The first show on Starlight Theatre’s new indoor series last winter was “50 Shades! The Musical Parody” — and it was just what you might expect.
This year, the theater is sticking with the contemporary style that’s come to define the series — this time with a musical comedy about today’s dating scene: “First Date.”
“I always thought our indoor shows should be comedic and also be modern — stuff that you might not ever see on the summer stage,” director Caroline Lakin Gibel said.
And with songs about Googling people before a date, gay best friends serving as a “bailout call” and — of course — the mood-killing awkward pause, “First Date” is almost as far from Starlight’s outdoor Broadway classics as you can get.
Opening Friday, the one-act musical follows serial dater Casey and blind date newbie Aaron as they meet at a restaurant in Kansas City for a first date (Starlight changed the setting from New York). As they move from awkward first impressions to more serious conversations, vignettes from their friends and family members explain what’s going on inside their heads. Aaron, for example, is plagued by memories of his ex-fiancee, and Casey by the bad boys she’s dated in the past.
This season’s indoor series, presented in Starlight’s Cohen Community Stage House, includes last fall’s “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, Live!” and, coming in March, the fairy princess musical comedy “Disenchanted!”
“First Date” is the first Kansas City-produced show in the series, and its director and four of the five actors are Kansas City natives. In fact, the two leads, Shea Coffman and Lauren Braton, performed together in their first professional show in Kansas City more than a decade ago.
“I haven’t had a chance to work with him since then, and I almost started crying when I saw him on the first day of rehearsal, because I started out my career with him,” Braton said.
Coffman has been in Chicago for the last two years, where, incidentally, he performed in the cast of “First Date” there. He was an ensemble member (no small feat when each actor plays at least three characters) and an understudy to Aaron for four months, but that version included some different characters and songs.
“It’s been kind of fun to do it a different way,” Coffman said. “After you play a role for so long, you really start to see yourself in that role. … Now it’s kind of fun to switch, but it’s also a challenge to be in the role there and take Aaron on here.”
Not to mention that, in true “Starlight way,” the cast has just two weeks to rehearse before opening night. Lakin Gibel, who makes her Kansas City directorial debut with this show and is also the Starlight company manager, had previously only viewed this fast-paced rehearsal process from a management standpoint.
She had suggested “First Date” for last season, but the timing didn’t work out.
“The music is now something that I’ve completely fallen in love with. There’s a lot of different styles of music — there’s rapping — and the lyrics are hilarious. We’re really having a great time with it, for sure.”
But it’s more than just a night of entertainment, she said.
“It was a really weird weekend before we started rehearsals, with the inauguration and everything going on,” Lakin Gibel said. “I was just thinking of our small, funny show, and I realized this show is a really great reminder that people are complicated and that you should never be so quick to judge — because you never know, until you really get to know someone, where they’re coming from. That’s a really big theme in this show.
“But that core — give people a chance, keep yourself open to possibilities and keep yourself open to love — is the big theme of this show. So I think it’s actually coming at a really great time.”
“First Date” runs Feb. 3-26 at Starlight Theatre’s Cohen Community Stage House. The musical comedy runs 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets can be purchased at kcstarlight.com, 816-363-7827 or at the Starlight box office.