First Date by independent company Pursued by Bear is a delightfully awkward, if verging on uncomfortable, blind date between opposites: cool hipster Casey, who usually dates “bad boys”, and straight-laced insecure Aaron, who’s trying to move on from a recent traumatic break up. It’s cringe comedy with a few good songs and a lot of heart.
The fast-paced scenes in between songs have the most appeal in this musical comedy, as the gimmicks at the beginning of each song often wear off quickly. Casey and Aaron’s discussions trigger musical interludes, with each ensemble member portraying an array of imagined and unpredictable characters. The show itself is really flawed, but a lot of fun.
The artistic team (including Mark Taylor, director; Stephanie-Jane Lewendon-Lowe, musical director; Joel Anderson, choreographer) moved the setting from New York City to a hip Melbourne restaurant. It was clearly a very well thought-out decision and the attention to detail pays off. It is a lovely touch to see musical theatre performers speaking in Australian accents and breaking down some of the disconnect between our audiences and most other mainstream musical theatre.
This connection and it’s relatable cringeable moments are vital to the success of First Date. However some of the more hard-hitting themes, such as death and abandonment, sometimes don’t feel like they fit.
Jordon Mahar faultlessly embodies the adorably socially-inept archetype of Aaron, and Rebecca Hetherington creates a very believable Fitzroy resident,and delivers an impressive vocal performance. “Safer” is a brilliant moment in the show, in large part due to Hetherington’s strong, yet intricate vocal delivery. The ensemble (Daniel Cosgrove, Nicole Melloy, Adam Porter, Danielle O’Malley and Stephen Valeri) all deliver quirky performances, working the crowd with their campy comedy.
The end of the show leaves its audiences uplifted, and cheers for the couples’ hopes and future. Like any first blind date, it might not work out, but through all this hilarity, somehow they will eventually find happiness.