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Ensemble Theatre's "First Date": Review & Actor Profile

Ensemble Theatre begins 2017 with a sweetheart of a show, the thoroughly engaging, thoroughly current First Date, a small but plenty entertaining musical about nice-but-not-exciting Aaron (Michael Carr) and prickly serial dater Casey (Sarah Hoch) who meet for a blind date at a sophisticated Manhattan watering hole.

A savvy and wryly affectionate look at the search for Meeting the One (finding the Holy Grail is easier), show creators Austin Winsberg, Alan Zachary, and Michael Weiner have fun with conversational land mines from religion (no!) and exes (no!) to Google searches (sure, but don’t admit it!). Every wrong move is celebrated in song.

Carr and Hoch make it easy to root for imperfect, perfectly human Aaron and Casey. What makes First Date so much fun is that at their table-for-two, as their meet-for-drinks date hits bumps and more bumps, Aaron and Casey do a lot of internal dialoguing with their near-and-dear, who conveniently appear to carry on the conversation, with plenty of comment on how the date is progressing.

A talented five-member chorus plays everyone else, nailing the spirit of the show. You’ll meet Aaron’s on-the-make best friend, Casey’s perfect sister, his dead grandmother, his idealized memory of his ex-fiancée, and many more.

Joining longtime favorites Jaren Doren and Andrew Maloney (love them!) are three stand-out newcomers: ETC acting apprentice (and Xavier grad) Maya Farhat is a hoot as Aaron’s possibly demented ex, Jeremy Parker (an alum of the ETC apprentice program) is back as Casey’s sis and Aaron’s grandma, and Wright State senior Nathan Robert Pecchia is Aaron’s best bud.

Big applause to CCM’s Vince DeGeorge, who moonlights from his faculty duties at University of Cincinnati to fill First Date with energy, emotion, imagination, physicality and laughs. Music director Scott Woolley works with vocalists of varying abilities (from decent to truly good) to successfully sell the songs and he leads the first-rate band which plays on either side of the stage.

The ETC design team Brian Mehring (set/lighting), Jeremy Lee (sound) and Reba Senske (costumes) create a just-right environment.

The show is a quick 90 minutes and promises to be a buzz show. Bring your Valentine (I have a feeling First Date could probably do brisk box office if it returned for a summer run).


First Date, through Feb. 5. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $44, students $25, children 12 and under, $18. Half-Price Rush Tickets: All remaining tickets for the current day’s performance(s) are available two hours prior to each show time for half-price (discount does not apply to senior or children’s tickets) when purchasing by phone or in person. Student Rush Tickets $15, on sale two hours prior to show time with valid student I.D. Available in person only. 513-21-3555 and www.ensemblecincinnati.org.

 


Meet Michael Carr

Michael Carr is one-half of the couple on a musical First Date, a 21st century look at the dating scene at Ensemble Theatre through Feb. 5.

While Aaron and Casey were set up (an official Meet Cute), Carr and fiancée Amanda started out as a workplace romance. He went to North Carolina for an acting job, she was the company manager. “She was my boss, technically,” Carr says. Okay, that qualifies as a Meet Cute, too.

Carr is a familiar face to Ensemble audiences – his ETC credits include this season’s production of The Legend of Georgia McBride and past shows at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati include Hands on a Hardbody, Good People, and Snow White. After graduating from College-Conservatory of Music (music drama major) six years ago, he signed on for a year as an Ensemble intern then went to New York.

He moved back to Cincinnati because he sees it as a land of opportunity for a young professional actor, not just on stage. He returned to CCM to teach drama and freshman musical theater.

Michael is one of three Carrs on local stages this month. Lauren Carr opens this week in The Music Man at The Carnegie, Erin Carr co-stars in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at Falcon Theatre, opening at the end of the month.

Carr and sister Erin are currently collaborating on a play script, which started with an idea of his – which evolved from his research on drag queens and transgender when he was prepping for his role in Georgia McBride. Carr credits his CCM prof Diane Kvapil for partnering on the early stages.

As for Carr’s own romance, he and Amanda are planning an October wedding. He offers another reason why they were meant to be: He and his North Carolina-born love share a hometown, sort of. He grew up in Cincinnati neighborhood Mt. Airy, she’s from Mt. Airy, too – in North Carolina.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts