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First rate - First Date

A romantic comedy for the 21st century

Will Lippman and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk, background: Bruce Haasl and Christie Oldright. Photo credit: Scot Whitney

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Harlequin Productions' First Date is a romantic comedy in the tradition of Tracy and Hepburn, Rock Hudson and Doris Day, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, updated for the digital age. Updated how? For starters the search engine Google appears in the guise of a woman, and there's a decidedly 21st century attitude toward sex and language.

Aaron (Bruce Haasl) is a somewhat nerdy, shy, nice guy. He embarks on his first-ever blind date with Casey (Christie Oldright), a tall, sexy, artistic, sarcastic and worldly woman who is a veteran of many blind dates, all of which were disastrous. So why does she keep trying? Why does he? Because her sister keeps cajoling her to, as does her sister's husband, who is Aaron's co-worker. In other words, they are set up. Besides, there's always the hope that the next one might truly be the one (title of the first song). Yes, First Date is a musical.

From this first rollicking song (performed by Haasl and Oldright with the ensemble and great rocking music from the Harlequin band led by Bruce Whitney), we know what's going to happen. The mismatched couple are going to clash like Batman and Joker until they reluctantly discover that they are just possibly each the one for the other.

More so than any other theater south of Seattle in the South Sound, Harlequin's production values are top-notch professional. This we've come to expect, and the cast and crew of First Date do not let us down. Jeannie Beirne's lushly designed bar scene lighted with style by Mark Thomason, is perfection in every smallest detail, from the projection of city lights to the gorgeous blue behind a wall of bottles behind the bar to the portrait of a woman's face painted on an old brick wall, down to the gender-inclusive restroom sign.

Haasl is perfectly cast as Aaron. With and without his black-rimmed glasses, he looks the part of the shy and out-of-his-element businessman who invariably says the wrong thing. In her sleek black dress and high heels (costumes by Jocelyne Fowler), Oldright looks the part of the haughty and self-assured Casey, and with subtle, nuanced acting she convincingly lets Casey's softer and more empathetic personality emerge.

First Date is Oldright's Harlequin debut, but she's no newcomer to Western Washington stages, having performed at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Tacoma Musical Playhouse and other stages. Local audiences will remember her from her electrifying performance as Maureen in Rent at Capital Playhouse. Haasl is a longtime favorite among South Sound theater goers. He's the quintessential romantic lead. Haasl and Oldright together are engaging and funny.

The ensemble cast play people who are not there (parents, a best friend, Aaron's ex-fiancé) and the bartender. They are Kyle Henick, Will Lippman, Eleise Moore, Evan Sullivan and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk. They are each enjoyable and unexpected in their surprise appearances as Aaron and Casey's inner critics - like cartoon angels and devils sitting on their shoulders and tempting/remonstrating, usually infuriatingly so.

First Date is a Northwest original. It had its world premiere at Seattle's ACT Theatre as a co-production with the 5th Avenue Theatre in 2012 before moving to Broadway the next year. It is an enjoyable romantic comedy, predictable but delightful and thoroughly up-to-date in the digital age.

First Date, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through July 23, State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $25-$41, 360.786.0151,

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