NFCT Takes Audiences On a Thorny, Familiar “First Date”

Casey (Nicole Bianco) meets Aaron (Sam Notaro) in NFCT's production of "First Date" | Katharine Schroeder photo for NFCT
Casey (Nicole Bianco) meets Aaron (Sam Notaro) in NFCT’s production of “First Date” | Katharine Schroeder photo for NFCT

Blind dates sure can be awkward occasions, so you’ll have to forgive the North Fork Community Theatre’s new musical production, “First Date,” for starting out on an awkward note. The goal is to make you squirm a bit.

“First Date,” an Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner musical (with book by “Gossip Girl” author Austin Winsberg) that ran briefly on Broadway in 2013, is a millennial play for millennial times.

Casey's imaginary son (Brendan Noble) torments Aaron (Sam Notaro)
Casey’s imaginary son (Brendan Noble) torments Aaron (Sam Notaro)  | Katharine Schroeder photo for NFCT

The cast of this production is made up mostly of talented young actors brought in by director Chris Fretto from throughout Long Island.

Most of them are making their NFCT debuts, and they bring their A-game to this show, which takes place entirely in a New York City bar where serial dater Casey (Nicole Bianco) is meeting nerdy Aaron (Sam Notaro) because her family set them up.

The daters are surrounded by an etherial ensemble of five other bar patrons and employees (and the pit orchestra, onstage as the entertainment at the bar), who double as internal characters ranging from Casey’s raging bestie to Aaron’s ex-girlfriend to social media icons and a chorus of imagined Jewish and Catholic nags who reprimand the daters for their religious comingling.

Casey and Aaron's possible future son (Ralph D'Ambrose) also torments Aaron (Sam Notaro)
Casey and Aaron’s possible future son (Ralph D’Ambrose) also torments Aaron (Sam Notaro)  | Katharine Schroeder photo for NFCT

This musical is a tough one to sing — with wandering, expository melody lines and stylistic meanderings from rock ‘n’ roll to rap to showtunes. The cast does a great job executing the musical numbers with the light, playful touch necessary to keep them afloat.

I was blown away by the performances of newcomers Ralph D’Ambrose, who’s been acting all over Long Island for 23 years but makes his NFCT debut with this show, and Brendan Noble, also a Long Island stage veteran who’s new to the North Fork.

Mr. D’Ambrose is absolutely raging as Casey’s bestie, who leaves a series of increasingly psychotic calls on her cell phone as her date continues to progress, and is equally enthralling as Casey and Aaron’s imagined future son, a hoodied thug with a giant gilded cross and star of David strung around his neck as he spits out a rap about his messed up multi-religious identity.

Manning Dandridge as the waiter and Ralph D'Ambrose as bestie Reggie  |  Katharine Schroeder photo for NFCT
Manning Dandridge as the waiter and Ralph D’Ambrose as bestie Reggie | Katharine Schroeder photo for NFCT

Mr. Noble, who also tackles five roles, is an equally forceful presence on stage, whether tapping on Aaron’s shoulder wearing a fedora and a leather jacket, trying to help his friend somehow become cool, or as Casey’s imagined son, psychotic and mischievous in a rainbow propeller beanie.

Manning Dandridge, whom you’ve seen in many NFCT productions, most recently in this past spring’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” is again marvelous as the waiter in the bar, Casey’s father, and other various and sundry roles.

Mr. Dandridge will also be directing NFCT’s spring 2017 production of “Cabaret,” which promises to be exciting.

These are minor roles, but they are among the most memorable in a play whose exposition doesn’t do much to help its two leads. From the moment Casey and Aaron meet, there is little chemistry between them.

They can’t help it — they’re drawn that way by a playwright who seems to trade in clichés.

Happily ever after?  |  Katharine Schroeder photo for NFCT
Happily ever after? | Katharine Schroeder photo for NFCT

Nicole Bianco, a dancer who is making her NFCT debut, embodies Casey well. She’s a thoroughly modern girl, in a short, tight red dress, who likes bad boys and doesn’t think too much about true love.

Sam Notaro, who played a sweet and tender messenger boy in NFCT’s 2014 production of “The Boyfriend,” turns in a sweet, earnest and very, very awkward performance as very, very awkward first-time blind dater Aaron.

You’ll root for him, and you’ll root for Ms. Bianco, to find some glimmer of future peace, support, caring and, yes, maybe love, that goes beyond the veneer of any first date in a modern world where the phrase “happily ever after” can only exist when followed by a question mark.

“First Date” runs October 13 through 30 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $25 and may be reserved by calling 631.298.NFCT (6328) or visiting www.nfct.com.

The show contains adult language and content; parental discretion is advised.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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