reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs K and I traveled through a rainy evening for opening night of First Date, ASOTA’s first foray to Footlite Musicals. This production is presented as a “cabaret” on a walled-in main stage, and we were seated at a cafe style table for two about midway back from the stage. The story, a fresh idea directed by Kathleen Clarke Horrigan, covers many of the foibles of that unavoidable human task – the first date. Aaron has been encouraged to date Casey by her brother-in-law, who works with him. Their first meeting presents a series of challenges – attraction, religion, being “right for” the other, past relationships, friend-zoning – all mixed in with the limitations of what is appropriate to do, or ask, or say at this clumsiest of meetings. Both Aaron and Casey are visited (in their heads) by influential thoughts and people: for him – his girl-savvy friend Gabe, and his ex-girlfriend Allison; for Casey – her opinionated sister, Lauren, plus two “bad-boy” ex-boyfriends.

from left – Zach Hoover as Aaron, Darrin Gowan as The Waiter, and Halie Catlow as Casey in a scene from Footlite Musical’s “First Date”

Zach Hoover stars as Aaron. Gifted with a most pleasant vocal talent, Hoover does an admirable job with the “nice guy” role. He is joined by Halie Catlow as Casey, likewise a talented vocalist, who fills her part with honesty and humor. A good sized ensemble consorts with the central duo. Standouts include Austin Stodghill as Casey’s BFF, Reggie (who continuously offers her “bail-out” phone calls); Darrin Gowan as The Waiter; Ben Fraley as Aaron’s dating adviser, Gabe; DonaMarie Kelley as Aaron’s ex, Allison; and Hannah Janowicz, who doubles as Casey’s sister, Lauren, and as Aaron’s mother. Margaret Smith and Adam Gardner round out the cast as waiters.

The production I saw is, I felt, uneven at best. There are some high points, to be sure – including a dynamic solo effort by Ms. Catlow with the self-examining “Safer”, the strikingly soulful “The Things I Never Said” by Hoover and Ms. Janowicz (as his mother), as well as the ensemble’s send-up of the internet – “The World Wide Web is Forever”. Many of the rest of the musical numbers come off as less polished, which is perhaps an opening night phenomenon, I’m not certain. The acted scenes are mostly on target, but there are some volume problems, even though the cast is miked, and both pace and timing could be improved in several scenes where some added snap would be beneficial. There are many very good characterizations and the leads do admirable work throughout, but I just feel there is another level that some things can be taken to. Hopefully that level, along with a more polished countenance, will develop as the players become even more focused and centered in their tasks.

The cast of Footlite Musical’s “First Date” perform “The World Wide Web is Forever”

Lastly, I am afraid I am not a big fan of the concept that is offered for staging this show due to blocked sight lines. Everything is placed on one level. The seating is for up to 70 or so people, and the tables are fairly crowded together. Act 1 is not too much of a problem as most of the action is set at a bar with raised stools or by standing performers. In Act 2 the main characters move to a table and many things are not as easily seen, especially from behind the second tier of seats. Not sure why this isn’t addressed with perhaps a raised stage area – it would definitely improve the experience.

Bottomline: This has the makings of a very good show, it’s funny and honest and peopled with talented performers – perhaps everything was not at the ready for opening night. If you go – be aware of adult language in some instances. I would suggest leaving the impressionable youngsters at home for this one. Also, arrive early for the best seats.

First Date runs through January 19th and is virtually sold-out already. One performance was added for Sunday, so you might be able to snag a seat if you are lucky and quick. Head to http://www.footlite.org for tickets and other pertinent information about the show.

  • photos by Rob Slaven