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August 9, 2013

TT: Not a perfect match

In today's Wall Street Journal I review two comedies, one on Broadway (First Date) and one at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (All's Well That End's Well). Here's an excerpt.

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first_date_retouched_duo-2_wide-631dda67d6bbe3652e2ede93193fa3ed3a187cfd-s6-c30.jpgWhat makes a musical Broadway-worthy? Nowadays most producers take for granted that it has to be either a jukebox musical whose score consists of well-known pop songs ("Jersey Boys," "Mamma Mia!") or an adaptation of a familiar piece of source material, usually a film ("Kinky Boots," "The Lion King"). Few hit musicals are made from scratch.

The creators of "First Date," which has just moved to Broadway from Seattle, are trying to beat those odds, for which they deserve much credit--but to call their wispy little show "original," while literally true, stretches the meaning of the word a bit. "First Date," a small-cast, small-scale musical (seven actors, one set, 95 minutes, no intermission) that tells the story of a blind date from start to finish, feels at times as though it had been knocked together out of spare parts. The problems start with the premise, in which a sweet Jewish geek (Zachary Levi) is set up with a slightly gothy chick who favors bad boys (Krysta Rodriguez). Yes, they get off on the wrong foot more or less instantaneously, and everything that happens thereafter is just as predictable...

Though Austin Winsberg's book is surprise-free, his dialogue is nicely pointed, suggesting that he, too, has seen the worst and lived to tell the tale. (She: "Did you just say 'brewski'?" He: "I sure did. But if it makes you feel any better, I regretted it the second it came out of my mouth.") It helps, too, that Mr. Levi, a second-tier TV star ("Chuck") who is making his Broadway debut, turns out to be a strikingly adept stage comedian who knows how to put the right spin on a good joke, while Ms. Rodriguez is a spunky sasspot with grade-A pipes....

06-Alls-Well-L-to-R-Richard-Ercole-Jessica-Frey-1024x682.jpgIf it's a summer-friendly comedy that you seek, choose the high-art option and head north to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, where "All's Well That Ends Well" is playing in repertory with the very fine "King Lear" that I reviewed in this space last week. Russell Treyz, the director, has staged "All's Well" as if it were being performed by a ragtag troupe of eight strolling players--only one of whom, Jessica Frey, is a woman. The other female roles are divvied up among the men, all of whom are clearly having a grand time, with Jeff Gonzalez taking top honors in the drag department. (Good costumes by Rebecca Lustig, who enhances the fun.)

Ms. Frey, the excellent Cordelia of "Lear," is even better as Helena, the orphan who loves above her station, playing her like the too-smart-for-her-own-good girl in a high-school romcom. To call an actor "well spoken" may sound like overly faint praise, but the superbly articulate Ms. Frey makes every syllable count....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted August 9, 2013 12:00 AM

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