Right in time for the holidays, Peterborough’ newest theatre company, Amber Coast Theatrical, launches their premier production, First Date: A Musical Comedy, at the Gordon Best Theatre.
Directed by Lucas DeLuca, First Date is made up of past members of The Anne Shirley Theatre Company and Cordwainer Productions, and brings back the type of production that’s been sadly missing from the Peterborough theatrical landscape in 2016. While edgier than a typical romantic comedy, this production is clever and relatable and it makes you want to go out and fall in love all over again.
Written by Austin Winbsberg, Alan Zachary, and Michael Winer, First Date made its debut in Seattle in 2012 before finding its way to Broadway in August 2013. Yet, despite its cleverness, the show only had a short run of five months. But in that time, it developed a cult following and additional productions opened in Japan, Austria, and Australia with mixed success.
The plot of First Date is pretty much exactly what the title implies.
The show revolves around a blind date between uptight and nervous business man Aaron (Erik Feldcamp) and artistic and hip photographer Casey (Keely Wilson). Horribly mismatched, the pair sit for a few drinks and, through a series of songs and vignettes, go through all the foibles and mistrials of dating.
Adding to the dialogue are figures from the pair’s lives who they converse with through their subconscious, including Casey’s sister Lauren (Elizabeth Moody), Aaron’s best friend Gabe (Lucas DeLucas), his ex-fiancé Allison (Caitlin Currie), and his workaholic mother (Christina Pidgeon). Meanwhile, a colourful waiter (Mark Hiscox) and Casey’s clingy best friend Reggie (Taylor Beatty) add flavour to the night’s neurotic festivities.
From first impressions to family expectations to disastrous past relationships to the dreaded “friend zone,” modern dating is dissected through song in this highly entertaining show. Will it be a love connection? In all honesty, this show will keep you guessing.
In late 2015 and early 2016, Peterborough saw a mass exodus of young performers as they moved on with their careers in other locations. While it’s a good thing talented people can evolve in their careers, this left a void in Peterborough. However, cutting-edge musical theatre may not be dead in Peterborough as Amber Coast Productions has the potential to fill the gap left behind.
Lucas DeLuca has managed to bring back to the stage some of my favorite performers who haven’t been in the spotlight this year. His cast is young but experiences. For the most part, they’re seasoned pros who I’ve enjoyed in a dozen or more productions over the past four years — but now the spotlight has shifted to new faces. The result is something familiar yet completely brand new.
I’m a longtime admirer of the supporting members of the cast but, while watching Keely Wilson and Erik Feldcamp in the lead roles of Casey and Aaron, I kept asking myself where these two wonderful talented performers came from and why haven’t I encountered them before. The pair are absolutely brilliant, lovable, and filled with huge talent. They are completely delicious and First Date is the perfect spotlight to introduce both Keeley and Erik as major players in Peterborough’s theatrical community.
Erik Feldcamp has been a background player in a number of shows, from Spring Awakening to American Idiot. Aaron is his first starring role, and this is not a performer who should be left in the background. Loveably awkward and genuinely funny, Erik plays a character who says and does all the wrong things when confronted with a woman who may be a bit out of his league. It’s painfully funny to watch, especially for those who know what it feels like to have their foot permanently stuck in their mouths.
But Erik is also an amazing vocalist, and gives both strong comedic and emotional performances. An energetic and likable actor, Erick’s leading role in First Date will be the first of many to come. He is leading man material and I can’t wait to see him on stage again.
As for Keely Wilson, there’s so much that can be said but little space to say it. To keep it simple, Keely could be the best new talent in Peterborough this year. If you haven’t encountered her yet, as I hadn’t, you are going to have your mind blown. As beautiful as she is funny, Keely’s character Casey creates the tension in the show by constantly intimidating poor Aaron, usually intentionally. Casey is damaged and cynical, but underneath just confused and misunderstood.
Yet while Keely is a natural actress who makes the audience believe in her character, where she really delivers is with her vocal performance. My goodness, this girl can sing! In fact, her performance of “Safer,” in which she explains why she fears commitment, is so powerful that I was stunned stupid. That performance itself is worth the ticket price of this show alone. Keeley made a fan out of me in this show, and she’s someone I’d go back to see again and again. In fact, I probably will go back and see her in First Date again before the show closes. I can’t wait to see what she does next and I’ll be looking for her again through 2017.
As for the rest of the performers in the show, I could write a love letter to each of them. These are performers that I’ve come to love and admire for years, and in a lot of cases, most of them were missing from the theatrical landscape in 2016.
Lucas DeLuca’s character Gabe is one of those pals most men have — that over confident “bro” who seems to be better with women than we are and always has our back. Like an obnoxious angel on Aaron’s shoulder, Gabe is in constant battle with the devil on Gabe’s other shoulder, which is his memory of his ex-fiancé Allison (played by Caitlin Currie). It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Caitlin. But in this show — and I say this with love — Caitlin has this strange ability to go from being completely desirable to absolutely revolting in just a matter of lines, depending on how Gabe manipulates Aaron’s memories of her.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Moody brings the heart to the production as Casey’s well-meaning and sensible sister Lauren, who is trying to help her sibling leave her wild ways behind and meet a nice and stable man. Afraid for her sister’s emotional instability and attraction to “bad boys,” Lauren really does want the best for her sister — but her sensible advice often gets ignored. I also want to mention Liz’s other hilarious performance as Aaron’s Jewish grandmother in the song “The Girl For You”, which left me laughing until my gut hurt.
One of the really funny recurring moments of the show is a series of vignettes featuring Casey’s best friend Reggie, which gives Taylor Beatty a chance to get into the spotlight. Calling Casey on her phone to give her a “bail out” on the date, Reggie is sassy, high energy, and clingy, giving Taylor some of the biggest laughs of the night.
Mark Hiscox also gives a warm and wonderful supporting performance as the couple’s waiter, who serves the pair with wit, sass, and song, including a wonderful midpoint performance called “I’d Order Love.”
I want to give a special shout out to Christina Pidgeon who appears on stage throughout the entire show as the restaurant’s hostess, and gives a small but important performance as Aaron’s mother. Where Christina really melts the audience is in the opening moments of the show, when she gets the night started with a preshow performance of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The preshow continues with Mark taking the stage for a charming rendition of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”. It’s a great way to open the show, connecting the holiday season to this production. These pre-show performances are a perfect way to spotlight Christina and Mark’s talents, and gets the audience in the mood for romance and fun.
Lastly, I want to mention the brilliant musical leadership of Justin Hiscox and the talents of his seven-member band. I always get a kick when I can actualy see the musicians in front of me, and Justin’s connection to and his enthusiasm for the performers becomes alive when he lets out the occasional holler of approval from his place at the keyboard. It creates a certain joyous energy that continues the excitement of the show. I could feel the energy of the music throughout the performance.
First Date: The Musical and the birth of Amber Coast Theatrical are a Christmas gift to Peterborough. The show is clever, relevant, cutting edge, and romantic. The cast is talented, vibrant, sexy and fun. But most of all, Peterborough needs these kinds of shows, and Amber Coast Theatrical has the potential to bring back people I love to watch in the kinds of musicals I love to see.
If you have someone you love in your life, buy a ticket and bring them to see First Date. If you don’t have anybody, then find someone and bring them — you can fill the awkward conversation of your first date talking about how much you loved this show. And trust me: you are going to love it. It’ll be impossible not to.
First Date: The Musical is performed on December 1st, 3rd, 4th, 10th and 11th at The Gordon Best Theatre. Show times start at 8 p.m., with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on December 11th. Tickets are $16 and available online at www.thegordonbest.ca or at the door.