Lambert Jackson are the producers of the moment right now. With their numerous concerts and musicals being streamed over lockdown, they are giving the theatre lovers something to keep us going until we can return to our seats. We are extremely lucky that they have treated us to this witty American musical, with a top cast and some smashing vocal performances.
First Date is exactly what is says on the tin. A musical about an explosive blind date between two people who endure awkwardness, arguments and annoying waiters in the quest to find love. The Crazy Coqs seems the perfect place to set it. There’s a bar, a place for dinner seating and a stage ready for an impromptu song. The team have cleverly utilised this space with a multi-camera set up and plenty of close-ups that pull the audience right in. I like the addition of putting the “inner voices” as little bodies on the daters’ shoulders and an introduction of the characters getting ready at home sets the scene well.
Even though you don’t get the live feeling, I do think that filmed musicals work. By zooming in on the actors we get to see their eyes and slight gestures, a privilege usually only available to the people in the front row. The innovative direction of Dean Johnson incorporates the cameras into the action and creates a world that immerses the audience. It’s like we’re sat on the next table watching all the drama unfold.
Samantha Barks (Les Misérables) and Simon Lipkin (Nativity! The Musical) lead the piece with serious chemistry. Having seen Lipkin as the goofy sidekick in a few shows, I was surprised to see him step into the leading man’s shoes. His awkward charm lends well to Aaron’s character, and I am glad that we get to see Lipkin’s signature, comedic style in the second act with “In Love with You”.
Supporting the two mains are a cast of three playing several different characters that influence the daters. To call them versatile would be an understatement. In one act Danielle Steers (Bat Out Of Hell) plays a deceased grandma, a waitress, the nagging sister, the ex and a representation of Google. To do all this convincingly and perform with such velvety vocals… Bravo.
I don’t think there’s a song that I’ll be humming tomorrow but the music is impressive. Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner’s amusing lyrics are paired with sounds of constantly changing genres. From traditional theatre tunes to hip-hop and punk infused songs, they do not shy away from parodying the styles.
In the traditional way, the second act brings about more depth and character exploration. Both Barks and Lipkin get their ballads and demonstrate why they are two of the most sought-after British talents in the industry. In “Safer”, Barks shows incredible vulnerability along with powerhouse vocals; two qualities that I cannot wait to see her bring to Elsa when she opens in Frozen next year. The second act isn’t all too serious though. Arguably stealing the show with his turn as the waiter, Oscar Conlon-Morrey (Only Fools & Horses The Musical) delivers a perfectly bizarre solo with ease. Whenever he popped out from under the bar or delivered lines directly to camera, he pleased with more hilarity.
It is surprising that this musical hasn’t hit our shores until now, it’s current and completely charming. Hearing the final cadence and the two voices in harmony hit a chord with me (if you’ll pardon the pun). I know there is nothing like the feeling of live theatre, but if this is the substitute for now then I’m not disappointed.
Reviewer: Coral Mourant
Reviewed: 22nd October 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★