Date of a Lifetime
Carl Kissin and Robert Baumgartner, Jr.'s two-person musical comedy makes its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company.
Speed-dating has never been speedier than in New Jersey Repertory Company's world premiere production of Date of a Lifetime, a musical two-hander that plods through two entire fantasized lifetimes in just 90 minutes. Traditional fairy-tale storylines are rejected in favor of arguably more realistic notions of happily ever after in the wandering minds of book writer/lyricist Carl Kissin and composer Robert Baumgartner, Jr.'s two lovelorn characters Katie and Marvin. Yet, like a blind date gone awry, the light and airy musical crosses into the dangerous territory of "too much too soon."
Katie and Marvin, two lonely souls let down by love, have taken the final plunge into the lowest depths of romantic desperation: Rotate-A-Date. Played by the charismatic coupling of Jamie Laverdiere and Trisha Rapier, the pair wades through a flood of the gene pool's missing links (characters they also take turns portraying) until their amorphous rolling desks join like a puzzle locking together in a moment of fate. Like any good meet-cute, a certain level of schmaltzy foreshadowing is a necessity. Kissin and Baumgartner, however, skip right over the obligatory witty banter and cut right to the chase — after all, they have a lot to get through.
The quirky, fast-talking Marvin suggests that they both take their allotted four minutes to hypothesize the trajectory of their potential relationship, from their first date all the way through their golden anniversary — a proposal that would be wildly inappropriate anywhere outside the context of a musical. Yet, Katie seems completely charmed by this idea. So off we go on Marvin's projected life of very specific ups and downs with the clever woman who sits across from him. Before you have a chance to catch your breath from this first go-around, back to the beginning we are sent for Katie's best guess at the life with Marvin that potentially awaits her.
Jessica Parks' simple set design divides the modest stage as symmetrically as the plot — each side of the one-room set housing rotating panels that reveal the décor for both of their imagined future homes. As we traverse through two lifetimes, Kissin and Baumgartner hit on details about the honest trials and tribulations that couples face, though the sheer enormity of time to cover makes each impact feel more like a speed bump than a poignant moment. To meet the task of engaging an audience in a two-person musical (in a way that hasn't already been accomplished by Jason Robert Brown, the master of this niche genre), the text is peppered with quips, including a few modern references to trendy fads like cronuts, internet lingo, and the classic date-night fusion restaurant. Much of the humor lands big laughs with the crowd thanks to high-energy performances by the charming Laverdiere and Rapier and sharp direction by Marlo Hunter. However, the production's constant forward motion only allows for it to forge a shallow path of men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus-like stereotypes and rapid-fire jokes. Still, Kissin and Baumgartner keep the plot rolling along with a series of pleasant tunes that you won't be able to hum on your way out of the theater but will be entertaining enough to hold you through till the end of the performance.
Having packed nearly every dating faux pas into what are theoretically only the first eight-minutes of a relationship, the improbability of the premise is largely forgiven. As expected, Katie and Marvin find their own versions of happily ever after in all of the permutations that unfold before us, and like any good rom-com encourages us to do, we lay our hopes on the chance that it is the exceptions to the cardinals rules of dating that lead to true love. For when eight minutes with someone feels like two lifetimes, it's usually best to move on to the next contender.