Pursued by Bear’s First Date is painfully accurate and intricately human.
First Date debuted in Seattle in 2012, finding its way to Broadway in August 2013. The music and lyrics are by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner and book by Austin Winsberg. For this, the Australian premiere, occasional lines are made more culturally and location appropriate, allowing the production to be set in Fitzroy with Australian accents.
Mark Taylor’s direction is clever, and it is lovely to see a Melbourne-based show refreshingly using Australian accents and Melbourne suburb names. The set is a café, complete with a full coffee set-up allowing coffee to be served before the show. Instead of usual additional front rows, there are café tables. These elements combined with all the intricacies – partially filled liquor bottles, plants, a chef hat on a band member – allow for an intimate and inviting set. We, as the audience, are in a café watching all of the awkwardness and discomfort of a first date.
Casey (Rebecca Hetherington) and Aaron (Jordon Mahar) are set up for a blind date with promises of total compatibility from trusted ones. These opposites venture from strangers, to the friend zone and beyond. Both are given the opportunity to show their more serious sides in “Safer” (for Hetherington) and “The Thing I Never Said” (for Mahar) in which both impress with their emotional performances. Hetherington’s vulnerable side of Casey is exceptionally moving, showcasing her extraordinary voice. Mahar exudes his comic side during “In Love With You”, delivered with such unexpected visceral punchiness, he adds depth to his otherwise straight-edge character.
The ensemble is created by Daniel Cosgrove as Gabe and Edgy British Guy, Nicole Melloy as Grandma Ida, Lauren and Aaron’s Mother, Adam Porter as Reggie, Aaron’s Future Son and Edgy Rocker Guy, Danielle O’Malley as Allison and Siri, and Stephen Valeri as Waiter, Casey’s Father, Blaze and Friendly Therapist. The ensemble is particularly memorable during the crowd-pleasing, comic highlight “The Girl For You”. Other highlights are the “Bailout Songs” and “I’d Order Love”.
This is a very balanced show, allowing most cast members moments to shine in various ways. That being said, every song brings a deliberate perspective to the story and boasts hilarity in spades. It’s impossible to pick a stand-out or favourite in this cast. They each shine at various points in the show for different reasons, creating a particularly strong ensemble.
Hopefully the cast will grow to understand where to pause and for how long for laughs and applause. At times, these were cut short by the cast jumping in straight away. This musical comedy has plenty of hilarious lines that should be enjoyed in their entirety.
With such a brilliant cast, the sound mix was especially disappointing. We simply couldn’t hear the majority of the lines for the opening number “The One”. With an unnecessarily loud band, cast members belting to be heard over it, and constantly missed cues, the sound detracted significantly from the overall impact of First Date. While the generous opening night crowd laughed and clapped its way through the show, it will be interesting to see how many gags will land if this isn’t rectified. With any luck it can be fixed as soon as possible to allow the show to shine the way it should, within this season.
There’s no specific genre to First Date’s music, instead, the characters inform the music. The dodgy ex-boyfriends are a heavier rock, where Casey’s gay best friend Reggie has overly camp, kitschy tunes. Joel Anderson’s choreography is impressively large and fun in the limited open space on the stage.
This first date turned therapy session has a little bit of all of us in it. Even if we’re not represented in one of the characters, we’re sung about or have experienced these very real stories. First Date is a fun, light-hearted musical comedy sure to deliver laughs and painfully familiar moments. The friend zone, bail out phone calls and too-serious topics will all make you squirm until you burst out laughing.
First Date is on at Chapel Off Chapel until 11 September, 2016.