The Blumenthal’s big-hearted ‘First Date’ lets us eavesdrop on a couple meeting for the first time—and sets their blind date to music.
Nearly every woman who’s ever had a first date has wondered, “Am I about to meet my future spouse?”
Of course, most first dates don’t result in marriage. Many first dates don’t even lead to a second date. It’s one of the most fraught, uncertain things we do—putting ourselves out there for a potential partner to approve of or reject us.
The creative team behind “First Date,” showing at the Booth Playhouse, Sept. 27 through Nov. 20, gives us a potentially awkward blind date—set to an infectious pop score.
But the story doesn’t take us into the future of Casey and Aaron. We’re with them for just 90 minutes—the length of their date. “If this were a Hollywood movie, toward the end you’d see a montage of the couple’s next 20 or 30 years together,” says Megan Larche, the executive producer. But “First Date” doesn’t hurry us along.
The comedy feels familiar to anyone who’s been on a date in the internet age. Casey Googles Aaron; he Googles her, too. That cyber-sleuthing leads to a song called “The World Wide Web is Forever.” A live band, made up of local musicians, keeps the beat.
The setting is New York, but this date could easily take place anywhere—even the Queen City. The set designer researched locations in Charlotte to create an authentic backdrop.
And the fact that it’s set in a restaurant— the default location for most first dates—makes it immediately recognizable. And the production brings up things we think about before dining with a stranger: Will I get spinach stuck in my teeth? Should I try to act like a dainty eater even though I’m famished?
Director Dan Knechtges, who’s been nominated for a Tony Award, says the restaurant setting forces the main characters to think about drinking, too: “‘Do I order wine? A cocktail? What kind of cocktail? An elevated one like a martini? Or a Jack and Coke?’ The minutiae of choosing says a lot,” says Knechtges.
The production is totally Charlotte-centric. Tom Gabbard, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s president, saw the show in New York and thought it was right for the QC. He and Larche, an old colleague, traveled to Pittsburgh to see the streamlined version of the Broadway hit and liked what they saw. That’s the version Knechtges is reimagining for Charlotte.
Knechtges says the story isn’t “heteronormative.” It may be a man and woman we’re witnessing on a first date, but “the loneliness that causes them to reach out and want to connect is universal,” he says.
He also sees parallels in the dating world and the real world. If you’ve ever been to a college interview or job interview, you know what it is to risk rejection. “This show makes fun of our insecurities,” he says. “Everybody has them.”
Larche thinks “Safer” is the song audiences will walk away singing. “It’s Casey’s inner monologue she shares with the audience. She’s been putting up walls when it comes to dating because it’s safer that way, but she begins to think she’s ready to open her heart.”
Other characters—both real (like the waiter) and imagined (Casey’s best friend and a priest)—pop up to help the audience understand what the characters are thinking.
Like a real first date, there’s hope and a bit of uncertainty at the end of “First Date.” But the characters are both likable— lovable, even—and the audience roots for them to have their own happily ever after.
Or at least a second date.
See the musical comedy (with some adult humor) at Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center from Sept. 27 through Nov.20. Learn more and buy tickets at www.blumenthalarts.org or 704-372-1000.
Take a date to “First Date”
As the name implies, “First Date” makes for a great date night. Cabaret tables are set near the stage, so you and your date can order a drink and canoodle before the curtain goes up. Here are five date night spots within a short walk of the theater.
The historic Dunhill Hotel provides a romantic backdrop. The Asbury’s modern Southern menu (start with Maw Maw’s cast-iron biscuits and bacon jam) satisfies and impresses.
Late night drinks
Savor a craft cocktail in the Ritz Carlton’s 15th-story speakeasy, The Punch Room. Hand-crafted punches are designed for two. Try the Top of the Hill with gin, champagne, blackberries, Earl Gray tea, rosemary, and lemon.
Table for two
The Italian-inspired Aria—in the same building as the Blumenthal—has a romantic table for two on the landing of the staircase. Get flirty—far from the madding crowd. (Show them your ticket, and get 10 percent off.)
The day date
It’s less of a commitment than the nighttime date. Have brunch at The Local Loaf, stroll through 7th St. Public Market and then hit the matinee.
Rock Bottom Brewery is a stone’s throw from the theater, and the restaurant will validate your parking in the Transamerica deck after 5 p.m. While you can’t walk to the South End breweries from the theater, you can take the light rail to local breweries like Wooden Robot, The Unknown Brewing Company, Lenny Boy, and Sycamore. Having a craft beer at a lively taproom may be the perfect Act II.