REVIEW: Romancing the original

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Romantic comedies have gotten a bad wrap.

It isn’t a surprise that the term “romcom” attached to a show can induce groans and eye rolls from a large portion of the population. Moviegoers and theater patrons alike have been subjected to countless shows that are so hackneyed they could be charitably described as dreck.

Hallmark Channel, we’re looking at you here.

But romantic comedies aren’t inherently bad. The story of how girl meets boy and love ensues is one of the most tried and true storylines and has been top entertainment since boy met girl.

“First Date,” the current production at Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Garner Galleria Theatre, is one of those shows that should restore faith in the idea that love stories can be fun. The Broadway musical is equal parts “When Harry Met Sally” and “Rent” in the best ways possible.

The show centers around an evening rendezvous between Aaron, a nervous first timer in the world of blind dates, and Casey, a serial dater whose jadedness to love seeps out of every pore. At first blush, these two shouldn’t end up together. But one of the truisms of the romcom genre is opposites always attract by the end credits.

The show’s score isn’t treading new ground. A rock musical in the tradition of shows like “Rent,” there are some thoroughly entertaining numbers performed with gusto by the talented cast but nothing that will have the audience singing as they walk back to their cars.

One of the ways in which “First Date” stands out in the crowded romcom field is how the show integrates the backstories to the two protagonists. The voices and doubts in Aaron and Casey’s heads manifest themselves on stage with more and more frequency, often in musical numbers. Ex-lovers and family members show up to push and pull the potential couple along as the date progresses.

While the concept of having each character’s doubts and fears take life and take over the date is entertaining, “First Date” would fall flat on its face if that’s all it had to offer. There’s only so far a clever idea can take a show and then it’s just repeating a gimmick to make up for a lack of originality.

But that’s why “First Date” was such a surprisingly delightful experience. By the end of the show, the audience is so invested in who these characters are that there’s genuine excitement about if these two will end up walking out the door together.

DCPA has assembled a perfect cast for this show both in acting and in vocal talent. Adriane Leigh Robinson as Casey and Seth Dhonau as Aaron are a perfect odd couple together. The progression from awkward first date conversation to deep dives into each other’s pasts seems organic and speaks to the chemistry the two share.

While the story centers around the two leads, it is on the backs of the three other cast members that the show’s success rests. They must change characters on the fly, going from a disapproving Jewish mother in one scene to a lusty ex-girlfriend in the next. Steven J. Burge is a dynamo of comedic energy, Jordan Leigh’s deadpan waiter steals the show during the song “I’d Order Love” and Cashelle Butler, who is the understudy for her role, proves she should be a featured player in whatever show she’s cast in next.

4.5/5

‘First Date’

• At The Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Garner Galleria Theatre

•Through April 22 7:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri. 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sat. and Sun. 

• Tickets $46/limited view $25. Call 800-641-1222 or visit bit.ly/2DhXK0u for tickets and info