Remember TV’s “Dating Game” from the ‘60s and ‘70s? It was the ultimate blind date: one woman, three bachelors, divided by a wall and a smarmy emcee. Questions were asked and answered before the winning date was chosen, sight unseen. The audience could see all—and it was hilarious.
Fast forward to last night’s opening of “First Date,” directed by the sure-handed J.R. Rose, now playing at the Royal George Theatre. The audience watches in real time as the dreaded blind date unfolds between newbie Aaron (played by a winning Charlie Lubeck, best known for “The Glee Project”) and “serial dater” Casey (the terrific Dana Parker). The five remaining ensemble actors serve as a Greek dating chorus of sorts, alternating between characters from the leads’ pasts, friends, lovers and bystanders.
And those “chorus” members play a vital role in this production; each gets several opportunities to shine, most notably the always fabulous John Keating—who kills as the sassy waiter who (shocker!) is also a writer/actor/performer—and Cassie Slater, alternately deeply affecting and hilarious in her roles as Aaron’s mother and Casey’s sister among others.
You’re rooting for this “First Date” to succeed from the very beginning. Scenic Designer Thad Hallstein has nailed the quintessential Chicago singles bar on the small cabaret stage, ringing the rim with a first row of seated audience tables that provide the energetic cast a surface to jump up on and serve to further draw the audience in to the story. The cool lighting and big screen TVs add to the sense of place.
Musical Director/conductor Elizabeth Doran does fine work with the band and the vocalists here; given the clever lyrics and catchy tunes provided by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, the cast has a lot to work with—and they make the most of it.
Clocking in at a pleasantly brisk 90 minutes with no intermission, “First Date” will find fans young and old, married and single. Everyone can identify with someone or some situation in this extremely relatable piece. If you’re looking for the perfect date night entertainment, this is it, and just in time for Valentine’s Day—although the appeal of this show will last far beyond Feb. 14.
“First Date” runs through April 26 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St., Chicago, 312-988-9000. Shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Fridays, 5:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. For tickets, visit “First Date”‘s website.