Most everyone has some experience with embarrassing first dates, so audiences should easily relate to the 2013 Broadway musical First Date. This witty satire includes virtually everything that can go wrong during blind dates and yet leaves open the possibility that something could develop from them.

North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s production won over the opening night audience within minutes because of its comedically adept cast and its sharply observant direction. Several technical issues could be readily overlooked for the many laughs and knowing smiles this delightful staging provided.

The script, by Austin Winsberg, enhanced by the music and lyrics from Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, follows a real-time blind date over the course of an intermission-less 90 minutes. Shy, inexperienced Aaron arrives at a cozy restaurant to meet the sister-in-law of a co-worker from his investment firm. No-nonsense photographer Casey arrives and it’s clear she’s been in this situation a lot. When the bartender points out the waiting Aaron putting in some eyedrops, she almost bolts. But the wise bartender guides her over to Aaron and a tentative conversation begins.

Unfortunately, Aaron’s feeble attempts at humor and compliments further provoke Casey’s disdain. Discussions of family, religion, and work only make things worse. Soon, both are upset and disappointed. But Aaron’s final tentative joke about having their first fight leads to some opening up from both sides, getting them past initial barriers.

What make the show so much fun are the continual interjections from other figures. Some are in the minds of the two parties, from Aaron’s former fiancée and his best buddy to Casey’s critical sister and former druggy boyfriends. In real time, Casey’s gay best friend constantly phones her with a bailout call, his concern escalating each time she doesn’t answer. Even the bartender (who’s also the waiter and cook) gets into the act, shepherding Aaron and Casey’s budding relationship along when things seem to be tanking.

Sean McCracken made an appropriately nerdy Aaron, nervously stuttering out the character’s first date conversation. But McCracken nicely played the buildup to Aaron’s eventually pushback to Casey’s jibes, winningly taking charge of his fate. Lauren Bamford’s astutely judged Casey made her unsympathetic at first, her take-no-prisoners attitude ultimately revealed as a shield for an easily broken heart. Both performers had appealing voices, McCracken’s laid-back and conversational until his big take-control number and Bamford’s bold and focused, but also capable of turning quietly introspective.

The two leads were almost overshadowed by the five other actors, their characterizations of multiple roles well differentiated and extremely funny. All were present in the restaurant but made quick changes into other roles, sometimes for only a few seconds and often by merely adding a hat, sunglasses, or a jacket. All impressed by their commitment to whatever outrageous or stereotyped characters were required.

First among equals was Dan Hawkins, who, as Aaron’s best friend and dating tutor, elicited huge laughs as he instantly appeared over Aaron’s shoulder to nix inappropriate biographical admissions or to guide his next move. Hawkins went from bong-smoking dude to bottle-balancing Jewish wedding dancer with equal ease. Matching him all the way was Freddy Perkins as a fierce gay best friend, a street-smart rapper, and a bad date who picks his teeth with a fork.

Elizabeth Quesada’s several scenes as Aaron’s almost-wife were sexy when they were in Aaron’s idealized memory and self-centered when Aaron was made to admit the truth. Quesada made every moment amusing, whether grooving as a flower child or strutting as a Google showgirl. Bonnie Webster gave Casey’s sister an understandable concern wrapped in relentless nagging and Aaron’s Jewish grandmother a hysterical dream warning right out of Fiddler on the Roof.

As the bartender/waiter, Stan Williams brightened up each scene with his stage-filling personality and winking inclusion of the audience. His tap dance number for the restaurant’s floor show drew strong applause.

Pete Comperatore‘s sure-handed direction demonstrated a true feeling for the script’s absurdities and insights, making each zinger and visual joke hit their marks. He was greatly aided by Elizabeth Anderson’s clever choreography that mirrored the writers’ parodies of various musical genres, confidently executed by the cast.

Victoria Barnes’ lighting design helped define reality from dream world but left parts of the action in shadows and some scenes in overall dimness. Mikey West’s set design was functional, but its representation of an upscale restaurant had to be taken on faith because of the crudely put together wall flats and the simplified décor.

Rebekah Holland’s musical direction shone through with the performers’ beautiful harmonizing and rhythmic precision. The taped orchestra (the norm at NRACT) sometimes competed with the singers’ volume levels and some tempos made the patter-style lyrics unclear. Most of Zachary and Weiner’s songs were sharp and sparkling, but several attempts at moving ballads were too generic and predictable.

None of these quibbles mattered in the end because the engaging performances, the snappy staging, and the clever send-up of the dating game make the show highly recommendable as a summer evening’s entertainment.

First Date continues through Sunday, July 29. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.