Humor and heartfelt meet cute in ‘First Date’ at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre

A funny yet honest musical about modern dating and taking a chance on love.

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production of First Date is a funny yet honest look at modern dating. With a book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, the 2012 musical follows a couple on a blind date as they deal with awkward conversations, advice from imaginary friends and lovers, and take a chance on love. Directed by Jake Schwartz, with music direction by Paige Rammelkamp and choreography by Tia Silver, the show has lots of humor mixed with heartfelt emotion.

Zac Brightbill plays Aaron with nervous energy, calling his drink a “brewski” and cracking a joke that creates one of several awkward moments. In “First Impressions” he gives his initial sense of Casey (Cera Baker) while understanding that she might be totally different. He also gives heartfelt, emotional performances, revealing a trauma from his past in “The Things I Never Said.” “In Love with You” has him turning between adoration and anger as he gets closure.

Zac Brightbill as Aaron and Cera Baker as Casey in ‘First Date.’ Photo by Alison Harbaugh, Sugar Farm Productions.

Cera Baker gives a toughness to Casey, Aaron’s blind date. Blunt and cynical, she calls Aaron on some of his questions and comments while creating a hilarious scenario for him to consider. She gives her “First Impressions” of him while trying to keep an open mind. She gets emotional in “Safer” revealing why she pushes away good people. Baker and Brightbill work well together, playing off their differences and helping each other work through their issues.

Cameron Walker plays Aaron’s imaginary friend Gabe with great comic sternness. He frequently admonishes Aaron not to bring up his ex, even slapping him at one point. As Stoner Guy, one of Casey’s past boyfriends, he staggers across the stage, singing of his awfulness in “Can’t Help but Love Me.”

Emily Decker gives a firmness to Lauren, Casey’s imaginary friend, asking her why she is pushing Aaron away. She turns supportive as Casey reveals her fears. She plays Aaron’s mother with quiet emotion, singing touchingly in “The Things I Never Said” of her sadness for not being there for Aaron.

Rose Hutchison gives a double edge to Allison, Aaron’s ex. In “Allison’s Theme” she is sweet, kind, and loving in Aaron’s memories, until Gabe reminds her of her manipulative coldness. Her silent reactions to Aaron’s accusations in “In Love with You” are hilarious.

Emily Decker, Geraden Ward, Cameron Walker, Blake Martin, and Rose Hutchison in ‘First Date.’ Photo by Alison Harbaugh, Sugar Farm Productions.

Geraden Ward is a hoot as Reggie, Casey’s friend who calls her throughout the evening, as a way to escape a potentially bad date. With each “Bailout Song” that goes to voicemail, he grows increasingly annoyed and worried, jumping to dramatic conclusions. As Rocker Guy, another of Casey’s exes, he reveals his terrible qualities in “Can’t Help but Love Me”; the song’s ending takes a surprising, comic turn.

Blake Martin plays the Waiter with excellent comic timing. He advises Aaron about his appearance, quipping at the end, “That’s the best I can do.” In “I’d Order Love” he gets the whole cast involved in a funny food-as-relationships song, but not before barking at everyone to get out of the bathroom.

Set Designer Peter Kaiser recreates a New York restaurant, with tables and chairs in the center, a bar table slightly to the left, and neon signs on the walls. A city skyline serves as backdrop. Costumer Sami Peterson has simple outfits that help distinguish the characters. Aaron looks stiff in a suit and tie, while Casey is slightly edgy in a red leather jacket and fishnet stockings. Gabe is in a polo shirt and shorts, and Allison wears a yellow dress. The waiter has a vest and bow tie, later changing to a more sparkly version for one song. Reggie wears a different colored shawl for each appearance. Lighting Designer Jules Gross helps reflect the changing mood with colored lights. In “In Love with You,” the lights change from green to red as Aaron moves from love to anger.

Music Director Paige Rammelkamp ensures the musicians, hidden behind the stage, are easily heard without overwhelming the singing. Choreographer Tia Silver creates fun movements for the cast, especially in group numbers, with kick lines and twirls. Jake Schwartz does a great job as director. The actors make creative use of the stage, appearing underneath tables and behind bar tables for great effect. The company turns fraught or potentially fraught moments into comic commentary with songs like “The Awkward Pause” and “The Check” while remarking on the pitfalls of searching a date’s history in “The World Wide Web is Forever.”  Everything comes together for an evening of laughter, along with tender moments about the need to keep hearts open.

Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.

First Date plays through July 22, 2023,  at the outdoor Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre – 143 Compromise Street, Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($30), contact the box office at 410-268-9212 or purchase online.

First Date
Book by Austin Winsberg
Music and Lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner
Directed by: Jake Schwartz
Music Director: Paige Austin Rammelkamp
Choreography: Tia Silver
Stage Manager: Beth Rendely
Aaron: Zac Brightbill
Casey: Cera Baker
Casey Understudy: Sami Peterson
Woman #1: Emily Decker
Man #1 / Aaron Understudy: Cameron Walker
Woman #2: Rose Hutchison
Man #2: Geraden Ward
Man #3: Blake Martin
Gabe/Man #1 Understudy: Fred Fletcher-Jackson


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