From left, Will Pippman, Bruce Haasl, Evan Sullivan, Christie Oldright, Kyle Hennick, and Eleise Moore in “First Date.” Scot Whitney Courtesy photo
From left, Will Pippman, Bruce Haasl, Evan Sullivan, Christie Oldright, Kyle Hennick, and Eleise Moore in “First Date.” Scot Whitney Courtesy photo

Arts & Culture

Two is sometimes a crowd in Harlequin’s ‘First Date’

By Molly Gilmore

Contributing writer

June 22, 2017 07:30 AM

There are a lot more than two people meeting on any “First Date,” as Harlequin Productions’ summer musical reveals.

The romantic comedy is set on an unlikely blind date between investment banker Aaron (Bruce Haasl) and artsy Casey (Christie Murphy-Oldright). As the evening progresses, their family members, friends and exes appear, illuminating their pasts and personalities.

“What I love about this show is the way it goes into and out of reality,” Linda Whitney, the show’s director and Harlequin’s artistic director, said in a recent phone interview. “The conversations are happening between people, and then it snaps into the subconscious of one of the individuals, and everything kind of freezes and then this number happens. It’s a great ride.”

Except the leads, the actors — Kyle Henick, Will Lippman, Eleise Moore, Evan Sullivan and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk — play both people in the café and the characters living inside the daters’ heads.

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Critics writing about the show — which spent several months on Broadway after a successful 2012 premiere at ACT in Seattle — consistently make note of its sitcom style. “Gossip Girl’s” Austin Winsberg wrote the book for the show, which has music and lyrics by Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary.

“It’s an interesting play,” Haasl said. “It calls out some tropes about dating, like who’s eating what meal or ‘Will my family approve of this person?’ — those sorts of things we’ve all seen in movies or on sitcoms — but then it deals with them in a very different way.”

“Anything can happen,” Whitney said. “At the start of the show, you think you’re having one kind of experience, but it quickly becomes a surprising and multidimensional look at a first date.”

That approach was part of the reason the show appealed to her. Another part was the songs. “The music is really fun,” she said. “It’s spread across rock and roll and musical theater and a little bit of rap.”

Of course, situation comedies aren’t the only reason that what happens on an awkward first date might seem familiar. Sooner or later, pretty much everyone goes on one — including the show’s creators, who told the New York Times in a 2013 interview that all three are “romantically challenged.”

Asked if he could relate to Aaron, Haasl laughed. “Oh, for sure,” he said. “He’s uncomfortable in this situation and a little awkward, and I can certainly be like that in social situations, especially when the stakes are high, like they are on a first date.

“Everybody has a certain amount of that in them,” he added. “I think everyone will relate to him on that level.”

While the show’s blind date happens the old-fashioned way, “First Date” is set in the digital age. “One of the numbers is about them Googling each other and seeing all the horrible pictures and finding out what’s going on with each other,” Whitney said.

There’s plenty for them to discover. “They’re not kids,” she said. “They’re in their late 30s, and they both have had a whole history of relationships and entanglements and bad habits.”

Sample revelation from the number, titled “The World Wide Web Is Forever”: Aaron played Dolly in his high school’s production of “Hello Dolly.”

‘First Date’

Harlequin Productions presents a romantic comedy musical about a blind date and all of the inner voices that each dater brings along.

When: 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday plus June 28-July 1 and July 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22, and 2 p.m. this Sunday plus July 2, 9 and 16

Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $20-$41 general admission; for the June 28 performance, pay what you can.

More information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org

Also: The show includes adult language and is most appropriate for high-school students and adults.