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Local theatre's modern rock musical engages with hilarious chaos, neuroses

Circle Theatre presents FIRST DATE, a 90-min modern rock musical at Aquinas College Performing Arts Center on July 14 – 30th.
Leads Jared Douglas and Katie Tamayo as Aaron and Casey

Leads Jared Douglas and Katie Tamayo as Aaron and Casey /Dianne Carroll Burdick

Circle Theatre presents First Date, July 14th - 30th

Circle Theatre presents FIRST DATE, a 90-min modern rock musical at Aquinas College Performing Arts Center on July 14 – 30th.  Tickets are $25 and are available via their website: or by calling their box office at 616-456-6656. Rated R for sexual language and situations.

Titus Hankins delivers some sexy Bailout Song for his BFF Casey

Titus Hankins delivers some sexy Bailout Song for his BFF Casey /Dianne Carroll Burdick

The ensemble

The ensemble /Dianne Carroll Burdick

A large and shadowed New York City skyline in the distance, various and varied couples with drinks in hand already seated on the stage, and one ominously long black bar; clearly it's date night. This, however, is not just any date night, but a complete date, a blind date, an anxiety-ridden, high-emotioned, musical and rather entertaining date night. Audiences should, then, easily guess that the 90-minute evening is rated R for sexual language and profanity, but it is all in good fun as we look inside the heads of two twenty-year-olds during a possibly life-changing moment in their young lives.

In the book by Austin Winsberg, music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, First Date follows neurotic Aaron (with his ex on his mind and his frat brother in his ear) and angst-ridden Casey (with her over-concerned sister and her history of bad men) through all the facets of their evening dramatically, emotionally, musically and hilariously. The audience, just as in the minds of those blind daters, is asked: “Does s/he like me?”, “Do I like them at all?”, or even the dreaded, “Would Grandma approve? May she rest in peace.”

As far as the style of the piece and the general feel for the show, there are strong elements of what could be considered “sitcom.” Situational Comedy, by definition, must consist of one group of people over multiple comedic events. A piece of theatre is often a one-time deal, it is temporal in its very nature. But the characterizations, the script and the interchange of characters in this particular piece reminded one of such popular TV sitcoms as "How I Met Your Mother," "The Big Bang Theory," or even "Friends" and "Seinfeld". Line delivery was fast and staccato, gender roles were stressed in presence of the opposite sex, and we are thrown through cameo after cameo of the voices of friends and family in people's heads or in person. If those shows mentioned above interest the reader, they might really enjoy this evening of high energy romantic comedy.

Two actors in particular helped exemplify the appropriate characterizations. The translation of sitcom to the stage is difficult because of the limitations of locations and points of view. Instead of a standard stage acting style of pushing one step over the edge of believability to captivate the audience, a sitcom needs to be littered with real people having real engagements, even in song.

Titus Hankins as Man #2, covering many different roles throughout the evening, had a subtle comfortability with his language and communicating that with his entire body. Most notably, the “Bail Out” songs, in which Caseys BFF (played by Hankins) calls obligatory “bail you out of bad dates” messages to her phone. Even though each of the three calls were in a comedic song, ranging from country-western to hip-hop, the character sat well on Hankins and it was easy to become enthralled and distracted in his performances.

Secondly, on a more tender note, Jess Luiz' prominent character of Casey's older sister, ringing thoughts of concern and worry through Caseys head, carried with it the same subtlety and reality that balances out a good sitcom. There needs to be tender moments of either earth-shattering or heart-breaking reality to relieve the audience from the high anxiety or hilarious moments of the front story line. This reviewer felt that even were it a song of the death of my enemy, sung from Luiz' lips, I would cry for their loss and misery in death. A little morbid, but everything has it's right place.


Reviewer's Final Words:

My only issue with the brilliant performance I saw on opening night, was the balance of seriousness to the amount of extreme anxiety and hilarity. The script itself seems at fault here, where I felt that I was given a large chunk of the latter for the beginning of the piece, and had to wait more than halfway for anything otherwise. The actors played true to the script, some growing even more comfortable as the scenes progressed, and the songs was extremely well performed. I would absolutely not say, “Don't go because of the balance issues.” Quite the opposite, go get your laugh on, then maybe cry a little. It does a body/brain good.


Company and cast information:

For sixty years and counting, Circle Theatre has enriched, entertained and educated the community through exceptional theatrical arts in an intimate setting. Located in the Performing Arts Center on the campus of Aquinas College, Circle Theatre presents innovative and entertaining theatre while fostering an enthusiastic and hard-working corps of individuals who serve as staff, volunteers and board members. Through the Main Stage season, unique Summer Concert Series and Magic Circle family productions, Circle Theatre engages close to 30,000 people each season. Circle Theatre also values and creates effective collaborations with various community organizations in and around Grand Rapids.


The cast includes: Jared Douglas, Katie Tamayo, Matthew Swartz, Titus Hankins, Derek Call, Jess Luiz, and Delaney Good.


For more information about Circle Theatre and their 2016 Season, please visit their website at

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