Zachary Levi has the moment every actor dreams about. Center-stage at Broadway's Longacre Theatre, the audience cheers as he finishes his solo, "In Love With You."
You can just about feel time stop for him as Levi ( "Chuck"), who has been in school and community plays since he was 6-years-old, basks in the moment. He earns it.
He and Krysta Rodriguez ("Smash") are terrific in the season's first new musical, "First Date." They play Aaron and Casey, set up op a blind date by his co-worker, who is also Casey's brother-in-law.
Aaron is a nervous guy, who works in finance. He shows up in a suit and tie and hasn't been on a date in ages. His bride left him under the chuppah (the Jewish version of being ditched at the altar).
Casey is an edgy, hardened serial dater. Aaron has no idea how to act and she is giving him lessons on first dates. They meet at a Manhattan bistro, where two other couples and the waiter play multiple roles.
Throughout the 90-minute musical, while one actor sings, the other freezes. At one point, Levi stops mid-chew and resumes eating after the song. When they initially scope each other out, he says, "She's a lot like the girls who ignored me in school."
Both make snap judgments and most of those turn out to be right.
Soon Casey and Aaron discover they have a lot of friends in common from summer camp and growing up in the same Michigan suburbs. She had a bad romance with his best friend, whom he agrees can be a jerk.
As they realize who they know in common, Casey says she can keep playing Jewish geography -- it's a fast ID game some Jewish people play to see who they know. She casually drops that she is not Jewish.
That leads into a terrific number with the other actors slapping on the flat black hats Chasidim wear, and singing, "She is not the girl for you" His grandmother Ida rises from the grave and sings about how her heart is being broken. "Oy! Oy! Oy! This isn't the girl for you. She's a goy! Goy! Goy!"
Casey's family also appears and the waiter turns into a pastor, who is her father and the video screens around the proscenium and on stage flash with stars of David and crosses.
The show, which has no intermission, moves at a brisk pace and reflects the ups and downs of a first awkward date. He had Googled her, and she is irked about that so she Googles him during the date.
At one point, Casey tells Aaron she likes him but just wants to be friends, which Aaron knows is being relegated to being a puppy -- he's there only for emotional bucking up and brotherly hugs.
Meanwhile, because it is a first date, Casey's over-the-top gay pal, Reggie, keeps calling as a bailout call. And her sister, who really wants Casey to settle down, is on stage, egging her on.
In his corner, Aaron has a best friend, who just wants him to get back in the game, and his ex-fiancee who haunts his life. The others are good, but Kristoffer Cusick ( "Ugly Betty") playing the gay best friend, is a scene-stealer. Levi and Rodriguez are terrific.
It's a simple set, with just a few tables on stage and the screens, which could be used more effectively.
What Levi has is that the audience loves him. It isn't just because he was on a TV show for five seasons. It's because he is engaging, charming and pure fun to watch.
Photo/Video credit: Chris Owyoung