of The New York Times was harshest of all. He termed the musical "a singing sitcom" with "bland pop-rock music." And he asserted that "the singles-searching-for-love thing was a lot fresher back in the 1990s, when 'Friends,' 'Seinfeld' and 'Sex and the City,' along with their lesser ilk, began digging around this terrain. By now it's been thoroughly strip-mined and needs to be reinvented, not just rehashed and set to mediocre music. A more appropriate title for 'First Date' would be 'Last Rites.'"

Can "First Date" survive that grim verdict? It sold well in previews, has had a warm audience response, and is one of the few new productions premiering on Broadway this summer. Maybe that's enough to keep it running, but better not bet on it.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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