‘First Dates: The Musical’ was diverting.
The Reload Espresso Bar, in the middle of Salisbury, is not the first place one would think of when choosing a niche and off-the-radar performance venue, but Footlights Theatrical have selected wisely for their latest production. ‘First Date the Musical’ is exactly what its name suggests – a blind date set to a blistering score with a hilarious book. The premise is simple. Throw two dysfunctional singles into a dinner and drinks scenario, and allow all of their neuroses to play out. What could possibly go wrong?
Director Roslyn Johnson (with help from assistant director and choreographer Row Blackshaw), really found the perfect balance between functionality and the unique performance venue. Opting for an immersive experience, the cast often moved between audience members as they sat at tables, or on lounges, scattered around the space. This made the best use of the venue and kept the audience on their toes, and in the action.
Sightlines were occasionally a problem, but due to the nature of the production, with scenes constantly moving and changing, no moment was lost for long. What also hindered was the sound design on the night, which was unfortunately poor. The audience as a whole struggled to hear clearly, and a lot of the funny, quippy lines were missed, along with the impressive harmony work that musical director Aaron Griffiths had clearly worked so hard on. It was a definite detraction from an otherwise charming night at the theatre.
William Boyd played neurotic, uptight Aaron. A recently heartbroken, slightly geeky stockbroker who doesn’t date a lot and carries a lot of very visible baggage with him. Boyd lent hard into the geeky personae, and you could almost feel the nervous sweat dripping off him. His rendition of the character was perhaps a little too unsure, creating a caricatured trope rather than a rounded human being, but while this is true, his work at the end of the show was pure charm.
As down to earth, commitment-phobe Casey, Sophia Dimopoulos was outstanding and a definite highlight of the evening. With a voice to die for and sass for days, Dimopoulos brought every inch of her considerable prowess to bear on the role. Audiences absolutely ate up her performance, and the cheer that went up when she sang “Safer” was the loudest of the night.
As for the ensemble in this production, they were small in number, but mighty in characterisation and what that they brought to their roles. More than anything else, it was the chorus that kept the production spinning along, as the book by itself is perhaps a little thin on the ground. This offered plenty of scope for both members of the ensemble and the creative team to play with, especially considering that most of the parts within the ensemble exist only in the imagination of Aaron and Casey.
Liam McDonnell was hilarious as best-friend Gabe, constantly whispering encouraging things into Aaron’s ear. His interactions with Allison (Aaron’s ex-fiance), played by Allison Fair, were perfection. Fair also prominently played the role of “Google” which was a treat, as well as a constant reminder that anything that ever goes online is going to be around forever.
As Aaron’s grandmother and mother, and also Casey’s sister, Louella Baldwin was consistently watchable throughout. Although it would have been nice to see a little more “old” in her little old lady, she constantly hit the right beats to add humour to the production. Her work with Mackenzie Kelly as Casey’s father was hilarious. Of particular note, Baldwin’s reaction every time she dropped out of singing and back into “restaurant guest” was spot on.
Kelly also brought a considerable amount of comedy to the waiter, always with a perfectly timed glance aside, he was a window for the audience into the evening. Along with Tanaka Utete’s Reggie the recurring “bail-out call”, their flamboyant excesses and over the top dramatics actually found a way to ground the show and make it more realistic. Both were equally scene-stealing and the audience relished in the moments where Utete left to don his scarf and glasses, or Kelly came to the fore with another foodie inspired number.
‘First Date the Musical’ was a laid back night at the theatre. There was plenty of tongue-in-cheek and the production used the warehouse space of Reload Espresso Bar in a distinctive and inclusive way. Both the show choice and the venue were spot on and Footlights Theatrical should be highly commended for their innovative efforts.
Moving forward, for both Footlights and Reload, it was clear there is plenty of scope for growth and collaboration. Something Brisbane desperately needs more of. Both the company and space are definitely something to watch.
To keep up to date with Footlights Theatrical’s next performance, visit http://footlightstheatrical.com.au.
Disclaimer: Cast / Production Members working on this show also work for Theatre Haus, but rest assured, we always take steps to ensure our reviews maintain their integrity and are free from bias.