This production was scheduled May 12-28, 2023.
So . . . a first date (particularly a blind date—if such a thing really exists anymore in the context of social media dating) is fraught with the potential for “mishaps and mistakes,” as Santa Maria Civic Theatre tells us in its production of the 2013 Broadway musical (aptly titled) First Date.
No doubt of it, there are misunderstandings and misconceptions and missteps aplenty in this first meeting of two New Yorkers, Casey (Lauren Omernik) and Aaron (Jude Walker), with a cast of five additional actors who serve as a kind of Greek chorus, filling roles that round out the backgrounds of the main characters while reminding us through song about the hopes and dreams of singles looking for “the one.”
What makes this setup work so well in this case, however, is the fact that the plot’s “mishaps and mistakes” are executed with nary a mishap or mistake on the part of SMCT’s creative team. Director Cody Fogh, musical director and choreographer Christine Fogh, and crew members Will Fogh, AJ Fogh, and Isabel Skene, working with a skillful and versatile cast, come together to provide a delightful and cohesive entertainment, demonstrating that the limitations of SMCT’s small venue need not hinder putting on a great show.
Omernik (playing a cool and controlled Casey) and Walker (so sweet playing Aaron’s awkwardness) are a good fit for the show and each other, with consistent characterizations and persuasive vocals. But it’s the supporting chorus members who get to shine as each takes on roles as needed to advance the plot of the 90-minute (with no intermission) production.
The multi-talented Jaime Espinoza is a joy to watch in all his incarnations, but particularly as Casey’s friend Reggie—with feather boa—singing not one but three “Bailout” songs intended to give Casey an opportunity to dump Aaron if things aren’t going well on their date. Likewise, the very likable David Smith displays his versatility in the song and dance number “The Girl for You,” a fun example of the show’s creative choreography, and in his portrayal of Aaron’s friend Gabe, offering advice both good and bad. But when Espinoza and Smith get together as two “bad boys” in “That’s Why You Love Me,” we don’t need the smoke and spotlights to tell us they are hot!
Local theatre veterans Jessie Villaseñor and Sarah Ruth Smith turn in sometimes poignant, sometimes playful performances, both showing off imaginative takes on some traditional roles. Villaseñor plays Aaron’s mother in a gentle duet with her son (“The Things I Never Said”) that is touching and shows off her vocal range. Smith gets to play the ex-girlfriend, displaying her dancing chops as well as her ability to nail nonverbal reactions to the goings-on.
Finally, hats off to light-on-his-feet John Shade, who gets to serve drinks with flair, fling flower petals, play with a puppet, and take the lead as a waiter singing “I’d Order Love” in a rousing musical extravaganza that ends with a kick line to the delight of the audience.
While no one person is credited with costume or lighting design, both should be mentioned as adding immensely to the audience enjoyment of the show. The actors wear a variety of amusing accessories, from tie-dye and fringe (“The Awkward Pause”) to top hats and wigs (“The World Wide Web is Forever”). The stage management, including lighting and musical cues, comes off without a hitch. Just goes to show how a well-organized crew and creative team can make magic together.
With contemporary songs by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, and book by Austin Winsberg, First Date complements the community theatre canon quite well, and with this production SMCT has given many, many talented people the opportunity to have fun with it while sharing with us their joy of performing.