Let’s just say it: The mating-game musical “First Date” isn’t first-rate. Third-tier is more like it. Or below-deck, since this singing catalogue of cliches by a team of Broadway rookies would fit better on a cruise ship than the Great White Way.
The show follows financial analyst Aaron (Zachary Levi of “Chuck”) during his New York rendezvous with gallery girl Casey (Krysta Rodriguez of “Smash”). Aaron is nice (down to his blue suit and brown shoes), nerdy, stumbling, Jewish. Casey is spiky (including her cool red-and-black mini and black boots), confident, commitment-phobic, non-Jewish.
Can opposites attract? Oh, hell, what do you think?
But that’s the well-traveled road we’re led down by composers/lyricists Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, who’ve worked for Disney, and book writer Austin Winsberg, whose credits include “Gossip Girl.” Along the way, the trio hits every familiar mile marker — from inevitable awkward pauses to the who’ll-pay-the check dilemma. Zzzz.
The show unfolds in real time in a nondescript restaurant. A multitasking ensemble — Sara Chase, Kristoffer Cusick, Blake Hammond, Kate Loprest and Bryce Ryness — pop up, Greek chorus-style. They play friends, parents, siblings, ex-lovers and therapists who speak and sing in Aaron’s and Casey’s heads during the date.
The songs are peppy but generic. The script boasts a couple of laughs, including when Casey says a cheeseburger sounds great. “It sure does,” scolds her sister, “if you’re trying to make weight right before a big sumo wrestling competition.”
But that’s a bright spot amid buzzkill. Phone calls by Casey’s megagay BFF, intended to bail her out of the date if needed, increasingly grate. The lengthy solo by a singing waiter is filler in a show with two leads sitting frozen too much of the time.
That detail has escaped director Bill Berry, of Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle, where the show ran last year. His strategy: Throw in lots of tricks to see what sticks — megaphones, a leaf blower and talking video screens. But he lets Casey get saddled with saying things like “turn that frown upside down.”
Despite such clunkers, Rodgriguez cuts a strong presence. She has a pretty, but not especially colorful, voice. Levi, who sang in the cartoon “Tangled,” is a pleasant enough singer and does the required geeky self-deprecation very well. All fine, but not enough to recommend the show.
“First Date” runs 90 minutes without intermission. In other words, there’s no chance to bail out.