Stage review: CLO Cabaret and 'First Date' make a perfect match
February 22, 2016 12:00 AM
Caroline Nicolian and Luke Halferty are set up on a "First Date" for CLO Cabaret at the Cabaret at Theater Square through April 24.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Aaron and Casey are thrown together on what should be the blind date from hell. He’s a nerdy investment banker grieving over a bad breakup; she’s a hipster would-be photographer with a history of bad boys.
Where: CLO Cabaret at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown.
When: Through April 24. 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Fri. (1 p.m. Thurs. and April 21); 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun.
Tickets: $36.75-$44.75; clocabaret.com or 412-456-6666.
Is there anything more awkward than that moment two people realize they are totally wrong for each other and there’s still a full night ahead of them? Well, yes, there is.
In “First Date,” the sharp-witted musical comedy getting a CLO Cabaret reboot, Luke Halferty as Aaron and Caroline Nicolian as Casey are burdened by emotional baggage and well-meaning, disapproving friends and family — who manifest as visions at the most inopportune times, with hilarious, tuneful results.
The clever structure by Austin Winsberg and songwriters Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner is abetted by innovative staging that uses the full floor plan of the Cabaret at Theater Square. Masterful Tony Ferrieri has designed a set that is integrated into the space, so that action is sometimes as close as the couple at the table beside you.
Mr. Halferty and Ms. Nicolian, both Point Park University graduates, inhabit their roles as spelled out in the duet “First Impressions,” the show’s signature song.
He thinks: “She’s kinda indie and pretty hot / She’s a lot like all the things that I am not.” She thinks: “He’s a bit annoying / And overdressed / He’s got the kinda vibe that says, ‘Look at me, I’m stressed.’ ”
The waitstaff at the “First Date” restaurant — the talented, versatile trio of Maggie Carr, Connor McCanlus and David Toole — morph into the girl who broke Aaron’s heart and two of Casey’s loser exes; his best friend, her sister; his Jewish mother and her father in priest’s clothing. The transformations are distinguished by accomplished performers and the use of deft lighting, quick costume changes and varied entrances, so that sometimes you have to swivel to keep up.
Ms. Carr stakes claim to seven characters and Mr. McCanlus four. Among Mr. Toole’s five is Casey’s flamboyant friend Reggie, who has been tapped as Casey’s bailout call in case the date is going wrong — which it does. Then it doesn't. Then it does. And so on.
The fast-paced 90-minute show without intermission is filled with one-liners and one-upsmanships that keep Casey and Aaron at arm’s length or inspire them to try to connect. Grasping for common ground, Aaron is thrilled when Casey references the cult show “Quantum Leap,” a reference that seemed as lost on most of the audience at the CLO Cabaret as a later mention of “Battlestar Galactica.”
Character quirks (he’s a salad guy; she’s a burger girl), sight gags (Reggie’s goody hair piece) and relationship miscues (sarcasm that lands as insults) drew knowing laughs on a cold Wednesday night in the Cultural District. “First Date” also gave the audience a little Pittsburgh flavor here and there, part of the retooling of the script since its Broadway debut in 2013.
Some things haven’t changed. Your first impression of where Aaron and Casey are headed is likely correct, and the show doesn't break new ground musically or as commentary on contemporary dating.
The musical comedy’s charms are in the promise and pitfalls of a blind date and in visualizing a couple’s inner voices. With clever staging and a handful of charismatic performances, CLO Cabaret has found a perfect match in “First Date.”
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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