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Pipedream Productions’ inaugural offering, First Date, with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner and book by Gossip Girl writer, Austin Winsberg, opened last night at the Doncaster Playhouse. A passion project for first-time producer Maddie Wooster, this production was a courageous venture, delivering light-hearted musical entertainment to a full house of friends, family and ‘am-dram’ regulars.
The show itself is highly relatable for modern audiences, catapulting the classic ‘boy meets girl’ narrative into the 21st Century. Casey, a blunt, jaded self-saboteur arrives to meet Aaron, a neurotic, broken-hearted Jew; a “Blind Date Virgin.” The pair sits down to what appears to Casey to be yet another futile rendezvous, peppered with awkward small talk, uncomfortable silences, classic clichés and an underlying feeling of sinking doubt. So, when Casey’s ‘bail out call’ comes in, what makes her stay?
Winsberg’s book keeps us giggling with clever dialogue and modern charm. The music by Zachary and Weiner is in pastiche, drawing parallels to the score of amateur theatre favourite, Urinetown to poke fun at shows such as Fiddler on the Roof, American Idiot and Chicago. A melodic mix of old time musical comedy and modern pop, the production even includes a blatant fleecing of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” Needless to say, this show doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should you. With limited depth to the characters and plot, the piece needs a cast of energetic and versatile actors to keep the audience engaged throughout the single 90-minute act. Luckily, Pipedream Productions delivers.
The small cast of seven was well put together with a variety of unique, individual artists. Despite some Opening Night jitters across the board, they were able to pull off a rousing performance. It was a shaky start for Maddie Wooster as Casey but she relaxed and warmed into the role vocally in time for her emotional solo number at the show’s midpoint. The hesitancy and timidity of the first date scenario seemed to bleed too far into Wooster’s characterisation and I would have liked to see more brash American confidence to make a starker contrast between the pair. There’s no denying the girl can sing so, as a producer with a lot riding on this show, I’d venture a guess that the nerves were simply on high. Wooster took a more naturalistic approach to the role, whereas onstage counterpart, Purdy (Aaron) rose to the heightened playing style demanded by the musical theatre genre and the show’s satirical conventions. However, with the stress of opening night out of the way, I’m sure audiences will enjoy much more ease to Wooster’s performance.
It is unusual to find an amateur cast wherein the men unanimously stand out but, while performances were solid throughout the cast, in this instance, that was the case. In his most spirited role to date, Ryan Purdy stepped it up, taking assertive command of the role and playing a lovably nerdy and ever-so-slightly coy Aaron. His character arc was well portrayed and endearing to watch. Dan Solomon and Ben Paine both injected contagious energy and character into the piece, playing a variety of roles throughout the show. Solomon’s portrayal of Aaron’s personal censor and ever-encouraging best mate, Gabe, and Paine’s portrayal of Casey’s flamboyantly precious and totally persistent ‘bail out caller’, Reggie, were pitched extremely well against the more subdued realism of the blind date couple.
The full cast was onstage for the majority of the show, mysteriously producing props and set pieces from thin air to aid the musical numbers. Their convincing silent interactions throughout the scenes provided a credible backdrop for the key players, without distracting from the action; and their hoopla within musical numbers was tight and full of joy. The choreography by Merryn Degnan provided both comedic ostentation to aid the farcical nature of the satire and subtlety where necessary.
The set, designed by Nathan Storen, Ryan Purdy, and Merryn Degnan, was both practical and functional and was a clever use of the small stage space. Merryn Degnan and Colin Hartley’s costumes were basic but efficient and served their purpose, hinting at character but remaining neutral enough for the ensemble to transition easily from one character to the next. The major issue for this production was the sound amplification; fortunately however, the intimate arrangement of the theatre ensured that not all was lost.
Was the show 100% polished? No. But the sly charm of the script and the confidence and fun with which it was delivered was plenty to carry the show, tell the story and leave audiences satisfyingly tickled. My sincerest congratulations to all involved on Pipedreams Productions’ very impressive foray into the amateur musical theatre scene and all the best for the weekend ahead.