Review: ‘First Date’ at Drama Learning Center

Looking for a respite from the winter doldrums and a glimpse of color, hope, and light-hearted entertainment? Go no further than the Drama Learning Center where founding director Stephanie Lynn Williams has gathered talented teens (two separate casts) in the area premiere of First Date. The Center’s Professional Training Program (TYA) performs the musical at its home-based Columbia theater through next weekend.

The cast of 'First Date.' Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.
The cast of ‘First Date.’ Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

With a book by Austin Winsberg (TV’s Gossip Girl and Jake in Progress) and with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (Secondhand Lions and Twice Charmed), this short-lived 2013 Broadway musical comedy marks the first run from a company in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. Williams, who has knack for presenting cutting-edge musicals for her young players, notes in the program, “Due to adult language and themes, parental discretion is advised.”

The subject is romance, or a possible hookup. Is love in the air, a scent of April blossoms, a youthful gust of spring, Gene Kelly seducing Leslie Caron in Paris? But wait…this is a musical about a first date in the 21st century at a trendy new restaurant. The obvious question here is, “Will this couple turn what could be a dating disaster into something special before the check arrives?”

First Date proves a good fit for the young actors, since the play is filled with anger, frustration, and the angst of hanging out at the Manhattan hot spot…and not sweating. But this First Date has some unexpected twists and turns.

When blind date newbie Aaron (sensitively played by Patrick J. Campbell in the Saturday evening show) is set up with serial-dater Casey (a cool Aly Murphy), the couple quickly finds that they have insurmountable differences. Aaron is a nice Jewish boy who deals in mergers and acquisitions, financially, of course. His friend has set him up on a date with Casey who is everything Aaron is not. He has a heart; she has chutzpah. Casey is a wannabe artist whose father, a Christian minister, espouses hell, fire and damnation. This part is masterly played by Jason Quackenbush, a senior at Catonsville High School.

Aly Murphy as Casey. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.
Aly Murphy as Casey. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

Our couple’s first encounter is told in flashbacks during which one freezes while the other listens to these “inner critics,” folks from their past who have opinions on their date. Lighting expert Lynn Joslin never misses the spot on these characters who pop out from the seated customers at the New Leaf Restaurant. Set Designer Bush Greenback placed the bar stage right, leaving lots of room for dancing, including a wild tap number by Flora Aubin.

The teenaged singer-actors on stage seem empowered by the theme of the show, kicking into gear with their very first musical number, The One. You get the feeling that the four actors who arrive first on stage know the scene as they deliver cliches about bad first dates. One, in particular, looked a bit uncomfortable with her line which was quite risqué.

The supporting cast does wonders in a variety of roles, especially the funny Daniel Joya-Iglesias as Casey’s zealous gay friend, Reggie. Lila Cooper was a scene stealer as Allison, the gal who left Aaron at the alter, though in this case it was under the huppa.

L to R: Kendall Grove, Lauren Alberg, and Patrick Campbell. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.
L to R: Kendall Grove, Lauren Alberg, and Patrick Campbell. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

In the “B” Company show last evening, which I saw, the live musical accompaniment by Tiffany Underwood Holmes and ensemble helped wring every bit of emotion out of the rock score. My favorite song took place three times in “Bailout” that sounded a bit like the rap in Broadway’s Hamilton “Bailout.” Really!

While the cast sings each song with care, this production earns its recommendation from the comedy. Chances are you’ve already engaged in the behavior it pokes fun at. Let’s face it, we all can relate to that “first date.” At Drama Learning Center, you can enjoy being on the other side of the joke for once.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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First Date, the Musical plays Thursday through Sunday, January 21-23, 2016 at the Drama Learning Center – 9130-I  Red Branch Road, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 997-9352, or purchase them online.


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Carolyn Kelemen
Carolyn Kelemen is an award-winning arts critic and feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, Howard County Times, and Columbia Flier - 45 years and counting. The Columbia resident earned her Masters Degree in Dance at Mills College in California and has taught college and graduate courses at Goucher College, Loyola, the College of Notre Dame and Howard Community College. A professional dancer throughout the East Coast in the late 50s and early 60s, she was trained in classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and tap. Her TV/film career includes MPT’s “ weeknight Alive” and years of local productions in the Maryland/DC area. Carolyn is a longtime member of the Dance Critics of America, the American Theatre Critics Association. She has proudly produced the “A Labor of Love” AIDS benefits since 1988.



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