Productions at Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre are synonymous with hot summer nights in an 8,000-seat venue, large-scale Broadway productions, and popular musicians.
A fact little known to many is that when the weather cools down, the stage at Starlight is pushed back, risers are set up, and the space becomes the 500-seat Cohen Community Stage House.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of viewing Starlight Theatre’s first self-produced indoor comedy-musical, First Date. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, too! While most of Starlight’s shows are of the touring kind, First Date is acted and produced by a local professional cast. First Date is a musical comedy centered around a blind date, based on the book by Austin Ginsberg, with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner.
The night begins with a humorous and somewhat bitter number about dating in search of “the one;” sung by a trio of restaurant employees preparing a modern New York restaurant for the normal slew of awkward first dates that evening. Quirky good guy Aaron, played by Shea Coffman, and hostile but artsy Casey, played by UMKC Theatre graduate Lauren Braton, have been set up by mutual acquaintances. After an awkward greeting, they begin their night with stiff drinks and doubtful outlooks.
They go through the motions, the first impressions, the small talk, the awkward pauses, and the unintended pre-date internet stalking revelations. Throughout the night, Casey and Lauren are subconsciously confronted by their waiters transformed into friends, family and their inner demons attempting to guide them through the dinner with minimal awkwardness and injury.
First Date humorously portrays the awkward trials and triumphs of blind dates with entertainingly vulgar musical numbers and surprisingly tender moments.
Kelsey Brennan York and Alex Murphy, the stage and assistant stage managers for First Date and alumni of the UMKC Stage Production Graduate Program, have been involved in theatre since high school. They love the speed that this production moves at and the relatability of the content. When asked about the parts that reminded them of their own experiences, they both agreed on “the awkward pause.”
“In eighth grade, I had a super awkward first date,” said York. “We went to a movie and then we went and got coffee, and we didn’t know what to say to each other, so we sat there in silence for 15 minutes until our parents came and picked us up. Awkward pause for sure.”
It was hard to get though the 90-minute musical without being visited by the traumas of ghosts of dates past for lead actress Lauren Braton, too.
Though she charmingly declined to give the names of her UMKC exes, Braton had her own experiences to draw on to bring the role of Casey to life. “Yes, many. I’ve been through it all. There are several scenes from the show that remind me of things that have happened to me.”
First Date is comical, catchy and a little dirty. It’s a production that will leave every audience member grinning – old or young, single and bitter, or happily coupled off. The plot is continuously funny and fractured by real human moments of vulnerability. The experience is amplified by the intimate setting of the Cohen Community Stage.
“They need to try it, they need to come out,” said Braton. “I know it’s a different experience, but it’s incredible, and what they can do to the stage is amazing, the show is very funny and well written, and great for all audiences. Mostly it’s just so fun.”
First Date will show at Starlight until Feb. 26, 2017.
UMKC Students are eligible for discounted tickets with “Student Rush.” Contact Box Office for details.