Stage preview: Luke Halferty goes on 'First Date' as a leading man in CLO Cabaret production
February 3, 2016 12:00 PM
Laura Petrilla for Pittsburgh CL
Caroline Nicolian and Luke Halferty will star in a new version of the musical comedy "First Date" for CLO Cabaret.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CLO Cabaret’s “First Date” boasts a couple of firsts for Pittsburgh and one Pittsburgher in particular — the Broadway musical comedy was revamped specifically for the city by the original writers, and Luke Halferty, whose upward trajectory started with a 2011 Gene Kelly Award as best actor, has his first professional gig as a leading man.
Where: CLO Cabaret at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday (1 p.m. Feb. 25 and April 21); 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $36.75-$44.75; clocabaret.com or 412-456-6666.
Mr. Halferty and his co-star, Caroline Nicolian, knew each other casually before going on a musical “First Date.” Both are Point Park Conservatory graduates separated by a couple of years, and both attended schools in the city — Central Catholic High School for him; Perry for her — while constantly moving through the ranks toward starring roles.
Mr. Halferty, who graduated from college last year, has already rolled up an impressive amount of credits, starting with winning the Kelly as a red-headed Tevye in Central Catholic’s “Fiddler on the Roof.” The win allowed him to represent Pittsburgh at the national Jimmy Awards in New York and helped earn him a spot at Point Park, where he was seen mostly in character roles. In fact, he did not audition for the part of Aaron, the lead in “First Date,” so the callback to give it a try came as a surprise.
“I love characters — charactery characters, the deeper the better,” he said. “I like if they appear to be unlikable and make you feel a little uncomfortable, and then you wind up feeling for them. You leave wondering, ‘Why did I like that guy?’ I like shining a light on that kind of character, bringing out his humanity.”
In “First Date,” Aaron is an awkward, uptight type, facing a blind date with hipster Casey — Ms. Nicolian, a 2004 Kelly Award nominee out of Perry High School who is in her third CLO Cabaret role. She also understudied Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” for Pittsburgh Public Theater.
The co-stars and cast member Maggie Carr don’t have to play any first-date games with their choreographer, Kiesha Lalama, who with Van Kaplan, Pittsburgh CLO/CLO Cabaret producing artistic director, works with Kelly kids and those who go on to the Jimmys through every step of the process.
“Luke obviously has something special that he is successfully communicating to the world, which is what good acting is about,” said Mr. Kaplan. “He has an actor’s natural instincts and draws you in. He’s likable.”
Those are good qualities to have on a blind date with someone who would seem to be your opposite. There’s the added angst of advice from everyone you know ringing in your head — Aaron and Casey are beset by the voices of mothers and grandmas, besties and exes, all played by Ms. Carr, David Toole and Connor McCanlus.
“First Date” was on Broadway for five months, closing in January 2014. Mr. Halferty was familiar with it, “vaguely.”
“They have the score in the Point Park library, and I thought, that could be interesting,” the actor said. “I like the stars; Zachary Levi [TV’s ‘Chuck’ and ‘Heroes Reborn’] and Krysta Rodriguez are excellent.”
The creative team behind “First Date” are writer/composers Alan Zachary, Michael Weiner and Austin Winsberg, who, like the star of the show, first came to Mr. Kaplan’s attention before their first big success.
“I met Alan and Michael some years ago when we invited them to join us for our CLO/CMU New Works program, where they showcased a musical for us,” he said. “I was impressed by them and later approached them and began working with them to develop a new musical comedy for our Cabaret. However, at the same time they were also working on ‘First Date’ with Austin, which was optioned for Broadway, and away they went. Fast forward, having enjoyed ‘First Date’ on Broadway, I thought it could work well reconceived for our Cabaret.”
A reading of the revised script and score was held by Pittsburgh CLO last year, and the decision was made to go forward. Among the changes, the show is Pittsburgh-centric, with references just for locals.
Enter Mr. Halferty. His roommate told him about the auditions last summer, and he tried out for the role he calls “character man.”
“The night before the callback, I got a call to come in and read for Aaron as well. I had already counted myself out, but that night, I was in Aaron mode 100 percent, and I wasn’t thinking of anything else,” he said.
“The casting process is always competitive, and he clearly knows what a director wants,” Mr. Kaplan said. “He has come far fast, and comedy being the most challenging realm of all, I think he’s going to grow tremendously by doing this role in this show.”
“First Date” runs into April, which, as Mr. Halferty points out, “is the longest gig they offer in Pittsburgh.”
“I’ve never done a show this long,” he continued. “It’s the type of show that’s good to start with as a leading man — great subject matter, a crowdpleaser, music that’s so much fun to sing. And it will be like going on a date every night.”
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.
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