MUSICAL REVIEW: PaliHi’s “First Date” Delivers Great Live Entertainment

Jack Essner and Lola Stockard were the two talented leads in PaliHi’s ‘First Date.”

The theatrical department at Palisades High School is widely admired for its talented singers, dancers and actors and the two major productions they perform every year, one a musical, the other a play.

With the Covid-19 shutdown, it appeared that this year’s seniors would lose their last chance to perform at the high school.

What happened next is just a bit of a miracle.

In less than four weeks, co-directors Cherie and Monique Smith managed to direct a high-caliber musical — with a set, costumes, lighting and sound — that ran three nights on the Quad.

One reader wrote CTN: “Thank you for letting us know about this production of ‘First Date.’ Because of your article, we immediately bought tickets and saw it Saturday night. These Pali High students truly are talented. What a joyful way to spend the evening — our first evening out since the ‘lockdown.’

“And we were thankful that such care was taken to keep the audience safe, with temperatures taken at the entrance, mandatory masks and socially-distanced seating, all under the stars as we watched future stars on stage!” the reader added.

With the school’s quad providing the setting for the musical, a small rock band supplied the music from the balcony above the stage. Chairs were well spaced, and some people brought blankets and sat on the lawn.

It truly was a gorgeous evening and CTN is ever hopeful that even Movies in the Park can return outside this August, too.

Jack Essner plays Aaron, the nerdy, trying-to-be cool guy who’s going on a blind date, set up by a friend.

Over the years, CTN has complimented Essner. He first came to attention in “Chicago,” when he displayed a tremendous voice and nice stage presence as the lawyer. He next played the autistic teen in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time” and CTN wrote: “Knowing that it would take an exceptional actor to play the role, directors Cherie and Monique Smith must have felt they had the cast to perform this play – and they do.

“Essner owns the role, and his anguish is our anguish. It comes as no surprise that he has recently co-starred in an episode of ‘Shameless’ and has been in several short films. He is on the stage for almost the entire play and never falters, rewarding us with a truly outstanding performance.”

Essner, a senior, will be attending Boston University this fall to study acting.

Playing Casey, the edgy girl who is afraid of commitment, is senior Lola Stockard, also extremely talented. She will attend NYU. In her bio, she writes that she is grateful to play the role of Casey. “This year has been a difficult one, but the chance to do a show has truly been the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“First Date” was truly an entertaining show, with lots of laughs and superb singing.

At one point, Casey examines why she isn’t attracted to Aaron—he’s a nice guy and she always seems to date bad guys. On cue, the Bad Boys — Jacob Accardo, Sammy White, Spencer Rodman, Henry Mueller, Charlie Capp and Nic Libonati — appear. They sing and dance “That’s Why You Love Me,” and are absolutely amusing and entertaining.

Do Aaron and Casey make it through this horribly awkward blind date? CTN isn’t telling. This reviewer will only say the show was highly entertaining and regrets that more people will not be able to see it.

Junior Sara Amii, who plays Grandma Ida, wrote in her bio that she “is so relieved to do musical theater again after a full year of quarantine. She would like to thank Cherie, Monique and Mr. Dale for bringing this show together and making it amazing, and the entire cast and crew for making this close-knit experience a great kick start back into normal life.”


The Palisades High School quad served as the set for the school’s musical.


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One Response to MUSICAL REVIEW: PaliHi’s “First Date” Delivers Great Live Entertainment

  1. Ruth W. Mills says:

    The Smith sister whose name begins with C is Cheri, not Cherie. Both my kids studied dance with the fabulous Cheri and Monique Smith at Fancy Feet Dance Studio, and my daughter, Jeanette, has been their colleague at the studio since graduating from UCLA–the Smith sisters’ alma mater–except for this last year, when the Fancy Feet staff was reduced due to COVID.

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