ECT’s messy First Date finds love

Bad small talk, conversation landmines, and awkward side hugs. Blind dates are the worst. Elkhart Civic Theatre proved that this weekend with the opening of First Date: A Musical Comedy.  But unlike most blind dates, ECT finds love.  

…but it had some bumps along the way. 

Individually all of the soloists had nice voices, but lost a lot of color as an ensemble. The actors were frequently overpowered by the pit and I had to strain to hear them without mics. Occasionally, this imbalance caused them to sound a bit pitchy. Luckily the cast also had some very strong singers. Casey (Mimi Bell), Aaron (Corey Atwell), and the Waiter (Christian Marquez) all had amazing vocals throughout.  

Mimi Bell, a breakout star for the area, never fails to impress audiences. Where her vocals have always been outstanding, her acting has really improved in the last few years. The show is almost entirely upbeat, but Bell really stood out in “Safer”, one of the few serious songs. Here she really got to show off the emotional depth of her character. It may have been nice to see a bit more build up to that moment, but it was still a valuable moment. 

This moment could not have been achieved without a partner to back her up. Atwell was there to support her every step of the way, but he did more than support. The character felt relatable and honest, something not many can easily achieve. He may have not had the strongest voice out of the leads, but he was definitely a personal favorite. Atwell and his best friend, Gabe (Preston Reddell) had a hilarious dynamic throughout the whole production. The show displayed the importance of moving on, and the difficulty associated with it, mainly due to the interactions between the friends.

While the ensemble was far from the worst I’ve seen, they were not the best either. They obviously had the potential and the talent, but felt under rehearsed and disorganised. I was very impressed with the natural energy they brought to the stage. The best friends, Gabe and Lauren (Reddell and Pippen Roth) created a dynamic foil for the leads. Reddell and Roth added a nice dimension to the show, really bringing it to life. Allison (Courteney Ebert) did a phenomenal job embodying the character. I noticed her whole body language shift when becoming Allison. Unfortunately, I also noticed Ebert beginning to pull her tempo, especially on her solo pieces. This could have possibly been a result of the volume imbalance between the singer and the orchestra, a battle in which the actors often lost.  

When it comes to energy, there was one character that brought out the big guns (the really big guns). Reggie (Jacob DeLong) sang the series of “Bailout songs”. Usually this part is cast as a female, however ECT decided to lean into the “Gay best friend” archetype. In my opinion they may have leaned into it too hard. The character quickly left fun and quirky, and began to approach over-the-top and stereotypical. DeLong’s numbers were definitely still funny, just a bit lazy. Reggie seemed to have no other discernible personality but Gay™.    

Overall, the show was not bad. The singing and choreo may have been a bit under rehearsed, but the character work and general energy of the show was great. They even kept the pacing moving along, which was necessary for such a long show with no intermission (it needed an intermission). The funny goofs and ultimately wholesome ending made up for most of the places it was lacking. If you are looking for a date night and are willing to make the trek out to Bristol, i would put it on your calendar. The show is rated PG16 due to adult language and references, so don’t bring the kids. 

First Date runs until March 7th at the Bristol opera house. You can get tickets here, or call the box office at (574) 848-4116. Tickets are $19-$21